When scientist and former university researcher Julia Fetherston was diagnosed with cancer, she turned to iRest for comfort and healing. At the time, she couldn’t have known that her work with iRest was only beginning to unfold. A year later, the Mendocino Complex Fire would hit her community, devastating loved ones and driving Fetherston to offer iRest classes for victims and first responders. Since, she has continued to build and broaden her practice.
Tell us who you are and what you do.
I am a yoga therapist and brain geek. I live and practice in a small town in northern California. I came to my yoga therapy work through a circuitous journey, and because of my background in psychology and science, my work integrates numerous disciplines. I most heavily draw from the kosha model of yoga therapy, interpersonal neurobiology, and attachment dynamics. I am fortunate to work with a range of clients, individuals, groups and organizations.
What was your work before you became a yoga therapist?
In my previous career, I worked for University of California Cooperative Extension as a youth development and natural resources advisor. I used research from the UC system to develop educational programs for children and adults.
iRest seems like a totally different thing, but in many ways, it is the same thing with a different subject. I track the experience of my clients, search for a scientific base that explains what I am seeing and experiencing, and blend science and somatics to make my work more effective. In graduate school at UC Berkeley, I studied woodland ecology, which is looking at the structure, function, and relationships of plant communities. While I don’t study plant communities in my work as a yoga therapist, I am still looking at structure, function, and relationships, whether in an individual’s life or in an organizational setting.
How have you used iRest in your own healing?
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer it wasn’t really a surprise, because I had been sick and trying to find the root cause for some time. Treating the cancer was just the first step in my healing, I needed to understand the root cause to make sure I didn’t get it again. So I used the kosha model to make a map of my life, a map of how I got cancer, then I dove into the research to understand what I needed to do to get myself out of it! I developed a plan for myself, just like I do for my clients. Even though I felt like I had a plan and an understanding, going through cancer treatment wasn’t easy. I reached out for support from my community and was so fortunate to have such a beautiful response!
I also had to use my yoga toolbox. I meditate twice a day normally, but increased the time and frequency as my body was healing from surgeries and radiation. I used Richard’s guided iRest practices when I needed a little outside support to help me calm and center, or when I couldn’t sleep but wanted deeper rest. I really appreciated the efficacy of the protocol in my healing journey.
How have you used iRest in service of the community?
In October of 2017, I was in the last week of my treatment when the Mendocino Complex Fire started. It was horrible. Approximately 8,000 people were evacuated, many barely escaped with their lives, and eight people died.
We have all heard the stories in the news about tragedies from these fires and natural disasters around the country (and world). But when you live in a small community like ours, you don’t see a stranger on the TV screen. Here you know your neighbors. We often joke that instead of six degrees of separation there are only three—unless you grew up here, and then it’s only two. It is one of the lovely things about living here. Everyone knew or was related to someone who was affected by the fire. In addition to many friends, about 60% of my clients where affected. For me, it had another personal layer: I had lived in Oakland during the Oakland hills fire and was evacuated. I came back to find my house standing but most of the neighborhoods surrounding us were gone.
I know, both from my work and my own life, that these kinds of experiences don’t just go away. They can change the way you think about things and even how you move through the world for a period of time. It impacts your nervous system and can get imbedded in your body, leading to anxiety or depression or even PTSD.
The response to the fires in our community was an outpouring of love and support. People providing housing, clothes, food, and financial support. An ongoing fire recovery team has worked to assess the needs of families affected by the fire and coordinate resources.
Still, I was concerned about the emotional impact, not just on the families that were impacted by the fire but first responders as well. Many of the first responders—even the seasoned veterans—had never seen anything like this firestorm. They were in harrowing situations with life and death consequences. A veteran friend of mine likened it to a war zone. I wanted to help my community deal with this trauma, so held some free iRest classes at my offices. A few people came each time and the stories were intense. I noticed though, that so many people were just soldiering on, and I imagined that it was the same in communities across the country that had to clean up and rebuild. I decided to offer some free, guided practices that people could download and use when and where they needed them.
I wanted to use iRest for several reasons. To begin with, I appreciate the evidence base that the iRest Institute has compiled of its work with veterans and other specialized populations. Sometimes, knowing that there is a scientific basis behind a practice can help people who usually wouldn’t turn to meditation or yoga, to try it out. In addition, Richard’s work with the military seemed like a good fit for first responders. I thought they might be able to relate to a practice that has such a good track record helping veterans of war. Finally, I appreciate the effort to codify the practice into something that is accessible to a wide variety of people. In my iRest Level One teacher training, I saw firsthand that the impact of the practice was profound, even for people in the workshop who were brand new to meditation or yoga. It was powerful to watch them have new insights that really made a difference in their lives.
Learn more about Julia and her work here and find her iRest recordings here, including a 6-minute inner sanctuary practice, a 10-minute practice focusing on the breath, and a 25-minute body scan. (Due to the impact of fire on the recording environment, the sound quality may be compromised.)