The lobby of Inhale Yoga Studio is spacious and clean. The high ceilings, yoga journals and potted plants add just enough to the space to create a welcoming atmosphere.
In a few minutes this room will fill with the polite chatter of Inhale’s members—people who range as widely in age as they do in background. Yet everyone is pleasant, discarding unnecessary clothes, shoes, bags and phones before entering the double doors into the practice room. The wood floor is a clean and open practice space, potted plants decorate the lobby and sauna and the bathroom is complete with organic hand-soap and essential oils – this quarter’s is lavender scented.
This is the atmosphere owner and yoga instructor Michelle Stobart worked hard to create, though her journey was anything but linear.
Stobart grew up on a farm in Racine, Ohio where her family produced tomatoes. In fact, they still sell at the Athens Farmers Market today. Aside from farm production, her family grew other vegetables for personal use, canned food and her father often hunted. They had an outhouse and received their water from a nearby spring for cooking and cleaning because their house didn’t have indoor plumbing. During the warmer months they took their baths in this spring and when it froze over Stobart and her family walked into town to get water.
“When we were growing up, of my dad’s family, we were the ones that were actually more off the grid. It’s kind of ‘cool’ to be the way we were but then they called us really poor,” she said.
Despite this, Stobart talks about life on the farm with a smile. She describes the baths in the spring as “cool,” making the farm seem like a fun place to grow up. Stobart claims it was a way of life she felt connected to but it was not something she always embraced. “[It was] also a way of life that I wanted to escape from, ” she said.
She decided as early as fifth grade that the best way to do this would be to become a lawyer, make a lot of money and own her own airplane. While the airplane dream might have fallen to the wayside, she did pursue her ambition to become a lawyer and started at Ohio University as a political science major. She later transferred to Mountain State Community College and then to Marietta College to complete her four-year degree. There Stobart decided to pursue something more in tune with her interests and graduated with a degree in Psychology in 2003. However, luckily for Athens yogis, Stobart wasn’t destined for Psychology either.
She says as everyone else was searching for law schools or graduate schools she was looking in another direction. “I was looking for yoga schools and trying to find a place where I was going to go and do my yoga stuff,” said Stobart.
Stobart found a teacher-training program she liked and ended up moving to San Francisco to complete the five-week, intensive program and become yoga alliance certified. During this time Stobart was also searching for property back in Southeastern Ohio with the goal to teach and eventually open her own studio.
“Ultimately I want my own space because I want my own creative control and I don’t want anybody to tell me what I can or cannot do to create the environment that I want to create,” Stobart said.
Stobart began teaching almost immediately upon returning from San Francisco and opened up her first studio in Marietta shortly after.
Stobart claims that her background caused her to grow up with awareness and a feeling of care and responsibility for the earth. These aspects show in Stobart’s teaching and business philosophy, however creating such a sustainable and eco-conscious business wasn’t always simple.
Stobart was limited in her first studio for a variety of reasons, mainly finances, lack of flexibility in her lease and a lack of knowledge in the community about sustainable practices.
The latter was noticeable in her search for paint without volatile organic compounds, or VOC. VOCs contribute to ozone damage and are linked to respiratory illnesses and memory impairment, among other suspected health effects.
“I was going to the paint stores and saying ‘I need a no VOC paint so I can not have this out gassing when I paint the walls in my studio’ and they looked at me like I was a complete idiot,” Stobart said. At the time the employees claimed that it wasn’t even possible to paint with low VOC paint, that it wouldn’t even stick to the walls.
Eventually Stobart was able to purchase the paint she needed, and she managed to incorporate many other “green” aspects into her business as well. Some were personal habits as simple as printing on recycled paper and encouraging members to walk or ride their bikes to class. And with the move to Athens, Stobart gained even more flexibility to make choices of her own. She continued to use low VOC paints, put in cork flooring made from sustainable practices and only used wood when it was FSC certified—a certification from the Forest Stewardship Council that the practices of harvesting the wood are sustainable.
So why did Stobart come back if she had seemingly accomplished her goal of escaping by moving to San Francisco? Her response went beyond just the literal meaning of home, suggesting the concept of home instead.
“For me I guess it feels [like] home, to be that way. And now, in the way that our world has changed and what’s going on, not only does it feel like home but it feels like it’s the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do—to practice sustainable stuff,” she said
It is no accident that many who practice yoga are environmentally and socially conscious. “The practice on the mat is such a beautiful way to help us see how we act and react and interact,” Stobart said.
This philosophy of awareness is not simply an environmentally friendly one, but also one Stobart sees in yoga. “The practice of yoga is all about being aware of the impact that you make on the mat with yourself, … so you can take that same kind of awareness out into your world and you can be more conscious with what it is that you’re doing in life,” Stobart said.