Practicing yoga is not always easy, as most of us who have tried it will know. During a session with my yoga teacher Karina Scherbina last week, I struggled to keep my balance in the mountain pose “Utthita Hasta Padangustasana”, so she sent me a link to a very interesting and inspiring YouTube interview to calm me down and give me some guidance ;)!
In it, anatomy master Stu Girling speaks to Maty Ezraty about her approach to Ashtanga. Maty is truly inspiring and first I would really like to share her share a bit about her background!
Who is Maty Ezraty? And what does she stand for?
Maty is an iconic figure, instrumental to the development of yoga in the United States. She is described by the Yoga Journal as an “innovator”.
She was an experienced dancer when she stumbled across yoga in her early twenties. Like all of us, she was also searching for meaning in her life. She found what she was looking for in yoga: peace of mind, a great feeling of being centred and confidence.
Maty developed and reached her full potential as a yoga teacher with a dynamic style, a sharp eye for observation and vast knowledge born through years of experience.
Being in Los Angeles gave her the chance to train with and learn from the top three best yoga educators at the time: Donna Holleman, Pattabhi Jois, and Gabriella Giubilaro. In 1985, while teaching and serving as director for the Center for Yoga in Los Angeles, Maty met Pattabhi Jois with whom she would embark on a long journey of learning and practice. This included many trips to Mysore, India, where she became one of the few women able to complete some of the more advanced yoga sequences.
She continued studying in at the Iyengar Institute in Pune India and attended the classes of Greeta Iyengar. The Iyengar system is known to have deeply influenced Maty as shown in her teaching and practice.
The year 1987 was a milestone year for Maty as she opened her own Yoga Works, a unique school of yoga that nurtured diversity and dialogue in the community of yoga. It offered classes for different kinds of yoga such as Iyengar and Ashtanga plus workshops involving many of the best yoga authorities and iconic figures worldwide.
Her purpose was to make the curriculum consistent, while at the same time mixing the various elements from different traditions.
Classes were broken down into levels and used the Vinyasa concept of Ashtanga, coupled with the precise directions of the Iyengar system.
Yoga Works is a success story that grew into a progressive yoga school with 120 classes each week with more than 700 daily students. Although it was sold in 2004, it remains to be the leader of the pack, perhaps due in part to its reputation of having produced some of the best yoga instructors in the United States.
Currently, Maty conducts workshops, teacher trainings, and retreats around the globe. She is also studying Vipassana meditation and has studied with Joseph Goldstein at California’s Spirit Rock and Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts. Her years of learning the Ashtanga and Iyengar traditions have resulted in a holistic and unique point of view. She is highly regarded as a teacher’s teacher, and is popular for having a style that is determined but yet joyful and engaging. She continues her purpose and draws inspiration from her years of experience, Maty has a whole-hearted devotion to impart the spirit of yoga and meditation to all of her students.
A Quick Description
Named after B. K. S. Iyengar and developed, is a form of Hatha Yoga. It has a great attention to detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama). The development of strength, mobility and stability is gained through the asanas. Iyengar yoga has 200 classical yoga poses and 14 different types of Pranayama with the variations from the basic to advanced. It is very helpful for students to build up their strength step by step and develop their mind, body and spirit, from beginners to advanced.
A system of yoga recorded by the knowing Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta, an ancient manuscript “said to contain lists of many different groupings of asanas, as well as highly original teachings on vinyasa, drishti, bandhas, mudras, and philosophy” (Jois 2002 xv). It was summariesed and popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois and is often promoted as a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga. (Sanskrit for “eight-limbed”) Yoga.
None Is Superior To The Other
Maty does not believe that Iyengar or Ashtanga is superior to the other because both are Yoga. Granted, each has an approach that is different from the other and their objectives are different. However, they are not in conflict and none is better than the other. Ezraty chooses which one applies to her at a specific time.
The Essence of Iyengar
According to Ezraty, Iyengar emphasizes precision, details and alignment when performing asana and controlling breathing since this is the best way to develop mobility, stability and strength. Iyengar also allows for props like pillows and benches to be used for support during the initial learning stages.
Ezraty asserts that we must avoid fundamentalism – believing that our way is the best and the rest are wrong. Flow is a state of mind and revolves around concentration, which can be attained at any time while performing any task and focusing.
Ashtanga Depends On The State Of The Practitioner
On Ashtanga, Maty advocates for no particular approach and rather suggests that one should adopt the approach that best applies to them instead of forcing themselves to do what is not possible within their ages. Yoga requires flexibility and satisfaction, not rigidity. The state of the student determines which approach to use. Yoga is a therapeutic practice and depends on what the student is feeling or has experienced. Ashtanga tends to be a little bit masculine and women should not attempt to compete with men. Men should also learn to be a bit softer.
Maty opines that Shri Pattabhi Jois also adapted Ashtanga for students. Although this approach to Yoga was meant for internal healing, he did not force anybody to engage in a sequence. Sequences would be developed to fit into current practices. On Vipasaana and meditation techniques, Maty urges people to let go of the technique and engage in open meditation. She says you should go with the moment unless you get lost and return to what you are taught to do.
Indian VS. Western Minds
Iyengar helps to know the right body techniques. He taught a lot of westerners to practice yoga. He observed that the Indian mind is different from the west. Indians are more confident of themselves. Westerners are critical of themselves. They hate themselves and feel unworthy. Iyengar wanted to help westerners find solutions to such problems through Yoga.
A Yoga Diehard
Maty Ezraty comes across as an enlightened person on matters of Yoga and one who advocates for continuous learning. Apparently, Yoga is a flexible art. All you need to do is listen to your body with an open heart and mind. In the final analysis, Maty is deeply ingrained in Yoga to the point of being sensitive and wise about it.
If you want to see the interview in full, here it is! Enjoy!
Your Grace Guru