Thursday, June 16, 2005

L.A. Yoga Teacher Directory

A few statements to set the scene.

As those of you who know me realize – I’m a bit of a yoga fanatic, and also somewhat of a yoga gourmet. I’m very picky about my yoga and about my yoga teachers. I feel lucky to live in L.A. because L.A. is the best yoga city in the world. You’ll have to trust me on this one. I’ve traveled a lot, and tried yoga in many places. There are occasional good teachers to be found all over the world, but the concentration of talent and the cross-fertilization that happen in L.A. are unequaled. There may be an exception to this statement in India, but I suspect that it's not because Indian yoga is so good. It's because doing yoga in India is like eating bruschetta in Tuscany. Even if the bruschetta is not the best, the feeling of authenticity makes it special.

L.A. yoga, like L.A. cuisine, tends to be a fusion of styles, and it draws on the best of these styles. The two major and very distinct styles are Ashtanga and Iyengar (or Hatha). Flow Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Power Yoga, or Hatha Flow, are primarily fusions of these two styles and the exact mix depends on the teacher.

Ashtanga, at one end of the spectrum, consists of a fixed sequence of very demanding poses and transitions, and there is a flow from one pose to another. The challenge is to do this sequence (that takes at least 90 minutes), and then to do it better… It can be done without an instructor. If there is an instructor, their role is to circulate through the class and help out students as they go through their sequence. But the students are not synchronized.

Iyengar, at the other end, is a follow-your-instructor practice, and each class is different, with a concentration on a certain set of poses, and generally with a gradual progression through one or two poses to more difficult and demanding versions. Accuracy and proper alignment are emphasized, and that alignment is ultimately also helpful in enhancing the quality of an Ashtanga practice.

Yoga can be done at a yoga studio, or at a gym. Generally speaking, yoga is much better at a yoga studio. Even if it’s the same teacher teaching at a studio and at a gym, the studio class will be better. There are a few reasons for this. One is that gym classes are usually a mix of serious and not so serious yogis, and the instructor needs to accommodate them all. Another is that gym classes have at least one wall of mirrors, which distracts and changes the feeling of yoga. Third, the temperature is often too low in a gym. So, if you’re starting out, I recommend starting at a yoga studio. You’ll get a better feel for how good it can really be.

L.A. has many good yoga studios, but lately there’s been a consolidation of studios. I won’t get into the details of this consolidation, because I'm wary of raising my blood pressure. Also, this is a subject in and of itself, and merits its own separate post. For the purposes of this post I’ll concentrate on Yogaworks (Santa Monica, Westwood), Sports Club (L.A., Beverly Hills), and Brian Kest’s studio in Santa Monica.

A disclaimer – even with this limited set of studios, there are many instructors that I’ve never tried. I’m listing my favorites among those that I know. Alphabetically…

Jenny Arthur – Very precise, very clearly spelled out flow classes. Some may find the classes slow, but Jenny is very good at getting you into poses accurately, and helping when you’re just not getting it.

Annie Carpenter – Annie is a former dancer, and there’s a lot in the way she conducts a class that reminds me (unpleasantly) of ballet classes. Like the way she says “Madame” when telling someone that they should do something differently. But she’s a fascinating teacher, she knows anatomy and can explain poses very well, I always find there’s something to be learned in her class.

Chad Hamrin – The most interesting of all the instructors I know. His classes tend towards an Iyengar style, but without the props. Extraordinarily original. Because his classes don’t have the full aerobic element of true flow classes, attendance is relatively sparse, but at least 50% of the students are instructors themselves. Which tells you something. When instructors are looking for new ideas for their classes, they come to Chad’s class. Always worthwhile.

Heath House – Heath is a former gymnast, and a truly fun and sweet guy. His yoga classes are very well sequenced, and they include more gymnastic elements that usual. That shouldn’t be a deterrent, on the contrary. Heath gives great pointers on how to make these impossible-looking poses actually happen. There’s something exhilarating about being able to do one of these poses, and if you can’t he also gives plenty of good alternatives. Great music selections too. Always a pleasure.

Brian Kest – An L.A. experience. Unlike other studios, that are quite pricey ($10-15 per class), Brian’s class is by donation. That draws a huge crowd, including of course aspiring actors, writers, filmmakers, etc… He recently moved into new studios, but the old one was a former ballet school, and classes of 120 people or more, with mats almost touching each other and fogged up windows, are the norm.

Vinnie Marino – The rockstar of L.A. yoga teachers. Vinnie teaches a very intense flow class, and his Brooklyn macho style and humor, coupled with great music selections, draw crowds. I can’t tolerate the sweating crowds any more, but there is something about the adrenaline high you get in his classes that is pretty compelling. For guys – this is the number one place to find beautiful girls. The waiting area looks like a casting call for Baywatch.

Jesse Schein – Very smart, Jesse teaches an intense class and knows the details of alignment to a T. Highly recommended both for beginner and for advanced classes

Lisa Walford – L.A. style Iyengar – Lisa is second only to Chad as one of the fascinating teachers in L.A. I say all this even though I now avoid her classes. Last time I went, she took me aside at the end and told me that I really should go to a more beginner class… How obnoxious.

More to come...


At 5:33 AM, Blogger Brent Laffoon said...

Great post. Thx for recommending some teachers I didn't know...

At 6:37 PM, Blogger patty t said...

Where does Chad hamrin teach?

At 6:58 PM, Blogger cosmopolitan life said...



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