Back to Basics: Interview with Yoga Legend Maty Ezraty

Back to Basics: Interview with Maty Ezraty
by Jill Greene

I was moving too quickly the day I had originally scheduled this interview with senior teacher Maty Ezraty, who founded and directed the YogaWorks studio and Teacher Training program for more than 16 years. Caught up in activity, I forgot to double-check the time difference between Seattle and Hawaii, where Maty now lives—and I missed our appointment entirely!

When we did finally connect, Maty was gracious about my mistake and full of wisdom. Perhaps not coincidentally, our conversation included several reminders of how important it is not to lose sight of the fundamentals, in a modern world that’s moving at the speed of light.

Maty EaratyYou’re offering an all-day intensive this year on “Making Your Practice Whole.” 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.

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.

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.

Maty Ezraty AsanaIf 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.

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.

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.

Maty Ezraty YogaAnd our own self study – is that a part of this?
Absolutely. That’s why I said that meditation is really critical. Because at some point, the asana is just not going to take you that far in. It can’t—it was never meant to. It’s only a pillar, a limb, a part of the process. It’s really just making you healthier so that you can do the deeper work.

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.

Spend the day with Maty Ezraty during her Make Your Practice Whole yoga immersion at the Northwest Yoga Conference. You can find all the details here.

An Interview with Annie Carpenter, founder of SmartFLOW Yoga

By: Jen Mullholand, conference blogger

 Annie Carpenter has spent the past four decades devoted to the practice and teaching of yoga and dance. She is an internationally renowned teacher based in the San Francisco Bay area where she teaches SmartFlow yoga. She also leads 200 and 500-hour teacher trainings at Exhale in Venice Beach, CA. Annie is known as a teacher’s teacher, with a keen eye for alignment in the context of Vinyasa Flow blended with a dedication to the meditative qualities of yoga.Annie Carpenter

Annie will be teaching a variety of workshops at the conference, including a day-long therapeutic intensive on Thursday, March 5. I had the chance to chat with Annie via email before she left to lead a retreat in Nicaragua with her friend and long-time colleague, Maty Ezraty.

You will be teaching an all-day Therapeutics intensive at the conference. What brought you to study yoga in a therapeutic context? And why should flow teachers (or any Hatha Yoga teacher) gain knowledge of therapeutics?Frankly, ALL yoga should be in by definition, therapeutic! Which simply implies that a level of attentiveness is present during the practice so that each act one makes in a practice, whether the way one breathes, or sits or moves from pose to pose is enhancing well-being and the understanding of being wakefully alive and how each of us fits into the miraculous web of life.

Annie in Yoga Journal demonstrating Utthita Hasta Padangustasana

Annie in Yoga Journal

Specifically, having spent 4 decades practicing and teaching (and all of the structural study), I have witnessed how practices helps and how it doesn’t. I have felt in my body and mind how change happens over the years via aging and the shifting of life circumstances (joy of new relationships, children; grief of loss of loved ones; illness and pain; etc.) creates conditions which needs must alter how to practice. As Sharon Salzberg says about a daily meditation practice (I paraphrase), “practice today so that it’s there when you need it.” If we can create a practice that is — as you say, strong flow — when we are young, healthy and free of distress that is awesome. And if we can create an attitude and a knowledge of how and when to alter the practice as needed depending on shifting circumstances, then we have a practice for life. Our own, and our students’.

You have been practicing and studying yoga for the majority of your life. What inspires you these days to get to your mat or the meditation cushion?

The fact that I ALWAYS feel better after I practice.

As you know, there’s a lot of Vinyasa, or Flow yoga, available to Western yoga practitioners. What makes your style of yoga, SmartFLOW, different from any other style of Vinyasa or Flow practice?

annie padmasanaSmartFlow is a method which sets up the conditions for each student to discover HOW to practice in every moment of their practice. In each pose, in each breath, we offer a continuum of exploration that is at once highly specific and open to individual choice. This leads to a heightened awareness that is structurally sound for each practitioner, and invites the practice of being a witness. Through this capacity to step back and observe the choices one makes moment to moment, and more importantly how and with what attitude, we create a practice that is rigorous and compassionate, passionate and patient.

You are offering a pranayama session and a restoratives session at the conference. How do you find these practices help balance students, especially those of us (myself included) who tend to find ourselves typically practicing strong flow?

