Yoga, L.A. Style
Yoga Works has become such a powerful presence in Southern California—and in the American yoga world—that it's hard to remember that founder Maty Ezraty bucked all conventional wisdom when she opened the studio 12 years ago.
"I was the laughing stock of the yoga community," says Maty, who founded the center in upscale Santa Monica. "Everyone told me the rents were too high, the neighborhood was too trendy, and I had spent much too much on art and decor. But I wanted to make the studio look so nice you felt good when you were here. I tried to gather the best teachers in the city and opened with a variety of classes. No one I knew offered such an eclectic program at the time. People didn't expect us to last a year."
Far from fading from the scene, Yoga Works now has two facilities and offers 150 classes a week, employing 35 teachers plus more than 30 other workers who do everything from accounting to organizing workshops to staffing the front desk.
Yoga Works's five levels of hatha yoga classes draw primarily from the Ashtanga vinyasa teachings of Pattabhi Jois, Iyengar Yoga, and Viniyoga. Most classes combine elements of all three practices in a flowing style that links asanas together in long, continuous series. In addition, Yoga Works presents frequent workshops with some of the most celebrated yogis in the world, including Kofi Busia, John Friend, Shandor Remete, Richard Freeman, Rodney Yee, Gabriella Giubilaro, Aadil Palkhivala, Dona Holleman, Patricia Walden, Erich Schiffmann, Donna Farhi, Gary Kraftsow, and John Schumacher. The studio also features workshops with staff teachers—such as "Study of Yoga Sutras" with Paul Cabanis and a workshop for women over 40 led by Chris Stein—plus a number of off-site retreats such as "Yoga and Rock Climbing" at Joshua Tree National Park with staff teacher Shiva Rea.
Finding a Home
Maty founded Yoga Works when she was just 24. Although she'd been teaching part time for three years, she didn't envision the studio as a venue for just her own teaching. She simply loved yoga and wanted to create a warm and welcoming home where she and others could learn and share the practice.
Shortly after the center opened, Maty met Chuck Miller (her partner in Yoga Works and life) in a workshop taught by Pattabhi Jois. Chuck asked her out for breakfast, and they've been together ever since.
Chuck, who was living in Aspen, Colorado, at the time, had quit his job as a carpenter to assist and study with Jois, as he always did when his master came to America. (Today Chuck is one of a handful of senior North American Ashtanga teachers recommended by Jois.)
Chuck resisted moving to Los Angeles, so together he and Maty tried to set up a yoga center in Aspen. It didn't work; the population base was just too small. So, with great reluctance, Chuck agreed to come to L.A.—but only for two months. He extended his visit for another month. That month has now turned into 12 years.
With her small stature, slim hips, and long dark braids, Maty could still be mistaken for the 20-something who first dreamed up Yoga Works; Chuck, with his long reddish hair and beard, still looks like the mountain man he is at heart. When asked why they think Yoga Works is so successful, Chuck answers immediately, "We were willing to work 80 or 90 hours a week. Now we're finally trying to cut back."