Scot (Surya) Schiebelbein was once among a select few practitioners worldwide able to complete the highest level of demanding ashtanga yoga. Now, battling terminal brain cancer, he finds himself challenged in basic yoga postures.
Schiebelbein, who goes by the name Surya — from the Sanscrit word meaning sun — underwent two surgeries totalling 27 hours after being diagnosed with a Stage 3 astrocytoma in January 2017. A portion of his brain was removed and radiation treatments left him temporarily blind and required him to re-learn how to walk.
“Life is living in the moment,” says Surya, 40, who has taught yoga around the world and recently returned to Calgary after a winter in Indonesia, Thailand and Bali. “It’s always important to live in the moment, not just if you learn your life is going to be shorter.”
He has chosen to forego chemotherapy despite being given only two years to live, and is concentrating on boosting his immune system with large doses of vitamins, medicinal mushrooms and yoga workouts.
Much of his teaching now focuses on the discipline of acro yoga, which involves partners going through connected yoga poses.
“A lot of people don’t like acro because it takes them out of their comfort zone and into a place where they have to trust someone,” says Surya, who speaks to cancer patients about how to deal with fear. “I see the physical and mental realms as equally important. People who develop a good physical and mental connection start to find themselves in a spiritual place.”
Surya began his yoga journey 13 years ago as a way of healing in the wake of a car accident that left him holding a dying man in his arms on an Alberta roadside.
“I couldn’t sleep and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder,” he says. “I started going to a nearby yoga studio for six hours a day and I really got into it. Yoga did a lot to heal my body and my mind.”
He mastered a variety of disciplines and went to India for advanced training. At one point, he would stand on two blocks to make yoga sessions more demanding.
“Now doing a normal class is a challenge for me,” he says with a surprising chuckle. “Sometimes it’s frustrating to have been at what I call a circus level of yoga and now I’m just average.”