Michelle Leonard was born in Syracuse, New York and has lived in France for almost 20 years. Before discovering yoga, Michelle created and managed Lakota for 9 years, a computer maintenance company in Paris, whose customers include some of the most prestigious hotels in the City of Lights. An honor, yes, but also very stressful. After the breaking a third phone (by throwing it against a wall whilst screaming) she realized it was time to make a decision about how much stress was acceptable for one life. Athlete all her life and mother of two boys, her knees were shot and her back had a tendency to lock up. What physical activity to choose? The idea of spending the rest of her life on a stationary exercise bike put her forth cell phone in peril. A friend suggested yoga, and she laughed. «Yoga? I am a real athlete and I do not have time to look at my belly button! I need cardio!» In 2007, she took her first Bikram Yoga class and shortly after she stopped throwing her phones against walls. Some people even find it difficult to believe she used to throw phones. Her knee problems and back pain went away. Her inner athlete was largely satisfied by the cardio work of the class. She knew she had to teach this yoga and share with others the benefits she had just discovered. She decided once and for all to stop sharing her stress but rather to share her well-being. In June 2010, she completed, after nine intense weeks, the Bikram Yoga Teacher Training with Bikram Choudhury and has taught as a teacher in Paris ever since. After two years of searching, she has finally found the location of her dreams, and her beautiful yoga studio has just opened near Montparnasse. For more information about her studio, please visit: www.bikramrivegauche.com (Turn your cell phone off at the front door !)
How, when and where did you first find FUSAC? I discovered FUSAC when I came to Paris as a nanny in 1991 after college. When my three month nanny job was finished I decided to stay so I had to get an apartment, a job etc ; I had a nice group of friends from the American Church and we all used FUSCAC as a bible!
What is your chief characteristic? Ambition. And generosity.
Your main fault? I don’t like relaxing, I’m horrible on vacation. The idea of having nothing to do all day but eat makes me absolutely crazy. I get all twitchy and drive everyone around me crazy and now no one I know wants to go on vacation with me. Even my children.
Your favorite occupation other than work? Reading to my sons who are 9 and 11 years old. We started with ‘Charlotte’s Web’ when they were 3 and 5 and haven’t stopped since, about a half hour to an hour a night. I read them the 4 500 pages of Harry Potter over two years-I know more about HP than any grown women should! Thanks to the Percy Jackson series I finally learned the names of the Greek gods. Instilling a love of reading into them was as important for me as making sure they could swim and knowing to look both ways before crossing the street. It’s also a parent’s best hope against the madness that is the DS.
Your motto? ‘There but for the grace of God go I’. Technically that’s a proverb but works for me as a motto in the sense of expressing a guiding principal. I’ve found that it’s important to remember that most of the good things you’ve got in your life are due to blind luck. Lucky to be born into the family you were born into, or into the country you were born into for example. And, the things that you do on your own merit you do because you weren’t born into a family where someone’s literally beat the spirit out of you or a country where bombs are falling on your head or the government’s so corrupt that no one has any hope of a better life. Where before I might have been critical of certain people, now I think : ‘Man – that so could have been me.’
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Mentally and physically- it was, hands down, the Bikram Yoga teacher training. Bikram Yoga is a sequence of 26 postures practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees Celsius with 40 % humidity. It is, in fact, the original hot yoga. The 26 postures, their order, and the heat makes it a very dynamic yoga. You burn 600-800 calories during each 1.5 hour class. Another of its particularities is that it is always the same class, always the same 26 postures and two breathing exercises, always the same dialogue spoken by the teacher to guide you in your practice. This permits the student to meditate during the class while listening to the dialogue.
The French expression that makes you smile Entre chien et loup
Favorite song? ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ sung by Janis Jopin
Favorite color? Le couleur du ciel quand c’est entre chien et loup.
Favorite smell? Clementines!
Favorite quote? ‘You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.’ — Mae West
Favorite neighborhood to walk in Paris? Montmartre in autumn, in late afternoon. Or Père Lachaise also in autumn; I like to look at the tombs, and the dates of birth and dates, calculate ages, image what their lives where like.
In which Parisian monument would you like to be locked in for the night? With whom? Absolutely any monument would do with Alexander Skarsgard.
What are you currently reading? My book club chose ‘Les Miserables’, so I’m slogging through the three tomes. It’s a sort cosmic punishment for actually buying and reading all the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood books. In between the those two literary opposites I’ve recently enjoyed ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed and ‘I am Forbidden’ by Anouk Markovits.
The most significant author you have ever read? Without a doubt Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
What was the first book you remember reading? Little House on the Prairie; I so wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder
A female icon? Madonna. With the strength of her desire and a serious work ethic she’s built an empire.
A good reason to like Americans? An American invented the Khan Academy, the most wonderful use of the Internet I can image.
What was your last « fou-rire »? Last month, my son was doing a truly ridiculous thing with his pyjama bottoms.
Where is the place that you want to go the most? The Oscars. I’ve already written my acceptation speech. Now just need to start the screen play…
Who would you invite to the ideal dinner party? Barak Obama, Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
What do you do to evacuate your stress? I worry about it until it organizes itself in my head into tiny little spread sheets. And then, I do a lot of yoga.
What painting form a museum would you like to have chez vous? Les Trois Ages de la Femme de Klimt
A historic place that stops you in your tracks? The Lincoln Memorial. It makes me cry every time.
In which other century would you have liked to live? I love the Internet too much to want to have lived at another time, but if I had to choose…some time when life wasn’t so unjust for women…hmmm coming up blank here…
An introduction that changed your life – The first lady I babysat for when I was 14. She made sure I went to college and encouraged me in a way no one ever had before.
What clothing detail irks you? I cannot abide panty hose.
Who incarnates the United States? Jack Reacher. (The absolute coolest fictional man ever.)
Who incarnates France? Jamel Debbouze, He incarnates the best of France : fighting bigotry with humor, leading through example, taking care of your family. Add in those beautiful black eyes and the fact that he looks wonderful in jeans and a leather jacket AND looks comfortable in a tuxedo and there you have the perfect French man.
How do you use the social networks Twitter, Facebook? I use Facebook to stay in contact with the Bikram yoga community, but I would never post a vacation photo and I cannot image Tweeting.
If you were an article of clothing? A paréo.
If you were a song? It’s a Wonderful World
If you were a cosmetic? Johnson and Johnson’s Baby Oil
If you were a shoe? A flip flop
What do you bring back from vacation? A desire to get back to work
What is your next project? I’d like to learn to meditate; I’d like to get a degree in anatomy, massage therapy, and nutrition.