I can honestly say that after my first class I remember the thought – “this is what I have been looking for my whole life and I want to share this with others.”
I honestly feel blessed by the response I’ve had to my interview requests. I hoped to interview Mary Fran from the beginning, and her kindness and generosity in answering my questions is overwhelming! In this, Part One, she tells me about her career path and how she came to teach and eventually own her own studio. In Part Two, I’ll share what she told me about her first studio and what it takes to run a yoga studio.
Mary Fran Matichak owns Inner Wisdom Yoga in Oak Park, where I practiced Iyengar yoga for several months and through much of my pregnancy. I found the studio an inviting place to learn and the teachers, especially Mary Fran, experts in not just a list of asanas or yoga poses, but in the human body and remedies for what ails it. I admire Mary Fran’s teaching style that seems to stem from her own curiosity and excitement about the subject matter. She also nurtures the spiritual side of yoga practice through meditation and readings in each class. I remembered her telling me a bit about her pre-yoga career and wanted to talk to her about how her career evolved into becoming a teacher and eventually owning a studio.
Mary Fran writes that she was an advertising major in college who had a hard time initially finding a “normal” career during the Eighties and a recession. She lists a series of jobs including waitress, restaurant manager, freelance artist, and then wine and spirit sales. “It was tough as straight commission and no reimbursement for any of your expenses like gasoline, phone calls, etc but it was a lot of fun for a kid in her mid twenties. It toughened me up in many ways.” This career seemed to prepare her for what would be a 12-year career with The Perrier Group of America, selling bottled water, from regional manager all the way up to managing a team of four and a huge national account as a National Account Manager.
“It’s hard to believe but when I first started working with them, people thought we were crazy trying to sell WATER!!! It was a totally new concept and they felt no one would pay for something you could get for free out of the tap. It was really hard to get them to try but… the rest is history. So, yes, you can now blame me for all of the plastic bottles consumed in the gazillions full of bottled water in the airports, roadways, etc. and club stores. I was the only woman in our company on this level of management and it did not fit my personality very well. It was hard for me to ‘be heard’ among the type A men I worked with.”
Was it something you enjoyed?
“This job was always something I had mixed feelings about. Corporate life was never for me as I always felt I was doing it just for the money even though it was challenging and rewarding. There was an incredible amount of stress as I was asked to handle some very tough situations. Managing people is difficult. I have a strong work ethic and raised by parents who grew up during the depression. We did not waste things in our home and I saw much waste in the corporate world. Employees did not share the same work ethic and it could be difficult and long hours. Also, I was on the road a lot which gets old very quickly. However, I absolutely loved my supervisor (my last one… not all of them) and my customers. I made some great friends and of course had a lot of fun, saw the country… some other countries, and I was independent. I worked at home and made a good salary plus bonus. I always felt it lacked the fulfillment of doing something which ‘gave back’ versus just income.”
In 1991, Mary Fran started her personal yoga practice in Florida and is very thankful still to her very first teacher.
“I felt amazing benefits and a total change in my quality of life very quickly from my yoga classes. Since I travelled for work I had to practice on my own. I tossed my mat in my bag and practiced most evenings in my hotel room. I meditated first thing in the morning before starting out the day. It kept me strong and happy even though I had to spend a good portion of my life alone on the road.
I can honestly say that after my first class I remember the thought -‘this is what I have been looking for my whole life and I want to share this with others’. I’ve always liked physical activity but not the gym and I have always had a strong spiritual side and had begun a regular meditation practice at the age of 19 after taking TM. My teacher saw my love for yoga and asked me after about 2 years if I would like to start teaching at her studio. She needed the help too so she was willing to mentor me and it worked out well.”
Mary Fran was then able to start teaching once a week while still working in sales, thanks in part to the flexibility offered by making her own schedule and having a home office. She took workshops and teacher training several times a year. Keep in mind that teaching Iyengar yoga is a big commitment to personal training and study; teaching certification requires training with other certified teachers and examination of your own skills. She was then transferred and promoted again and moved to Maryland. There she dealt with tough traffic and a rigorous schedule in order to apprentice with senior Iyengar teacher John Schumacher a couple times a week.
At what point did you decide to make teaching and opening a studio your main focus?
“In the late 90’s the bottled water environment became very cut throat as it was now a proven Big Business. Coke and Pepsi had joined the line up offering bottled tap water against our ‘spring’ waters. It became more stressful and I decided for my 40 birthday I would quit and try my hand at teaching yoga. It was a bit of a shock to my husband as it would require not so much a huge change in lifestyle as we are simple people but never the less a huge change in our income.”
The discipline that Mary Fran exhibits through her yoga training also shows itself when it comes to finances: she and her husband saved enough money by living within their means to move to Maine and open a studio, which I’ll include in Part Two.