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September 24, 2012updated Feb 07, 2013

LA Yoga

By Sam Hall

Los Angeles, California – Reported by Doron Basha for Elite Traveler, the private jet lifestyle magazine

Before I start this column about the best yoga in LA, it might be helpful for the reader to know why and how yoga came into my life. Injury! What else could have drawn a 30-year-old (many moons ago) testosterone-filled dude into a yoga studio well before it was cool? More specifically it was a back injury in the form of a herniated disk; I know…still sounds painful to me as well. I had surgery and was told I needed to develop strength and full range of motion in my back to avoid the “knife” again.

So there began my 23-year journey (do the math), and I never looked back. Yoga quickly became an integral part of my daily life; I could say it consumed me for the first five years; fear of pain is a great motivator.

Over the years yoga went from a sideline curiosity to a full-blown cultural phenomenon. It is everywhere in LA, and it could be daunting for a novice to figure out where to go and what type of yoga to practice. The city’s top three studios and the most popular styles are a good place to start:

Bikram Yoga: No yoga review can leave Bikram out of the equation. Bikram Choudhuri started his successful yoga business in LA and built the largest yoga empire in the world from here. He has over 1,640 licensed locations across the globe; Bikram, also known as hot yoga, is sometimes referred to as the McDonald’s of yoga. The best feature about Bikram is the consistency of the practice; all studios teach the exact same format of flow, and this lends itself well to teaching the multitudes, as the practitioner learns the flow quickly and is able to gauge his/her progress effectively. The temperature on the other hand can be challenging; set at 105 degrees Fahrenheit, newbies sometimes run out of the room with their hair on fire. But seriously, once you master the flow and get accustomed to the heat, this yoga is very effective and results are quick to come by. However, I have a bone or two to pick here; instructors often parrot the machine gun speech patterns of Choudhuri himself, which I find to be somewhat irritating. My other peeve is the wall-to-wall carpeting he insists be used in all studios. I find it inappropriate for hygiene and have left a few studios holding my nose. My preference is wood floors.

Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga: Bryan Kest has been around for many years teaching in various studios around LA and worldwide. He opened his two (donation-based) locations years ago in Santa Monica. I met him a few times at the Sports Club LA (where he started) years ago and liked his pure approach and dedication. He now mostly travels the world teaching yoga and leaves the majority of the classes to be taught by dedicated instructors who started out as his students – a very eclectic group of instructors from all walks of life and with varying styles. They all follow the basics but have individual flows. The problem with this is, when you select your instructor of choice, you become limited to practicing during those times only. This is the issue in all studios that offer a variety of flows, as opposed to one style that all instructors stick to. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, unless you are like me – short on time and in need of flexibility (practically and figuratively). However, if this works for you, I can also recommend YogaWorks for the wide variety of yoga styles and flows. Again, I do have a bone to pick here as well, Kest’s Studio East on Santa Monica Boulevard has an odd policy; they allow people to walk into the studio with their shoes on, putting my hygiene-meter on edge. I stopped frequenting this studio once I was told that they prefer this policy…very odd indeed.

Maha Yoga: This is a very pleasant studio in Brentwood on San Vicente and 26th. Steve Ross is the big cheese here and he revels in the adoration of his disciples. Hard-bodied trophy moms and surfers flock to Maha for the fun, upbeat and energetic yoga flow practiced to loud pop music. Ross’s perpetual smile and good nature is definitely a different slant on the sometimes self-important world of yoga; he’s managed to create a very enjoyable style and practice. Don’t expect a lot of direction or adjustments here, this is for the experienced practitioner or the happy-go-lucky beginner, but all are welcome. You might want to bring earplugs if you end up near one the speakers, as Ross is not shy about cranking it up. Many a Hollywood celebrity can be spied at Maha, and you can find me there frequently as well.

One a final note, always bring plenty of water with you and pay attention to learning diaphragm breathing (ujjayi breathing) for best results. Happy yoga trials!

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