Maty Ezraty Curated
Renowned Yoga Instructor
CURATED BY :
What is your message for aspiring yoga instructors?
How do you feel about franchise opportunities?
How to schedule the yoga classes to get a balanced number of students in the class?
What do you need to do maybe be in the first three months, if you are trying to start a yoga studio?
What is one advice that you would like to give to a yoga studio owner?
What are your thoughts about a yoga school or studio that just offers only one specialised type of yoga style?
What is your opinion on co-ops for starting yoga school?
What was the biggest compliment that you received after selling YogaWorks?
What would you suggest one should incorporate to run a successful yoga school?
What according to you is quality in yoga?
How to run a yoga school successfully?
What are the problems of running a yoga school?
How difficult is running a yoga school?
How important is having good energy in a yoga school?
What is your definition of a yoga student?
What is the most important thing about starting a yoga school?
How did YogaWorks transition from being a studio into a community?
What was the driving force behind the development of YogaWorks?
What motivated you to start YogaWorks?
How did you come up with YogaWorks?
I think many of us aspire to have an individual practice as long and fruitful as yours. What advice do you have for us as we look to the future?
What you do in your 20s, you’re not going to be able to do in your 50s. The more you understand that from the beginning, and the more you develop a really caring practice, the more you will appreciate the basics. So when those more fancy poses go away, you’ll have less suffering. You will see the benefits of the simplicity of it all. The way that our lives are structured today, we put our old people in homes and we may not live next to our families, so we grow up without seeing that aging process up close. It’s not so real for us. We think that we’re always going to be like we are today, but things change. So it’s about the simple things: just lying down on the ground, feeling the earth and realizing how precious that is. How many people in the world never walk barefoot, never lie down on a flat floor and just close their eyes and breathe? It’s going to come to that for each and every one of us, at some point. Standing on your head? Intense arm balances? Eventually it just doesn’t work anymore. But if those expectations are not there, and the simplicity is applied, and savored, then it’s a wonderful thing. At the end of the day, you have to know this practice, personally, for yourself, without the teacher. It’s got to get to that.
Do you see any glimmers of hope?
The last time I taught at a yoga festival, I had a teachers’ class. It was a really large class, 120 students, and I did basics. I walked out of that class high as a kite. These teachers wanted to learn, they were hungry, and they were getting it. It was exciting. There was no music, and their eyes were wide open and they wanted the information. So yes, I have hope. But it’s going to take a community effort.
What can we do to change things?
Practitioners need to be educated and to buy the right workshops, put their money in classes and in trainings that offer something else. Request them: “I want classes with less music, I want more restorative yoga, I want more pranayama.” And as an owner, you really have to walk that line in a smart way. Because you have to bring people along. It takes experience. It’s totally doable, but everyone’s just going too fast. This practice takes time. You need at least 7 years before you’re pretty good. You should have at least 10-15 years under your belt before you teach and train people. You’ve got to be really strong in your own understanding. Otherwise you just give in to the students, because it’s too hard. My best students and my best teachers assisted me for years. And came to class, over and over again, for years. There’s nothing wrong with a 200-hour training, if you then have somewhere to go and apprentice, under someone who’s really got it. That’ll work.
If you could give one piece of advice to a new teacher today, what would it be?
Stick to why you decided to do yoga in the first place, and teach from there. I did not seek yoga for a profession, when I started studying. I came for a deeper, soul searching. That’s the place to teach yoga from. When you’re a new teacher, you’re told you need a 200-hour certificate to teach anywhere. What does that have to do with anything? You can do 200 hours of good training or 200 hours of no training. Some people can retain an enormous amount in 200 hours, and other people can’t. So we have this arbitrary number of hours. We’ve got a problem. In the old days, you had to get permission to take the Yoga Works teacher training. Somebody watched you practice. The first day of teacher training, I could teach shoulder stand. Everybody knew the fundamentals. They knew that in trikonasana the leg turns out, and the knee faces the second toe. I have students now who have never heard that before. But it’s not the students’ fault! I don’t even think it’s the teacher’s fault. It’s the owners and the companies that are pushing numbers, pushing fitness, pushing Twitter, pushing websites … and they’re overlooking good teachers. It’s also the consumer. It’s really a society problem, and it’s going to take courageous people to do things in a different way.
You have been teaching yoga for 25 years. How have you seen the teaching of yoga evolve in America over that time?
Yoga today is a little mixed up with fitness. Not that there’s anything wrong with fitness, but it doesn’t allow you to go deeper in understanding your inner dynamics, your self, your mind-space. If you have the music on, and everything’s about feeling good, looking good … it’s artificial. Unfortunately, in the last decade, we’ve seen business people take over yoga schools. And they really don’t understand yoga—half of them don’t even practice it. We have so many teacher trainings taught by people who haven’t been doing yoga long enough. So we’re creating a new generation that’s doing yoga poses, but in a fitness manner. It’s diluting yoga. It’s a lot easier to sell, because when you’re required to observe your mind and look at your stuff, it’s harder! I think a lot of people are being promised that they can become yoga teachers, but it’s really difficult to make a living teaching yoga today. Of course it depends on the individual and what they know … but it should definitely not be something that you do lightly. I would never advise someone to give up a career to teach yoga, because most teachers today are struggling. Sometimes what you love to do is not necessarily what you should do for a living.
For a number of years, you have been practicing vipassana meditation in addition to yoga. Is that compatible with this idea of making your practice whole?