The strength of practice lies in its rigorousness of steady attention. What we are doing will shift; how we practice is the transformative aspect. When you can make it strong! When you need it, make it quiet…

Interview with Conference Presenter, Kathryn Budig

By Melissa Hagedorn, Northwest Yoga Conference Director

budig_kathryn_headshot

Kathryn Budig

It is well-documented through past interviews that you were originally on a career path towards Hollywood and acting when you diverted over to teaching yoga as a career path.  Do you find overlap in the skills you were developing and honing for acting and the ones you now use as a yoga teacher?
My theatrical training has helped immensely. There are many ingredients that go into being a good teacher, but the theatrical background helps me be strong in front of large groups and to hold their attention. I like to believe everything happens for a reason, so I think my acting background helped make me stronger as a teacher.

As small business owners, my husband and I are always fascinated by when a person or business “makes it big.”  Looking back now, can you see where the “breakthroughs” were for your career as a yoga teacher?  What were the major turning points for your yoga career?
Hands down the most important component was my training. I was lucky enough to train under Maty Ezraty, one of the best teachers in the world. It doesn’t matter how talented you are at asana if you don’t have the skills to back it up. Maty is a magician. I was lucky enough to shoot with Yoga Journal early in my career, which helped get my image and name into the mainstream. ToeSox created quite the dramatic stir, which was unexpected but ultimately useful. My undergrad studies in English helped as I began to write and blog regularly and injected my voice into some mainstream publications. Ultimately, it’s a long list of events backed with a lot of drive and belief in myself.

Your dad has been incredibly successful in many realms.  What influence has he had on how you approach the business side of your career?
I watched my dad achieve anything he put his mind to. He has been the president of three universities. He’s always been incredibly passionate about baseball, and before I knew it, we were leaving Kansas for the east coast because my dad had became the President of the American League of Baseball. Watching him live his dreams made me think anything is possible when you stay true and apply yourself. I’m so grateful for those lessons.

What three traits do you feel contribute the most to your success?
My ability to aim true, my accessibility and my playfulness/honesty.

kathryn under armour

Kathryn modeling Under Armour’s women yoga clothing line

You are a well-endorsed yoga teacher and public figure sponsored or endorsed by many companies – ZICO Coconut Water, Under Armour, ToeSox and Women’s Health, to name a few.  In my opinion, you broke new territory.  Does it feel surreal at times? 
Totally surreal. I’m honored to work with the amazing companies that I do. It’s amazing to see yoga going mainstream and being respected by heavy hitting companies. It’s quite the ride to get to represent yoga on such a level.

How do you manage your social media without your social media managing you?
Ha! Good question. Honestly, I’ve always really enjoyed social media. I was very artistic when I was younger and feel like social media is this great platform to collage your ideas and inspirations. Granted, the more followers I’ve garnered, the nastier the comments I’ve received. That’s the shadow side but also a good lesson in that not everyone is going to love you and that is absolutely fine. Keep doing what you’re good at, what you love, and don’t let anyone drag you down.

I have had the pleasure of working with your assistant, Taylor.  For those yoga teachers who have an assistant, it’s not always easy to find a good fit for an assistant.  What advice can you offer to finding a good fit?
It is incredibly hard to find a good assistant and Taylor is a total godsend. You need to find someone who is not only incredibly organized, but driven, and that you can trust with all of your personal information. Also, that someone has to be really good at being your ‘voice.’ Taylor happened to be a best friend who saw me struggling in between assistants and stepped up to bat. I’m so grateful for that.

You travel the globe pretty much every weekend teaching yoga.  How do you proactively prevent teaching burnout?
My students keep me inspired and honest. All I need is to see the excitement on their faces to keep me motivated. I owe it to my students to deliver the absolute best.

kathrynspottinghandstand

Kathryn offering a handstand spot during a workshop

This fall, you and Gina Caputo are offering a yoga teacher training.  What can attendees expect from this training?
I have a feeling it’s going to be pretty epic. Gina is one of the funniest, brightest women I’ve ever met and I’m so honored to collaborate with her. This TT will offer all the basics you need to be a great teacher, but we want to take it beyond the basics and really dig into what it takes – beyond the foundations. How to stand out in a sea of teachers, how to keep your aim true and your heart open, and how to succeed in what you love will be other focuses of ours.

What can attendees at the Northwest Yoga Conference expect from your workshops? 
A really, really good time.