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Yoga, L.A. Style

Like the eye of a storm, Yoga Works, the brainchild of Maty Ezraty and Chuck Miller, provides busy Angelenos a place to become centered.

By Loraine Despres

Yogic Business Values

Along with promoting their teachers' growth, Maty and Chuck try to take care of the center's other workers. Yoga Works is one of the few centers to offer health insurance to full-time staff.

"We want to try to make this a model," says Chuck. "We need to find joy in helping. If a yogi can't do that, then what hope is there? Some people think yoga shouldn't be a business, but we can't offer these benefits unless we run it on a businesslike basis." They are also looking into the feasibility of starting a 401K retirement plan.

"We have a great staff," Maty says. "We want to keep them, and keep them happy."

Maty invites me to visit her Level 2 & 3 class in their new center on Main Street in Santa Monica, just two blocks from the Pacific Ocean. Standing in front of the colorful little cement-block building with its cheerful yellow paint, I inhale deeply. The ocean breeze, fresh and nourishing, fills my lungs.

Inside, the stress of the traffic drops from my shoulders. The bare-bones building is softened with lots of wood and natural light. Chuck, the former carpenter, designed a carved reception desk made of golden maple to greet the students, and varnished maple shelves to display candles, books, CDs, T-shirts, and more. Geometric rugs in primary colors are spread out on the floor. The ceiling has been taken out, exposing the bare beams, and—a real plus for any yoga studio—there are showers in the changing area. Although it's a weekday morning, the lobby is quickly filling up.

The studio space here is booked nonstop from 6:30 in the morning until nine at night. As soon as the previous class breaks up, we enter the large sun-lit studio, bright with skylights and white walls and a burnished hardwood floor. Five minutes later Maty's class begins.

The Yoga Works brochure says, "Level 2 & 3 classes build heat and stamina through Sun Salutations and standing poses. Intermediate backbends and inverted poses are regularly practiced. Students will find these classes creative, challenging, and stimulating."

Build heat we do, as, after some focusing and breathing exercises, we jump through Sun Salutations, going from Down Dog to Chaturanga Dandasana again and again and again. Just as I am beginning to feel my arms turn into spaghetti, Maty moves us on to the standing poses. I look around. Am I the only one sweating? No, the woman next to me shines with a fine layer of perspiration. Maty and her assistant circle the room, quietly adjusting an arm here, the curve of a back there. Even though there are 25 students, we're all being watched carefully. I realize I'm safe to explore my edges in the pose, secure that Maty will warn me if I'm in danger of overbending my back or twisting my knee. As we go up into elbow stand, a pose I have yet to master, Maty says, "Don't worry. Do what you can. Just keep practicing, and it will come to you."

Although Maty doesn't claim to teach the Iyengar method, she employs many of its techniques: emphasis on proper alignment, a skillful use of props, and individualized modification of poses for some students. Along with her borrowings from Iyengar and the strong influence of Pattabhi Jois's Mysore-style (self-paced) Ashtanga practice, Maty also incorporates what she has learned from the many important teachers who come through the studio.

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