Legend: BLUE-open, RED-closed, GREEN-by donation
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Thursday, January 29, 2009

a lofty pursuit

my dear friend and yoga buddy BDB is about to make the big move from the 'burbs to the city; if all goes to plan, he'll be closing escrow soon on a lovely loft in the heart of downtown LA. besides it being conveniently located to his office, his gym, as well as one of his favorite hangouts in the city -- the walt disney concert hall -- he's decided that living right in the center of LA's transit system will hopefully minimize his dependence on his car and maximize his efforts to save the environment.

it all sounds well and good, but there's the issue about his access to yoga classes...

when he lived north of downtown, he frequented the studios in pasadena and south pasadena. and on weekends, he'd hop on the freeway and fly out to the studios on the westside. but now that he wants his chief mode of transport to be bus, rail, or foot, what are his options, if any?

leave it to me to do the research for him while he stresses out over escrow fees and CC&Rs :(

there were two yoga studios in the downtown area that i had checked out sometime ago (you can refer to this map i found online if you're not familiar with what's where downtown).

one of them was bikram yoga downtown LA in the civic center at the corner of 1st and hope, across the street from the disney concert hall. i had taken a class there shortly after they opened back in '06 (and it seems like just yesterday!); click here to read what i had to say after that visit. and i'm sure the place hasn't changed much since then; after all, bikram is bikram is bikram. you get the heat. the same sequence of 26 poses. done twice. the sweat. and more sweat. and a place to shower all that sweat off before you head out back into the outside world. thank goodness.

anyway, the only thing that's new -- that i know of, anyway -- is that the parking in the adjacent garage is now FREE while you're in class. and as far as downtown goes, that's a definite plus!

another downtown studio i'd been to was yoga circle downtown, located in the old bank district. according to my yoga log, i took knekoh fruge's class in march '06, but for some reason, i can't seem to find any entry about that visit :( i did find an email i had passed along from her regarding the problems she was having with the building management, and how the future of the studio was at stake. it seems, though, that whatever issues there were at the time have been resolved because the studio's still going strong today.

i managed to take knekoh's class again last week, so to make up for my previous omission, here's my long-delayed post:

Yoga Circle Downtown
400 South Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 620-1040
website: www.yogacircledowntown.com

According to yogic tradition a student should never have to pay to be instructed BUT the student should never ask to be instructed without first offering a gift. In following with this tradition, we are a donation-based studio. We suggest a $16 contribution, but if you cannot get that together, pay what you can, when you have got more, drop it in the box. The practice is what is important. AND we warmly accept donations other than the monetary sort. Time, energy, services etc.

last friday, i happened to be at the go green expo at the LA convention center. after spending the bulk of my afternoon there, i decided to check out knekoh fruge and her friday evening class. in the interest of going green, i considered walking to the yoga studio from the convention center, but when i realized that walking a mile through the dark streets of downtown on a rainy evening wasn't the smartest thing to do, i hopped in my car and crawled through rush hour traffic. at least i felt safe and dry in my car, even if i wasn't moving very quickly.

yoga circle downtown is located at the corner of 4th and main in the san fernando lofts building in the old bank district, which is north of the historic downtown district, east of bunker hill, and southwest of little tokyo.

when i visited yoga circle over two years ago, it was a saturday morning. at that time, i chose to park in the parking structure across the street. for some reason, i have this vague recollection of the parking attendant not being there when i returned to retrieve my car, so i may have gotten away with not having to pay for parking. but i'm sure that's not usually the case!

this time, i lucked out again and managed to land myself some free parking on the street. the trick was to get to a nearby parking meter right at the stroke of six (during the rush, the entire street's a "no stopping" zone, so once parking becomes available again at 6pm, there's a mad rush for those spots, especially since the meters don't need to be fed at night).

i walked up to the front entrance and easily located the directory by the door. after finding the "yoga circle" code, i punched it in; knekoh picked up the phone and buzzed me in (if you're lucky and your timing is right, someone may spot your yoga mat and hold the gate open for you, saving you from having to pre-announce your entry).