Yes. I think meditation is mandatory, if you are a serious seeker of spirituality. Asana will only take you so far. It’s so important to study your mind in other venues. Meditation is as good as it gets.
What does it mean to make your practice whole?
In today’s world, yoga is practiced a little bit more for physical reasons. Making your practice whole is about exploring the bigger picture: your attitudes, the way the mind works, what your intentions are. It means looking at yoga from a holistic perspective, less from a strictly physical point of view.
Where would you like to see yoga go? If you could pull out your magic yoga dust and make everything okay, what would you wish for the future of yoga?
Sometimes I hope yoga is going to break—to split into yoga fitness and more traditional yoga classes. I hope yoga schools will invest in their teachers and help them put out classes that are not just fitness oriented but geared toward students’ needs. Yoga is so powerful when done with that in mind. Yoga is meant to be a healing art. It is a long tradition that incorporates a lot more than just asanas. My wish is that we can stop the image of “yoga” as an industry or just another fitness modality. I hope we stop mixing it and that we return to what it is meant to be—a healing art for the body and mind that ultimately is supposed to be leading us to greater happiness and acceptance.
Do you worry about the future of yoga and the new wave of up-and-coming teachers?
I think it is vital for young teachers to study under senior teachers. There are many good teachers that are not famous and vital for new teachers to experience. What makes me hopeful is knowing there’s still a large audience who isn’t interested in Instagram or trends and instinctively knows what is and isn’t yoga.
You are one of the most sought after and respected teachers in the world. Is that a heavy heavy crown to bear?
I often feel pressured when it comes to teaching poses with good alignment because it is not always a popular approach. Everyone wants to do more and have fun doing yoga. As good as yoga poses are for us, they can also be counterproductive. Yoga takes time to understand, new teachers today are not guided like in the old days. Teacher trainings are everywhere and the standards are not good. The amount of hours spent learning to teach doesn’t mean that you are ready to teach. It can often be discouraging because I feel like the yoga world has grown so fast and that young teachers have so much pressure to fill classes. Not enough time is spent with senior teachers, so they are forced to give the public what they want. Teachers are meant to educate and young teachers today are not given enough support to take time to become teachers. I feel the pressure to support them to really teach yoga.
Speaking of modifying, you were revolutionary in bringing attention to alignment and use of props into the Ashtanga practice. Did you catch flak from the Ashtanga community for this?
I think some students and teachers view my style of teaching Ashtanga as nontraditional. Pattabhi Jois gave me permission to teach Ashtanga. He knew how much I loved the practice and that I was dedicated. That hasn’t changed, but over time and years of experience, I have arrived to a bigger vision of what we do in the yoga room. It is not important to teach postures or series to people but to teach students the art of yoga. I saw the need to make changes for individuals or they would not come back to class. I would rather have someone in class and take out a pose that is not supporting them, than lose them as a student. I felt that too much emphasis was on accomplishing poses and getting the next pose in the series. I see that as propelling the misery of life—more is better rather than what yoga is really trying to teach us: love, kindness, and acceptance. After all, we will all eventually have to give up certain poses, age will make us face that teaching of nothing lasts forever. And it is not like everyone can fit into one box. People are all unique and different. I think the word “traditional” has been taken out of context: “It must be done this way—or it is not ‘traditional.’” When things are one way, then we have not taken the responsibility to ask if it is really working. Questioning this can be painful because it demands that we do things in a different way or that we need to re-evaluate what we learned. In my experience, you need to understand your tools and that some work better with different students. If I take out a block to help someone learn how to do a pose, it has nothing to do with tradition. It has to do with compassion for the person that I am teaching.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to do Mysore Ashtanga, especially for those with full and busy lives?
I see Ashtanga as a map and not a mandate. If we view Ashtanga as equaling first and second series and think we have to do the entire series in order to consider it a good day of practice, we are bound to suffer. We will have days and times in our lives when we need to do less. I see the Mysore room as a place for students to learn how to practice yoga as well as learn how to practice what is good for them. Yoga should support our life and not be another demand that we put on ourselves. Our practice should cultivate inquiry, sensitivity, and kindness to ourselves. If we force ourselves to stick to the series no matter what is happening in our body and mind, we have missed the whole point of yoga. Some days we might be better off going for a walk in nature. Let’s also keep in mind that not everyone should or can do all the poses in first series. As teachers, no matter what yoga style we teach, we should know how and when to modify for our students needs. What better place than the Mysore room, where everyone can go at their own pace? It is a wonderful way to learn to listen to your body and to your needs. The practice can always be modified so that Ashtanga can support you.
How important is meditation in your life?
Six years ago, I began a sitting practice which has completely altered my life. I still choose asana over meditation if I absolutely have to, or when I’m teaching and there is less time available. I think that will change as I get a bit older. Meditation makes my life sweeter, and I’ve grown in so many ways thanks to the practice.
What is your personal practice like?
I’m still practicing Ashtanga and modify as needed. I have always been a slow Ashtanga practitioner. I take my time getting through the series and enjoy spending extra time in the Sun Salutations and standing poses, although these days it can be even slower! I do less of the jumps and spend more time in poses adding preps and variations. I’ll often add restorative poses at the end of my practice using props as needed. Occasionally, I change the practice completely and do more of an Iyengar style practice. It’s a good practice for me to do things differently, to let go of the habit, but truth be told, I mainly stick with the general outline of Ashtanga. I like it. It works for me.