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A life in balance/ Libby Robold

Robert Downes - February 28th, 2011
A LIFE IN Balance: Libby Robold’s path to happiness
By Robert Downes
You can’t help but notice that Libby Robold has that sense of inner glow
that signals not just a state of contentment, but also an excitement about
what life has yet to offer.
An early pioneer in the bicycle touring movement as well as a yoga
therapist and ayurvedic practitioner, Libby and her husband Michael own
the Yoga for Health Education studio and its satellite store, Green
Canopy, at the Grand Traverse Commons in Traverse City. Over her 27 years
as an instructor, she has guided thousands of people down the path of what
yoga has to offer the body, mind and spirit.
Yet it’s her own path through life that offers an amazing tale of
self-transformation and inspiration for anyone who strives for a holistic
lifestyle that “has it all.”
To put it in simpler terms, life has been one good ride for Libby Robold
in large part because she has been open to its possibilities as an
educator, athlete, healer and businesswoman.

A MYSTERY
“When I look back on my life it’s a mystery to me because I grew up in a
traumatic home,” she recalls. “But I got some gifts from that experience
that put me on this path; I could never have planned my life.
“There’s a saying that ‘Those who see the invisible can do the
impossible,’” she continues. “If you have a dream and you put it in action
step-by-step, day-by-day, then someday there’s going to be a sunburst
waiting for you -- it’s all in what you believe is possible.”
For Robold, that path began in a childhood spent growing up all over the
South – West Virginia, South Carolina, Kentucky – and seeking a career in
elementary school education following her graduation from college.
Her husband-to-be Michael hailed from Minneapolis and was also an
elementary school teacher when the two met at a school district in the
Irish Hills of southern Michigan. The two married in 1971, and have since
fulfilled the definition of being “soulmates” in their 40 years together.
Both were around the age of 22 when they married, with a relationship that
was about to go for a spin.
“Michael taught for 10 years and I taught for 13, but after awhile he
decided he needed a transition from the politics of public education,” she
says. “So he began researching bicycle touring in Michigan.”
The two modeled their bike touring business after a company in Vermont
whose founder was glad to share his insights.
“We knew we had to move to make the business grow and a friend said the
Traverse City area was big on cycling,” Robold says. “I didn’t want to
leave the Irish Hills because I loved that area, but one night I woke up
at 3 in the morning and a voice in my head said it was time to leave now.
I woke Michael up and he said, okay, we’ll quit out jobs at spring break
and move up north. And that’s just what we did.”

CYCLING ADVENTURE
The two launched Michigan Bicycle Touring in 1988 and became legends of
the state’s cycling community, leading “hundreds and hundreds” of tours
all over the state for the next 25 years.
“We had tours for biking, hiking, canoeing and even yoga retreats. There
were over 100 tours every summer, often with three or four weekend trips
going at once. It was a really big business and we had a lot of fun, but
it was also a lot of work and we didn’t have a life of our own from May to
October.”
Today, there are dozens of cyclists in the region who served as tour
guides for the Robolds on routes ranging from the mid-state Amish country,
all the way through Northern Michigan into Canada.
Eventually, however, bike touring lost its luster as more cyclists became
enamored in the mountain bike craze. “We also felt that the roads up here
were getting more highly traveled,” Robold says. “We began to get more
concerned because there was a lot of traffic coming into the area and
more risk for our business. We also decided we wanted to have more
summer time to ourselves.”

A NEW PATH
“We’ve always loved working together, so we asked ourselves what it was
that we had in common that we could do as a business,” she continues. “The
answer was yoga.”
Libby had been teaching yoga at Northwestern Michigan College since 1984,
having practiced it since her college days as a dancer to heal a back
injury. Michael had obtained his teaching certificate during the ’90s and
sometimes assisted in her yoga classes. Serendipity spoke, and they
launched a new business.
Initially, Robold searched for a simple room to offer classes in, but when
a large space became available at Building 50 in the Grand Traverse
Commons, she decided to take the plunge, even though it was more than she
could afford. Today, their Yoga for Health Education enterprise sprawls
across two floors, including a studio large enough to accommodate several
dozen people, a small 10-person studio, office and meeting rooms, and
their retail store. Green Canopy offers yoga apparel and mats,
locally-made clothing from organic and recycled materials, and books on
yoga, tai-chi, ayurvedic healing and other topics.

YOGA TRADITIONS
Robold likes to sample from an eclectic blend of yogic traditions. She’s
not a yoga ‘fundamentalist’ who’s locked into one particular teacher or
style.
“My background is quite varied and takes a lot from four traditions,
including Iyengar and Anusara with some Kripalu and Kundalini yoga.
 Ayurveda, also, as a sister science of yoga, is another passion as it
applies to yoga therapy, yoga practice, and to daily living.”
She describes ayurveda as the “science of life” drawn from the wellness
and medical traditions of India. “It’s how to make decisions that enhance
healthy living and reach your full potential.”
As for the yogic traditions, each has its place, depending upon the needs
of their practitioners. Iyengar yoga, for instance, is concerned with the
proper alignment of the body and may use props such as bolsters to achieve
results; whereas Kundalini yoga focuses on breathing and relieving
tension.
These may sound esoteric or high-flying, but each form of yoga has its
practical application with down-to-earth classes in back health, pre-natal
conditioning, mother-and-child, athletic conditioning -- even chair-based
yoga for older practitioners.
“In ayurveda, you do the yoga that best suits you,” Robold says when asked
her opinion on yoga trends or fads. “You need to find a class where
you’re comfortable, safe, and at ease with your practice.”

FINDING A BALANCE
Speaking of which, how does Robold balance her own life, given her
energetic, upbeat personality and drive? After all, in her cycling days,
she was essentially a high-performing endurance athlete, and teaching
multiple yoga classes throughout the day and running a business has to be
stressful.
“I think we find balance by doing the opposite,” she says. “Most of us
who are highly driven just want to keep on driving ourselves. So I
remember to relax.”
Finding balance involves self-knowledge about your weaknesses as well as
your strengths. “We need to try to live our lives honoring our personal
makeup and take steps to be more focused and attuned,” she says.
This can also mean not getting too fixated on goals at the expense of your
health.
“I think having a goal is admirable as long as it doesn’t become so
important that you can’t see anything else,” she says. “You don’t want
anything to become so all-encompassing that you can’t see the big picture
of life.”
Speaking of goals, Libby and Michael have an interesting outlook on their
business. They don’t talk about creating the biggest yoga studio in town
or maximizing the number of students. Looking back on all of the hundreds
of people she’s taught through the years, Robold says her biggest reward
as a business owner is seeing the progress of “the fantastic folks who
have become a part of our studio family – both the delightful teachers and
the wonderful students who come.”
She and Michael have a mission that began way back when they were handing
out flyers door-to-door to build their clientele. “It’s to facilitate a
process to help people learn more about themselves and help them raise
their consciousness on all levels for day-to-day living,” she says. “It’s
to continually awaken to who you are.”

 
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