The Center for Yoga (aka Yoga Works Larchmont) has a rich a storied history with respect to the LA yoga community. I won’t review the details of this history here. If you want to read more about the studio’s past, this LA Weekly article covers it pretty well. Today, I just want to review the studio based on my own personal experiences there.
Basically, I just don’t get it. I’ve tried around seven different teachers at the Larchmont studio, and they are always professional and safe in how they teach, but I almost never, ever break a sweat when I take a yoga class at this studio. I know things are not looking good when I pull out my Yogitoes for a Vinyasa Flow 2/3, look around the room, and see that not a single other person has a Yogitoes (or a Manduka, for that matter). Because we don’t build heat in our bodies, our knees, hips, etc. are way too tight for many of the poses we attempt. Basically, with one or two exceptions, I found the classes here to be boring and very rarely challenging.
Now, I know this will make me sound like a yoga snob, but I think I’m only expressing here what many other people in the Yoga Works community (students and teachers alike) are already saying: The Larchmont studio needs to get some new teachers. The place just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the Yoga Works vibe. The classes are way too easy. The teachers are mostly older and, I think, somewhat jaded that the “Starbucks of Yoga” took over their beloved studio. This is all understandable, but it doesn’t make for a great place for students to do yoga.
One guy who works at the Center For Yoga explained that the teachers there are “more traditional” in their approach to yoga. After studying a bit of yoga history and philosophy as a graduate student, however, I don’t even know what it means to say that the teachers are “more traditional”. Yoga is always changing, and, despite what people want to believe, no one today is practicing the same yoga that people have been practicing for thousands of years. The closest thing to a so-called tradition, in this sense, is the Ashtanga practice, which really only dates back to the early part of the 20th century.
My understanding is that many, if not most, of the asanas we practice today in the Krishnamacharya lineage (which includes Asthanga as taught by Pattabhi Jois and Iyengar yoga) do not in fact come from anything like a ancient practice. There just is no textual evidence, or any evidence really, to support this idea that yoga as we practice it today is ancient and “traditional”. There are, certainly, some ideological and philosophical strands that do pop up here and there throughout the history of yoga. But there is by no means consensus on (a) what these stands are, (b) how to accurately identify them, or (c) what these common strands even mean. This should come as no surprise. If you know anything about, say, the history of Christianity, it’s just ridiculous to talk about agreement or consensus across the history of a religious or intellectual “tradition”.
With that rant on the table, then, what the heck does it mean to say that the teachers at the Larchmont studio are “more traditional” than their Westside counterparts? To be frank, I think this appeal to tradition is just a poor excuse for teaching slow, boring, out-of-date, and uninspired yoga classes. I prefer teachers who are dynamic, constantly learning, and keeping “up with the times”. This is really in the spirit of the so-called “yoga tradition”. Perhaps the only thing that has really, truly come down from one generation of yogis to the next is the willingness to adapt the practice to the needs of the times, the culture, and the people. Stasis is the mode of death; dynamism is the mode of life.
Maybe I’m just a junkie for intense yoga classes. This may be the case, and I do acknowledge the need for slower and perhaps safer yoga classes. Different strokes for different folks, right? Well, yes, but in this case, the Center For Yoga is part of the Yoga Works chain. Whether or not Yoga Works is the “Starbucks of Yoga” or even the devil incarnate, the fact of the matter is that the Larchmont studio is now part of the Yoga Works corporate entity. From a customer service perspective, when I go to a Starbucks, I expect the same, consistent quality product no matter which location I go to. But this has not been my experience with Yoga Works — the Larchmont studio is just one example of this. The New York Yoga Works studios have a similar problem, but more on that some other time.
If you practice at any of the Westside Yoga Works studios, I can almost guarantee that you’ll be disappointed with the Larchmont studio. One notable exception to all this is Joan Hyman. She teaches a few classes at Larchmont, and, based on how packed her classes are, there is clearly a need for stronger teachers like Joan at the Larchmont location.