It’s All Yoga, People… An Interview With Michelle Marlahan – Yoga Basics


Don’t you just love them?

I know I do.

There are those that inspire me and those that make me laugh. Some help me solve problems in my classroom and others that help me solve problems in my life.

I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite teachers here.

Teachers in studios, classrooms and in the world at large. These are the folks you will see featured in my new series of interviews here at Teacher Goes Back to School.

I hope you enjoy these teachers as much as I do!

 First up, my primary yoga teacher, Michelle Marlahan– Proprietress/Fairy Queen of It’s All Yoga in Sacramento, California.

When did you start practicing yoga?

I started practicing yoga in the mid 90s. There was a wellness program at my job (UC Davis Medical Center) and they started offering yoga.

This really sweet woman, who, I now know, did mostly calisthenics, taught the classes for about a year. It was easy lovely stretching. Then she left and a new teacher came in who took it up a notch. It was more physical. In one class she did a modified side plank on the knee, which I’d done before, and she added the “if you want to make this more challenging…” and took her bottom leg back into full side plank.

In that moment, for some reason, it clicked for me that there was a lot more to this “yoga” than I’d been experiencing. I set out to discover what that was.

Why did you start practicing yoga?

Honestly, I started because it was there. It was convenient, someone else in my department was going, it was easy. And then, of course, I got hooked.

It also brought part of myself that had been separated or compartmentalized together. I grew up going to church and had continued here in Sacramento through college. I loved the ritual, the reverence and the discipline of going every week. But over time I stopped participating in all the responses (I was catholic) because they didn’t feel right. I didn’t believe it, so I sectioned off what was useful.

When I started learning about the philosophy of yoga, it brought that separated part back into the whole, back into me. It, or I, felt like a complete, vibrant, living thing.

Where did you practice back when you started?

After the classes at the Med Center I started going to Healthy Habits, which offered yoga as well as other fitness-y things. I supplemented that with reading and study.

How has your yoga practice evolved over time?

Oh my gosh, how hasn’t it changed? I started soft and stretchy (even though I was neither — at that time I was a runner), then became interested in the physical aspects (I was in my mid 20s, after all…) And liked doing challenging classes, then I got more “serious” and started going to a bona fide yoga studio (the only one in town).

It was heated practice (85 degrees). I got a little addicted to the heat — it was definitely an ego rush to be so much more flexible. I injured myself several times by over-stretching and being over stimulated by the heat (not able to feel my appropriate boundaries).

Thankfully my practice evolved from that phase and subsequently became a lot more grounded, less adrenalized.

In just the last few years I’ve softened and matured — in my own practice and in my teaching. I’m a completely different teacher than I was even 3 years ago… And 3 years before that. If you’re not changing and evolving as a teacher (or  person/mother/partner/friend/etc), you’re not paying attention.

How long have you been a yoga teacher?

I took my first teacher training in 2001

Why did you open your studio – It’s All Yoga?

I had a full-time job, taught for the people I worked with during lunch twice a week, and taught at another studio once a week. It was *fine*.

Even though financially I had a “great job,” I didn’t like it and there was a disparity between how I was living and how I wanted to live.

The dream of the studio probably came from seeing a gap in what was available. I longed for a space and community where *I* would want to practice.

My husband is actually the reason It’s All Yoga opened. He went into the business that was closing (at our first location) and got the landlord’s info… Called him and inquired… And nudged me. He’s been incredibly supportive and encouraging.

You do a lot of readings in class. What’s the deal with the poetry?

I’ve loved poetry since childhood and, particularly at certain times in my life, reading/writing poetry has been an outlet, a touchstone, a place to ground and grow and explore new ideas.

Pretty early on in my teaching I would read a passage of some kind — maybe a yoga-related thing. Eventually I started reading poems that I loved. About 5 years ago I met my teacher Mary (Paffard) who also reads poetry, which was wonderful because I was able to enjoy it as a student. It adds so much to the practice for me. As a teacher, poems and writings support the theme of the class so much more effectively and beautifully than I could with my own words.

{For more of Michelle’s thought on poetry, check out her post}

A multipart question!

Do you have a home practice? What is it like? How often? Where? How did you start and how do you keep at it?

You can’t teach yoga if you don’t have a home practice (in my opinion=). You also have to have practice time that is separate from your prep time, which is often the hardest part.

My home practice varies day-to-day, week to week and is dependent on so many things: my energy level, how I’ve slept, if I teach that day, time of the month, season of the year, how my body is, and what I’m interested in. My time on my mat has always been very instinctively guided — I don’t like to follow sequences or DVDs. Admittedly, I don’t work as hard as I used to!

Currently, I practice in the living room or outside on my yoga deck (my favorite). At times I’ve had a designated room and it’s been lovely… But when it comes down to it, so little is needed to practice, let alone take a stretch or a mindful breath. We can get caught in the endless story of “I’ll do it when everything is just so… Just right… “

As for the “what,” often I’ll do some breath practice and stretching after a morning walk, and then have a more formal practice in the afternoon. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a few poses in bed in the morning {FREE VIDEO ALERT!} Or before I go to sleep. And some days I don’t do any formal asana at all {gasp!}.

What’s your favorite pose? Why?

Don’t make me pick just one! It changes by the day. Right now I’m really into shoulders (FREE VIDEO ALERT!) and there’s a hip sequence I do almost everyday.

What’s your least favorite pose?

I’ve made friends with so many poses that at one time were my least favorite. I used to dread Virabhadrasana I (Warrior 1) and now I love, love, love it.

We usually don’t like things we aren’t good at. I have really tight hamstrings, so forward folds are challenging on lots of levels. I can’t stand frog pose. But actually, constructive rest is the worst (crazy, I know) because it presses on a nerve issue in my sacrum.

Stay tuned for PART 2 with Michelle!

Please leave any questions or comment love below:

If you want to learn more about Michelle or 13 Things that We Believe at It’s All Yoga:

She’s on Twitter at @michelmarlahan

Blogasana:  Daring Self Care Through Yoga (and Other Wacky Practices

{Michelle’s photo credit: Ashlee Gadd}

{click images for source}