Taking Challenges to the Mat

When Michelle Barge first considered rolling out a yoga mat in the mid ’90s, it was to help take the edge off after a long day at the office. But after the World Trade Center bombing in 2001,  life in New York City became extremely stressful. At the same time, the country was in the middle of the dot-com meltdown and she was laid off from a job as director of marketing and merchandising at a major Internet company. Yoga classes became her refuge.

“I got deep into yoga, meditation, and chanting,” Barge relays. “Yoga has a way of clearing and centering the mind, strengthening the body. And that led me to greater clarity.” Despite being unemployed, Barge, a Chicago native, was at peace with her life and found a studio where she could exchange work for free classes.

She eventually landed a position at a major public relations and marketing firm in 2003, but Barge became even more committed to her practice and by 2007, she left her job and decided to become a yoga instructor.

Today, Barge has clients lined up to take her classes. “I am not an extremist, but I am a yoga enthusiast,” exclaims Barge, 45. “In this recession, people are stressed. Yoga class is a time when people are not thinking about their 401(k). In class, you inhale and exhale to get into a meditative trance. Your mind is so clear and open that the stuff you were worried about isn’t important and there is greater clarity.”

In her classes, she teaches an Iyengar-based Vinyasa form, which focuses on proper alignment and building core strength. Her classes are also greatly influenced by studies in dance and Pilates, as well as Eastern philosophy and meditation. But aside from its calming and strengthening effects on the body, Barge says yoga is also very healing. “African American clients who come in suffering from obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes have seen improvements in their health,” says Barge  who continues to work in marketing and public relations for wellness-based entities as well as write on health, wellness, and organic living.

She is grateful that she has been able to combine her two loves and turn them into lucrative careers. “I found real peace,” she says. “Yoga has solved many of life’s common ills through my practice and is a part of my lifestyle because I’ve seen and experienced the therapeutic, spiritual, and emotional benefits.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine