Yoga, L.A. Style
After the class, we visit the Yoga Works center on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. Here, classes begin at 6:30 a.m. with Chuck's Mysore-style Ashtanga class, which he tries to offer in a way that will not intimidate even a total beginner. Chuck says he teaches Ashtanga as he learned it from Pattabhi Jois, and he sees himself as a conduit, passing on to a new generation what he learned from his teacher. Every student works at his or her own pace as Chuck moves through the room, guiding the newer students, whispering the moves in their ears until they have learned the routine. "It's like a private class, but with the energy and support of the group," he says.
Chuck believes gradual progress in a safe environment eventually empowers students to develop an independent practice. "It's too bad that Ashtanga is viewed by so many people as a new kind of aerobics," he says, "because it's so much more. The class attracts its share of physical fitness enthusiasts—what Maty calls the Triple A—type personalities-but when it's practiced properly, Ashtanga is internal, a mental cleaning. The body is the repository of all our thoughts, and by working with the body, we're freeing the mind."
Yoga Works started here in one room, and now occupies the entire second floor, with two large studios, off-street parking, and a beautifully laid out shop. But the business hasn't always been so solid. In 1995, it all came tumbling down, literally. Earthquake inspectors discovered the building had been so severely damaged in the 1994 temblor that they shut down the studio, only allowing staff limited access to retrieve crucial records and equipment.
Many schools would have gone under. But Maty and Chuck, working around the clock, found a structurally sound building about 10 minutes away, contacted their students, and within a week were able to resume classes, even as they consulted on the renovations needed for their original space.
"Sometimes people don't understand how hard it is to keep a center going," Maty says. "But it provides a resource, a stable place for teachers and students to come and work with their yoga. And once it's set in motion, it takes on a life of its own."
"Running the business is like riding a giant flying dragon," Chuck says. "We're holding on to the tail feathers, pretending to drive. What we want to do is get on the back and enjoy the ride. Fortunately Maty has a real talent for the business end. I'm hopeless at it."
"He's my anchor," Maty responds. "Chuck is the real yogi. He always has the best interests of yoga in his mind."
"Maybe you're the dragon."
By now they're finishing each other's sentences, with Chuck providing the poetic flourishes.
"It's like opening a restaurant," he says. "It can be beautifully decorated, have fine music, but it won't be a success unless it has a great menu. Maty is very talented in creating that menu. She has all these different classes and workshops that seem to flow into one another."
Maty has been approached many times to franchise the business, but says she has no interest in becoming the McDonald's of yoga. "Every school has to develop its own teachers, its own atmosphere. Just as the best restaurants are unique, so are the best schools. Chains become sterile and boring."