Strike a Pose
From the dolphin pose to the half-moon, the Valley is a hot bed for yoga, boasting some of SoCal’s finest and most cutting-edge practitioners. For the Om set and the merely chakra-curious, here’s a guide to some of the best classes.
Written byHeather David and Janine Sharell
Twisted, contorted and bent. No, we’re not describing rush hour traffic on the Boulevard but something that has become almost as common a sight—a distinct downward dog—visible through a storefront window. And while the traffic crawling outside is stress-inducing, these studios inspire a physical and emotional calm that has driven Valley yoga to unprecedented heights. These yogi hotspots range from the high-end—adorned with fireplaces and tea rooms—to bare bones—with little more than wood floors and bright lights. They are populated with everyone from toned triathletes to the fitness-challenged. Today in the Valley, there’s yoga for everyone.
If you’re new to the mat, check out Yoga for Beginners at the 10-year-old Black Dog Yoga. As you teeter on your first sun salutation, you’ll feel comfortable in the crowd. The class is filled with yogis from all walks of life, from 20-something hipsters covered in tattoos to spry senior citizens. “What’s most important for a new student is to gain an understanding of moving with the breath. It’s not about feeling the burn,” says manager Rose Gresch.
Patient teachers take you through basic positions, with a keen eye toward safety, as they offer “corrections” on form. Here a first-timer can easily make a smooth transition into yoga without feeling self-conscious. The class is held on Saturdays and Sundays.
Black Dog makes it easy for new students, with an entry offer of two weeks of unlimited yoga for $30. A few years ago, Holly Skodis found yoga through a promotion. “I committed myself to yoga at the studio five days a week, and it changed my body entirely,” she remembers.
In addition to the physical benefits, she’s also incor-porated the yoga principle of breathing through life’s daily stresses. “It’s taught me how to get over my anxieties and even helped with insomnia.” Holly’s now a certified teacher herself.
When the doors to YogaWorks swung open in the fall of 2010, Tarzana finally had a premiere studio. The Sherman Oaks/Studio City area had its fill of places where you’re practically guaranteed a good class, but that had been lacking in points west. With studios throughout California, YogaWorks offers a smorgasbord of classes, including a terrific program for beginners.
The novice program here is devoted to introducing the fundamentals, the language and the proper alignment of poses. Manager Lance Zavela says he’s seen an influx of men trying yoga lately, adding, “YogaWorks brings a new university to the Valley, a place where there’s not only yoga for practice and preventative health care but there’s great variety.” YogaWorks is also introducing yoga through prenatal and kids classes, as well as one devoted to seniors.
Holli Rabishaw used to log eight to twenty miles behind the wheel in pursuit of a fabulous class, but not any more. “We have some of the best instructors LA has to offer right here in the Valley.” As a YogaWorks trained instructor, Holli now boasts a loyal following. Students adore her infectious passion and the way they feel post-class—as one student puts it, “present, calm, graceful and aware.”
Yogaworks also has something of a hip, high-end vibe. A private elevator ride lands yogis in the immaculately clean lobby of the “green” studio, where members have use of towels, showers, lockers, a tea room and boutique.
Beyond Downward Dog
Experienced yogis tend to gravitate to the five-year-old Rising Lotus. The studio’s small waiting room gives way to a spacious and warmly lit studio, where you’ll see bodies steadily moving in harmonious motion. Here they do what’s called Vinyasa Flow Yoga. Vinyasa is a Sanskrit word that connotes linking your breath with your movements—with the hope that it will enable you to calmly flow from one pose to the next in a moving mediation.
Jennifer Black leads a popular after-work class that most students describe as challenging and one of the best in the Valley. It’s a mixed crowd that ranges from beautiful model types to soccer moms. What they all have in common is that they like to work hard.
Despite the rigors, the atmosphere remains warm and friendly. Throughout class, Jennifer offers words of encouragement and does gentle body adjustments to correct positions. During the hour-and-a-half of almost constant motion, students enjoy getting a full-body workout but also “feeling peaceful” afterwards. No matter how fit, first-timers often report waking up the next morning with slightly sore muscles—and a burning desire to return.