once i entered the lobby, a big sign led me right to the studio door. the layout hadn't changed much since i was last there. it was the same large room with the sky-high ceiling. the cubbies for shoes and belongings and all the props were on the right and the practice area was off to the left.

knekoh's class was a nice level 1/2 flow, complete with some fantastic body-buzzing gong action during savasana, thanks to the magical way the sound waves bounce around all the surfaces in the room. it was a small class (probably because it was date night, or maybe because of the rain?) and knekoh seemed to know most everyone in the class. she even claimed to have remembered me from the last time i was there, but unless her memory is really that good, i won't hold it against her if she was just trying to be nice :)

all the classes at yoga circle downtown are by donation, with a suggested $16 drop-in rate. there's an unattended donation box by the cubbies, so what you choose to donate is solely between you and the box. as with all donation-basis classes, the point is to give what you can afford to give. so if you're making a decent living, it would be terribly un-yogic to put a dollar in the box. yeah, you know who you are...

last tuesday, i found myself checking out a new yoga studio in the southeastern part of downtown:

Be Love Yoga and Bodywork
1855 Industrial Street #10, Los Angeles, CA 90021
(213) 415-1828

website: www.beloveyoga.com

hatha kundalini fusion classes
open level, no experience necessary

be love yoga is located just east of the corner of alameda and 6th. the studio's website says it's in the arts district; another website claims it's in the toy district, just south of the arts district. as far as i'm concerned, it's way out there in nowhere land -- all that's out there are warehouses and factories, and once they shutter down for the evening, everything turns ghostly quiet. except perhaps for the area immediately surrounding the renovated loft buildings scattered about the neighborhood, where you can find signs of upscale life. such is the case of be love yoga, which is located in the high-end toy factory lofts building, across the street from the high-end biscuit lofts building, both with foodie-worthy restaurants on their ground floors. so with late-model cars lining the street around the building, i didn't worry too much about having to park my ten-year-old car a block away from the studio.

unlike the other yoga studios located in loft buildings, be love yoga is conveniently located on the ground floor with its own separate entrance. since it just opened earlier this month, i sensed the newness of the place the moment i walked in the door. jesse greeted me as i walked in, and since we had already sent some "are you open yet" emails back and forth before my visit, it was nice to put the face to the name. we chatted as more students walked in the door, and since i still had to change, he led me to the bathroom which was located in his living space at the back of the studio.

i first heard about jesse and be love yoga through dave stringer, who was scheduled to do a kirtan there for the studio's grand opening. as it turned out, the kirtan was cancelled at the last minute after the homeowners association warned jesse that the commotion caused by the kirtan would be a violation of the CC&Rs. gotta love the HOA gestapo!

the best way to describe jesse's class is "yogi bhajan meets chuck and maty". after first training with yogi bhajan at yoga west, he then took the teacher training program at yogaworks. the result is a hatha kundalini fusion, with sun salutations and the familiar asanas mixed in with "breath of fire" pranayama and the rapid flailing of limbs to awaken the energy in your body. and, of course, there was the sound of the gong i sooo love to listen to during savasana :)

jesse knew everyone in the class by name; as it turned out, with the exception of myself, they were all good friends of his. which, i suppose, is what you do when you're trying to build a student base -- start with people you know and hope they pass the word along...

we all hung around after class and talked about anything and everything, with jesse doing most of the talking. but then again, with all the interesting stories he had to tell, i didn't mind listening to him relating all the odds and ends of his life. and i'm sure that the next time i drop by, there'll be even more to hear about!

while there was no "first class free" offer or anything of the sort, the $15 class price was pretty reasonable, given the cost of yoga classes these days. and considering that i didn't have to pay for parking, i'd say it wasn't a bad deal for a great class.

