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Joanne Marshall

What kind of example does it set for an over-scheduled school administrator to take time for, and even teach, a yoga class? A good one, according to Joanne Marshall, alumni distinguished professor at the School of Information and Library Science where she served as dean from 1999 to 2004.

“Teaching yoga illustrates to students that faculty are interested in work-life balance. It’s about being a well-rounded person. With multitasking, people are scattered and fragmented.” And sometimes, she says, we have to be that way to get things done. But yoga offers a time to disengage from that.

“It reminds you that you are much more than your job,” she says.

In addition to her academic instruction in health information and evidence-based information practice, Marshall is a senior research scientist at the UNC Institute of Aging and the developer of the NC Health Info database. She continues to be active in research on information systems and learning, especially concerning access to health information. She suggests that the practice of yoga has helped her take on more and more academic pursuits.

“I used to be a person who was ‘go, go, go,’ but then I’d collapse later and not sleep very well. By practicing yoga, I’m better able to sustain my energy now.”

Marshall teaches yoga at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA, the Ram’s Head Recreation Center on UNC’s campus, and leads the twice-monthly Yoga in the Galleries class at the Ackland Art Museum. She plans to begin leading a class at the N.C. Botanical Garden’s Visitor Education Center this fall.

The move from practicing to teaching was natural for Marshall. In 2001, she and 10 others arrived at a campus yoga class to find no instructor. Mats in hands, the group still wanted to practice. Good-naturedly, Marshall agreed to lead the group in that afternoon’s exercise. She served as the substitute until she was offered the real gig, and she is now registered with the Yoga Alliance at the 500-hour level.

“It evolved from there,” she says. “Everything I’ve really loved, I’ve eventually wanted to teach.”

Marshall says yoga has also helped her transform her teaching style. What was once a very lectured-based way of instruction is now centered on class participation. Her work’s focus on information and user experience has deepened as she works to help users enrich their understanding and application of that information. Along with that comes a new perspective on how people relate to information science.

“We want to work with people and help them use systems, and make it easier to find information, especially health information. We want to find out how we can help them make clear and helpful decisions,” she says. “But we’re never going to change as fast as the systems around us. If we don’t take the time to recalibrate, we can end up fairly warped.”

Yoga is an exercise that calms and focuses the mind as well as increases strength and flexibility. It uses connections with the earth and the breath to link the body, mind and spirit. Marshall’s yoga class can challenge and accommodate people from all fitness levels.

Marshall, however, receives no payment for the classes she leads at the museum — it’s just another way she serves the University.

“My service is teaching and research, but this is just another way I can give back.”

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