In today’s modern yoga scene, it can be challenging to go into a yoga studio without getting caught up in the material trappings – Eastern accessories, a new special-weave yoga mat, or the latest in fashionable and functional yoga wear. While most of us appreciate being able to find such wonderful objects of desire to support our spiritual practices, this past December I discovered a yoga studio absent any unnecessary elements. In downtown Palo Alto, just off of University Avenue (the main street), sits one of the oldest yoga studios on the San Francisco Peninsula: The California Yoga Center in Palo Alto (formerly the Yoga Center of Palo Alto). This humble studio was founded in 1974, and at that time it was the only studio within 30 miles.
Upon entering the building that houses the studio, I am met by stunning and intricate photographs of nature lining a spacious hallway. The photographer is Larry Hatlett, a senior Iyengar instructor at the studio, who owned and helped manage the studio for most of its lifetime. Inside the studio, there is no front desk, no computer – just students casually conversing and preparing for class. Natural light illuminates the room, creating a delicate buttery glow. Yoga props are neatly stacked on one side of the bright studio space. In this relaxed and welcoming environment, the teacher is casually talking with the students. There is a small room with more props and a place to set your shoes, as well as a basket where students place cash and checks.
The first class I take at the studio this December morning is “BackCare” with Elise Miller, a senior Iyengar instructor who specializes in back challenges. Elise is the founder of The California Yoga Center, which recently purchased the Yoga Center of Palo Alto. While Elise takes command of the room, she does so in a relaxed, informal way, harmonious with the understated environment. With few distractions externally, the heightened attention to Elise’s down-to-earth teachings and one’s own mind help focus the yoga practice
I return to the studio a week later, with the last class of the year taught by Karl Duffy, also a long-time Iyengar teacher. I easily find street parking, not needing to use the convenient parking structure behind the studio. The same easy-going and welcoming spirit permeates the air of the studio, and Karl adds to this with his disarming smile. He encourages me to use the floor instead of my sticky mat for the standing poses, and I learn that the hardwood floors here are actually designed for bare feet (they are slightly sticky). Karl is gently encouraging and light-hearted, while maintaining precision in his teachings. Near the end of class, he instructs us in viloma 2, a breathing exercise.
In busy downtown Palo Alto, the studio provides a peaceful place to focus on yoga. I’m sure I’m not the only one who appreciates the effort that goes into creating such a simple, clean and uncluttered environment. According to Larry Hatlett, the intention of the studio has always been to provide a student-oriented center, a place where people could discover peace of mind under the guidance of highly trained teachers.
If you are looking for a studio on the Peninsula that offers an experience of pure yoga that has stood the test of time, The California Yoga Center in Palo Alto may be the place for you to unroll your mat and begin the discovery.
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