Making yoga accessible to the people who need it

I don’t think there’s a whole lot of argument that there is a lot not to like about how yoga continues to grow in the West.

There may be a lot of argument about what, specifically, to dislike, but from conversations I have with yoga practitioners (not to mention not-yogis), everyone seems to have some concern or complaint about some aspects of the “yoga industrial complex.”

One thing I think we all can agree is good is the relatively recent realization that yoga in the West tends to be a pursuit of the privileged — and subsequent efforts to address this.

There’s Urban Yogis. There are efforts in Africa. There’s more of an embrace of people who don’t like the usual Instagram stars.

All of that is absolutely great. Let there be more.

I want to add one other group, which in most cases isn’t underprivileged, but for which yoga as practiced (and set up as a business) is largely inaccessible.

It’s a group I belong to, so I’m biased.

It’s the 40+ hour a week, 9 to 5ers.

A big reason I have a home Ashtanga practice is time constraints. I really need to be heading into backbends and finishing poses by about 7 a.m. in order to be able to get ready and get to work.

In most cases, that’s about when a Mysore practice at a studio — from West Coast to East, north to south — starts. And that means I’m there with one or two others and then maybe get an adjustment and some backbend assistance. Sundays are the exception (and when a room is exceptionally crowded).

Frankly, it’s hard to cough up $180 a month for that. That’s just the plain truth.

When Bobbie and I were down in Encinitas while she took the Third Series training, I realized — not to pick on Tim Miller by any means — that were we to live down there (side note: I know few series students of Tim who haven’t pondered whether a move there is possible) and my maintain my same work, there would be days of the week that his schedule wouldn’t work for me. Maybe even like half.

Looking around at a sampling of Ashtanga schedules, this seems pretty routine. They work great if you have free mornings or, perhaps, some freedom early enough at the end of the day. But otherwise… it’s kind of hard.

Now, I know there is one big reason for this: Teachers have to practice, too. Do I expect a teacher to be up and assisting by 6 a.m., meaning he or she may have had to start practicing at 4 a.m. — maybe even 3:30 a.m.?

No, I don’t. I do have a shred of humanity.

The places that are set up for the 9 to 5ers are larger, semi-corporate places like YogaWorks. Their schedules kick off, often, at 6 a.m., and that first class is done by 7:15 a.m. If the place is really nice and has fantastic shower facilities, it’s even possible (although a bit of a bummer) to head straight to work. You just have to figure out breakfast. (And the post-practice coffee.) But spots like YogaWorks don’t always, maybe even often, offer Ashtanga, if that’s what you’re looking for.

And here at this blog, we are.

Those who know Los Angeles and know the YogaWorks here are perhaps saying, “Hold on a second, Steve.” And I get it. There is an unusual number of Ashtanga classes, even Mysore ones. Our friend Maria Zavala leads one in West Hollywood, beginning at 6:30 a.m.

To those folks, I of course counter with: Traffic. I won’t bore you with how long it would take me, even at 6 a.m., to get to WeHo and then back home or even to work.

And that’s the thing. Ashtanga is intended to be for house-holders. But to a certain, and important, extent, it doesn’t work that way, because of what house-holding means and entails.

That is, unless you practice at home.

I’m not now about the offer some solution. One doesn’t pop easily to mind. But I think it unfortunate that a whole big group of people — those with stresses at work, with long hours at desks, with perhaps a career they didn’t really intend but can’t for any number of reasons abandon (note: I’m not obliquely referring to myself there) — who really could use the benefits of yoga, and of Ashtanga in particular, are effectively locked out of experiencing them.

Maybe the next life will be more accommodating.

Posted by Steve

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Finally, YogaWorks to offer ‘traditional yoga instruction’

It’s about time, right?

YogaWorks — which we noted earlier this month has merged with a NorCal yoga outfit — has just opened a new studio in one of Los Angeles’ fanciest neighborhoods, Brentwood. (It’s north and up the hill from Santa Monica, if that means anything to anyone.)

And according to the local paper there, this will be the first YogaWorks to offer “traditional yoga instruction.”

Ha. I wonder what the thinking was behind that bit of marketing. What’s been going on at the Center for Yoga, do you suppose? And what did Pattabhi Jois teach when he led workshops there? (My guess: Early Acro-Yoga.)

Here’s more:

“It’s the perfect blend, mix, and match of a great, high-quality yoga studio with a great fitness gym, plus also spa-like amenities and an environment,” said studio manager Kevin Elliott. “Our ultimate goal is when someone walks in, they say, ‘ahhh, I’m here.’ They walk out and they have kind of like what we call, Yoga Brain.”

Elliott, a retired professional track and field athlete, has big plans for his Brentwood studio.

“YogaWorks offers just a different type of opportunity as compared to our other local neighboring YogaWorks studios,” he said.

Their Mindful Fitness Program now brings trademarked classes like TRX, ScuptWorks, BarreWorks, and Pilates Mat into the curriculum. And for yoga purists, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Hatha and Vinyasa Flow, among others, remain at the helm of YogaWorks’ signature style.

But what I really love is this description:

High walls, bamboo floors, and a cheerful front desk take you in. It’s as if you can finally breathe.

From there, YogaWorks becomes a candy shop for the motivated, no matter the level of experience.

And there’s this, to give you an idea of the size of the place:

The studio is a 5,500 square-foot urban oasis featuring two yoga spacious yoga studios equipped to offer up to 85 classes per week, along with a private instruction room. It’s located at 11620 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 101, between Barrington and Federal Ave., and includes 90 minutes free parking in the parking lot behind the adjoining building.

YogaWorks Brentwood also acts as a health club, with amenities like changing rooms, showers, and lockers for member convenience.

While other yoga studios might require 200 hours of certification, YogaWorks’ instructors are 500-hours certified. World-renowned YogaWorks teachers will be teaching classes in Brentwood on a regular basis, including Mia Togo, Patti Quintero, Caley Yavorsky and more.

They are so world-renowned, in fact, I’ve never heard of them.

Posted by Steve

The chances of a YogaWorks showing up in your area just got better

Especially if you live in Boston or Washington.

And for sure if you live in San Francisco.

The reason? Well besides the obvious — money! — it’s because YogaWorks has just made a strong move into California’s Bay Area by combining with a smaller, long-established chain there called Yoga Tree.

Which limb is synergy in, again?

Here’s the news from the Los Angeles Times:

Yoga Tree, a small Bay Area chain, has been acquired by growing Southern California company YogaWorks.

The deal increases Santa Monica-based YogaWorks’ reach into the lucrative Bay Area market, said Phil Swain, chief executive of YogaWorks.

“We’re very excited about the Bay Area,” he said. “It’s a very strong community.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The deal attempts to capitalize on yoga’s growing popularity.

The Times calls the two “two of the oldest chains in California.” And, yes, it uses “bent” as a pun in its lead. It also cites a National Institutes of Health study that says 10% of Americans practiced yoga in 2012.

At this point, YogaWorks operates 28 studios in California (mainly LA and Orange counties) and New York. I know. I also thought: Only 28?

Now it’s more like 36. And more to come. YogaWorks has its sights on Boston and DC back east and, building off this acquisition, the Bay Area here in California.

Posted by Steve