In her soft, southern drawl, Jennifer is often heard tossing something out that you don’t hear in many yoga studios: “Whatever!” She’s not being dismissive but rather promoting one of Rising Lotus’ mantras. “‘Whatever’ means work if you really want to work, rest if you really want to rest,” says co-owner Claire Hartley. She adds, “All of our teachers have that approach. We punish ourselves a lot. We’re all working toward something in this competitive city.”
Claire even has a Zen approach when it comes to the competition in the yoga business, which has dramatically increased in recent years. “Each studio has a unique flavor and offers different things. Everyone will find their own level.” She believes that all of the competition may even make the Valley a better place to live. “The more people who get introduced to yoga, the happier people will be on the street,” she quips.
For Hardcore Yogis
Here’s CorePower Yoga director Karen Russell describing her shop: “We’re not snotty yoga. We make it accessible to everyone.” While there are all levels of yoga taught here, CorePower’s advanced class is one of the Valley’s best.
Although Yoga Sculpt is only an hour long, it’s intense—a sweat-inducing, heart-pumping, bona fide challenge. During the class, instructor Jahmelia Lindsay pairs yoga with light weights, a challenge for even the most practiced. The thermostat is kept at 94º, and the humidity is at rainforest levels. Most students come armed with a bottle of water and two towels—one for the mat (you’ll definitely need it), another for mop-up. Russell believes the hot humidity softens the skin and is good for the respiratory system. Near the end of class, Jahmelia places cucumber slices over students’ eyes while they do Savasana, or corpse pose.
After class, students often take a quiet moment in the CorePower lobby, which resembles a warm, fireplace-lit inviting living room. Om, indeed.
Painted on the walls of Bikram Yoga Encino are the words “Bengal Tiger Strength” and “English Bulldog Determination.” Devotees channel both as they enter the 105º studio for a bikram, a.k.a “hot yoga,” class. As director Christie William succinctly explains, “Bikram is a series of 26 hatha yoga poses done in a heated room.” That means each class is the same series of poses done each time, allowing practitioners to improve upon and perfect the postures. The thinking is that heat warms the body, aiding in flexibility. Each posture is meant to move fresh, oxygenated blood to the internal organs, veins, ligaments and muscles for optimum health.
Class here is a bit like a sweaty game of “Simon Says,” where students are encouraged to check their alignment in mirrors and position themselves according to the tape atop the carpeted floors. William also reminds students to keep their eyes open, calling bikram “a good introduction to yoga for people who are type A, who need to be taught some focus.”
Focus is crucial here. Missing one instruction of where to place a hand or foot is akin to missing an episode of The Sopranos. Hard to catch up. Unlike many of the other shops in town, which take a Restoration Hardware approach to decor, Bikram Yoga Encino is a bare-bones, no-frills studio.
A New Spin
If you’re craving a cardio blast with a spiritual twist, check out Lotus Kitty in Studio City, tucked in a tiny strip mall just off the Boulevard. Northridge native Vanessa Giorgio kicked off her innovative concept in 2008. “I took two very different workouts—spinning and yoga—and combined them into the same practice,” she says.
The hour-long class starts with voracious power cycling, a non-stop session of pedaling—seated as well as standing—that leaves students drenched in sweat. Next the class hits the mat, where warmed-up bodies engage in power yoga with push-ups or “Chaturanga Dandasana,” gut-busting ab exercises and muscle-lengthening stretches. This demanding workout remains the only one of its kind in the Valley. Extremely popular with tight space on the weekends, these classes are for fitness buffs who don’t mind sharing their personal space.
Teacher Shannon Branham, one of the best-known teachers, says Spin Yoga is ideal for enriching the body and soul. “It’s not just spin and then we do a yoga class. We address the challenges that come through the strenuous cycling. All of it is mindful and very conscious.” She’s constantly observing students and tweaking the class to fit their needs. “If I see tense necks or rigid shoulders during the ride, I will focus on those parts of the body during yoga.”
“If you want a really great figure, these are the disciplines you want to follow,” comments Vanessa. And the results tell the tale. Scanning the studio, Vanessa’s disciples, like her, are beautifully sculpted from head to toe.