We were thrilled to spend time with Marla about her journey to the mat, what inspires her and how she incorporates yoga into her family.
RYB: How did you first come to the mat?
MC: I was led to the mat from a place of inner knowing. I developed a very vague awareness of yoga in high school and somehow just knew it was for me. I continued to feel intuitively drawn to the practice in college but there wasn’t a studio in my small college town so I got a book or two and practiced infrequently (and probably very incorrectly) in my dorm room. I didn’t really dig in until I moved to NYC right after college. I spent a year or two working jobs that weren’t a good fit then decided to get serious about pursuing yoga. Sonic Yoga’s 200-hour teacher training was my introduction to the practice. The first yoga class I ever took was on the first day of my teacher training with one of my head teachers, Jonathan Fields. It was a strong, two-hour practice and I didn’t know my ass from my elbow. I was a mess but it was a total rush because I knew I’d come home.
RYB: Who/what are some of your influences within yoga?
MC: My greatest influences are still and always my teachers, the root of my instruction. Jonathan Fields, Lauren Hanna, Johanna Bell, Jen Whinnen, and Jeffrey Duval were all lead teachers on my 200-hour journey ten years ago and each of them continue to inspire me in their own ways. Watching them evolve is a continual reminder to stay close to what it is that lights me up. Two other great influences in my yoga are my parents. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where faith was prized, practiced, and regularly discussed. Because of this I had a strong spiritual foundation entering into my yoga journey and the practice of shraddha continues to come quite naturally.
RYB: How would you describe your classes?
MC: I do my best to lead classes with asana that is strong, supportive, and offers space for the full range of human experience, wherever each individual may fall on that vast spectrum. Because I am eternally inspired by our place in the cosmos and by the rhythms of our natural world, my classes tend to include information about lunar phases, astrological occurrences, changes in season, holy days and times of worship, as well as real talk about every day emotion and how we navigate daily shifts. Whether these are discussed outright or threaded through the practice with mudra, asana, pranayama, or all of the above, there is specific intention behind the instruction. I feel called to provide context, to pull things from macrocosmic to microcosmic and vice versa. I try to offer this in some small way every time I stand at the front of the room.
RYB: What do you love most about teaching yoga?
MC: The energy exchange that happens throughout the course of a class is the element of teaching yoga I cherish the most. Watching bodies, spirits, mind-sets, attitudes and auras shift from the start of the practice to the finish is profound. Watching students create then surrender them-selves to the collective energy in the room and to be a part of that energy myself is an intimate and uplifting experience that I will never take for granted.
RYB: What is currently inspiring you?
MC: The universe has seen fit to bring me back together with one of my lead teachers from my Sonic training, Johanna Bell. Johanna is a deeply authentic, one-of-a-kind teacher. Since our time together ten years ago she has developed Illumina Yoga and her own beautiful 200 and 300-hour teacher training programs. I’m near halfway through the Illumina 300-hour training and it has been everything to me in terms of growth, inspiration, healing, and vision for the future. I’ve also been recently inspired by the practice of cultivating retreats and organizing local events that allow for in-depth study on specific aspects of yoga practice. Watching community come together and bond in this way is so powerful. By stepping out of our normal weekly routine and into a retreat or special event we take a deeper dive, and we go there together. To me, it’s absolute magic to witness and be a part of that shift.
RYB: How do you fuse nature into your classes?
MC: I most typically fuse nature into my classes through use of moving metaphor, mudra, visualization and discussion. I do my best to embody the energetics of whatever natural theme I happen to be working with on any given day and sequence my classes in such a way that encourages students to enter in to that same energy. I also do my best to stay connected to the subtleties of nature’s constantly shifting rhythms so I can draw attention to them and help others find solid ground through the practice. Nature is of utmost importance in my mind. It is the source from which we draw our most potent inspiration and recognize our deepest truths. The outer landscape is and always will be a mirror of our inner landscape, and the more connected we are the less suffering we are likely to encounter; the more likely we are to walk through this world with grace, acceptance, and ease.
RYB: As a Mama to a young (adorable!) little one, how do you find your practice (on and off) the mat has shifted?
MC: My practice has shifted immensely in all ways since I became a mother. On the mat prior to pregnancy I worked hard to hit milestones in my physical practice and I was often successful. Throughout pregnancy taking modifications was of course necessary. Three years later I’m feeling strong on the mat in body and mind though certain elements have shifted. Depth and connection to what serves me best day to day has taken priority over speed and advanced expressions. My yoga both on and off the mat is much freer, more expansive, compassionate and intuitive than it was before Bodhi. Off the mat there’s a very strong sense of yogic responsibility - do my best to show up, be a good mom, and raise a conscious human being or deal with the karmic consequences. If nothing else, I pray I can help guide Bodhi toward his dharma, and I pray that I am enough for what he needs from me. Those same prayers go for my students. Whether I’m teaching or parenting, I do it with a mother’s heart.
RYB: Do you share your practices with Bodhi?
MC: I do share yoga with Bodhi in a number of ways and I hope eventually he will have his own level of investment and interest in the practice so we can share it always. As a family we keep an altar in our home that is constantly changing, rotating sacred objects in and out, setting it with different intentions, etc. He’s very involved in the process of cultivating the altar and finds treasures for it all the time. We’ve done toddler yoga classes together which have been a wonderful introduction to asana. Mike and I both regularly roll out our mats at home and he likes to try to do what we do or crawl all over Mike and me while we practice. I’ve recently realized that Kundalini kriya are quite captivating for him. He loves the mudras and will chant along. Long Time Sun is his favorite lullaby. I recently got him some little mala beads and he has loved wearing them. Hindu myths make for good story-telling, coloring mandalas, chanting, singing, poses, even just the simple act of bringing him with me to the studio for a while before I teach, letting him feel what it is to be in the space and see people coming and going. Yoga is our way of life in this family, so he’ll be immersed in it one way or another as we raise him.
RYB: Top 3 resources that continue to inspire you:
Books: Eastern Body, Western Mind by Anodea Judith is a treasure. I’ll walk through my whole life continually referencing this book and come up with gold always. Anam Cara by John O’Donohue and everything else he has written.
Teachers: Of course, my forever teacher, Johanna Bell is of utmost importance and inspiration in my life. I’m so drawn to the teachings of both Coral Brown and Shiva Rea. They’re both highly elemental, divinely connected, and are doing important work to preserve the ancient wisdom of yoga we so easily get disconnected from in the western world.
Online: Elena Brower has created teach.yoga.com, a very generous collective of information/inspiration for teachers by teachers. I frequently find myself going down the rabbit hole that is 3HO.org. It’s a great resource of information about kundalini yoga practices, meditation techniques, teachings of Yogi Bhajan, etc. Yogi Bhajan’s teachings resonate with me in such powerful ways. I definitely see a kundalini teacher training in my future.
RYB: How you plan to use your gifts to better the world?
MC: I want to continue to cultivate and be a part of a community of consciousness At this point in my life I’m doing the work to realize and connect with my intuition and my truth. I know it will lead me to the right steps at the right times and I will absolutely follow. There is much good work to do and I am open to the many ways in which it can be done.