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Professor combines love of science, yoga


Feb. 17, 2011 at midnight
Updated Feb. 16, 2011 at 8:17 p.m.

Jessica McCue demonstrates a dancer pose during her yoga class at DeTar Health Center.  In addition to teaching yoga, McCue is a biology professor at the University of Houston-Victoria and uses her knowledge of biology to inform her practice of yoga.

Jessica McCue enters the yoga studio at DeTar Health Center and transforms.

She leaves her work clothes in a frumpy pile and tosses her keys.

The lights are off, her students quiet.

A space heater clicks along as students' bare toes lock with their sticky mats.

Half the walls are covered by mirrors. Photos of yogis contorted in Gumby-like poses circle the rest.

"Oooooooommmm," she chants, holding a relaxed posed known as "root" position.

Bodies inflate, deflate balloon-like and stretch.

McCue's head turns like a spinning top. while her hair swings out and back like ruffled blond feathers.

"It's hard to explain it to people who've never had the feeling, but as soon as they get it, they want it, and they expect it, and they demand it from their yoga class," she said.

McCue, a Ph.D. University of Houston-Victoria freshmen biology instructor, arrives right on time or slightly late, spills her mat, teaches for nearly two hours and retreats to another biology class.

But McCue, a Victoria native, is far from the white-coated scientist. She's social, but calm. Bossy and lately, extremely busy.

Last semester, with UHV adding freshmen, she became a full-time instructor and for the first time took on four new classes.

She'd hoped to mix her two teaching professions this spring with a last-minute UHV yoga class, but now teaches at the DeTar Health Center.

Post yoga, McCue rides a cloud.

Her senses are clear, her mind at ease. Her red toenails wiggle as she describes a past that seems light years away.

Before moving back to Victoria and taking a job at UHV, McCue worked as a high-stress researcher at the University of Colorado Health Science Center where she studied muscle mutations, diabetes, gene-therapy and smoking.

"It's like your own business," she said. "You have a lab, and you have to get the money not just to do the experiments, but to pay yourself and to pay the employees. You really have to give it everything you got, and I wanted to do something for my family, too."

The yoga studio is a far cry from her lab, where she tried not to expose her yoga life.

"Nobody knew about my other life," she said. "The yoga people didn't know about the research science thing and the science people didn't know about the yoga thing."

McCue took up the practice as a way to give back to her personal mission: to minimize human suffering from disease.

"At the end of the day, if people eat right and exercise, you see significant reduction in human suffering," she said. "So it wasn't too hard for me to not only like yoga, but start to teach it."

Connecting the body, spirit and science through yoga is a careful balance, for McCue, especially kundalini, the most spiritual.

In the studio, McCue and students shut their eyes and hum blessings in Sanskrit.

"Om namo guru dev namo," McCue hums.

"She makes it to where you become aware of your body enough to where you do poses you never dreamed you could do," said Shirley Harkey, 58, a former-student-turned-instructor. "I think that's what makes her such a good teacher. She can lead you to that."

The chants and movements help students open what the yogis call chakras.

"You can think of them as energy flowing through your body - points of light up the spine - but they also tie into the endocrine glands," she said. "So, if you're not into the new-agey energetic changes in your body, you can think of them very directly tying into endocrine glands."

As the chakras, or different points along the spine, open, a person can feel connected, loved or even see the future.

"Until you know - it's just a whole different language," she said. "Lately, I've felt like I'm the bridge between the two communities."

McCue owned a studio in downtown Victoria, which closed January 2010, where she taught sprinkled with scientific logic.

Her vision is to teach it at UHV, get the community engaged and usher respected teachers to Victoria.

"Once we get big enough to have that kind of community that would support it, then we could bring those teachers here," she said, her eyes wide and smile flashing.

Sticking with her theme of minimizing suffering, she hopes to eventually research energy medicine, but until then keeps her focus on balancing more immediate things.

"One day, I might have some free time and do research in those areas," she said, with a smile. "After I figure out how to teach freshmen biology."



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