by the way, after leaving be love, i took the opportunity to check out the new location of urth caffe in the nearby arts district. it took me a while to find this trendy cafe near the corner of hewitt and 4th, especially since the streets in the dark warehouse district aren't laid out in a grid like the rest of downtown. after finding myself trying to go the wrong way down one-way streets (and worrying that i'd get pulled over by the cops for driving so erratically), i eventually found urth right across from the block-long barker lofts building. the restaurant was surprisingly busy for the late night hour. my guess is that it's the only place within walking distance for the loft dwellers to hang out, and its being a source of healthy and organic food is a definite bonus...

that brings me to the fourth yoga studio in the downtown area, at least for now:

Downtown Yoga Loft
639 South Spring Street, Loft 6C, Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 471-2761
website: www.downtownyogaloft.com

Welcome to the Downtown Yoga Loft where we currently offer classes and workshops in Yoga and Meditation.

Located on the 6th Floor of a Downtown Loft on Spring Street, DTYL is an amazing space in a home setting. Classes are held in this relaxed urban setting, with brick walls, big windows and lots of natural light.

Yogi Tea and cookies (often homemade) are served after class and if you catch it just right you might find something more substantial being offered up as this is our home and we cook a lot.

it was just my luck that i decided to visit the downtown yoga loft on the same day as the LAUSD teachers strike. how was i to know that their march ended right up the street from where i was headed? and that traffic would be miserably snarled along my intended route? maybe i should have checked the news first? argh.

the 6:30pm class was scheduled to be taught by patrick lacho, but when i called the studio to ask for traffic-evading and parking advice, his wife, jamila tazewell, answered the phone. she was subbing for him that night, and since the classes are held in their home, she didn't have to go out of her way to do so.

because i was worried about having to fight the gridlock once more if i didn't find a parking spot, i opted to park in the first lot i found. it cost me $4 to park my car in a parking structure that was going to close promptly at 9pm. i suppose i could have found a free spot on the street if i persisted, but i was already late for class as it was :(

downtown yoga loft is located in the spring tower lofts in the old bank district. unlike the toy factory lofts, this building wasn't as snazzy or upscale. and neither was the neighborhood. in fact, in my attempt to walk quickly past the assortment of unsavory characters who seemed to be everywhere, i ended up walking past the building and had to backtrack to find the entrance. at that point, the lululemon manifesto came to mind: "do one thing a day that scares you". well, walking at night on this street definitely qualified as something that took me out of my comfort zone!

once i was safely in patrick's and jamila's humble abode, i was finally able to relax. one other student was already seated on her mat in the yoga practice space which took up a good part of the living room. with the large windows that covered most of the wall space of their corner unit, i can only imagine how warm and bright the room can be during the day. at night, though, the interior lights needed to be left on just so we could see well enough to get through our exercises.

jamila led us through some meditation and two exercise sets, one for the third chakra and another for immunity. it seemed appropriate, at least to me, that we worked on strengthening our immune system, especially since i was diagnosed with strep throat that morning and had just started a course of antibiotics. maybe it was because of my weakened state that i found myself struggling through the physical portion of the class. and getting antsy while doing what seemed to be an eternity of breath of fire breathwork. and being lulled to sleep by the gong during savasana.

after class, jamila invited us to join her for some chai tea; i was the only one who took her up on her offer. she was sweet enough to offer me a slice of cake that she had baked earlier that morning, and i couldn't resist a taste of her carrot-zucchini-banana-pear creation (me, turn down food? never!). over tea and cake, we talked about she and patrick both teach at golden bridge, about how they recently got married, moved into the loft, and decided to set up a home studio. i glanced at the clock and noticed the time, and not wanting to find my car locked up for the night, i thanked jamila for the treats and the class (for which i paid just $5, thanks to a new student coupon) and bid her goodbye.

as i walked back out to the street, everyone seemed even more unsavory than the earlier group. or could it be that i'm just not cut out for downtown living?

anyway, the upshot of my whole downtown adventure is that we now know that there definitely is yoga to be found in downtown LA, from bikram yoga to vinyasa flow yoga to kundalini yoga. and while parking can be an issue, all of that is moot if you travel by bus or by bike. or if you live close enough to walk to class.

and as for my friend BDB, now that he knows that he has many places to choose from, i hope he finds something that suits him and his plan to stay local!