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Months later, Haase has returned to full-time work and is pleased that the studio has finally received a fresh coat of paint and repairs to its perpetually broken men’s bathroom. Center instructors are currently not eligible for Yoga Works’ benefits and some salaries have been lowered, but, at Haase’s request, they also have not been asked to sign exclusivity contracts. This fall, Yoga Works’ Lisa Walford will join longtime center trainer Diana Beardsley in teaching the philosophy section at the instructor training. The two women took their very first class together at Center for Yoga back in the 1980s. “I see the Center and Yoga Works as a marriage of two families,” Walford says. “It takes a while for families to get to know each other, but it will happen, with mutual understanding and respect.”
Meanwhile Burke and McCleery have bought YMI Studio on La Brea, renaming it and bringing Crowley along to work with them. Liberation Yoga has the outward trappings of a potential success: valet parking, a graceful garden, and a good location on the fancy furniture strip. But for the trio, deep physical and spiritual teaching is the heart of the studio — and of liberation itself. “We want to create a space for people where they will have our respect and trust to realize themselves,” Burke says. “Yoga’s not about the answers but the questions.”
One question that lingers is whether things have worked out best for the center. “I have received many calls from students and teachers connected to the center, and most of them have been negative about the changes,” comments founder Ganga White. “Yoga is in a time of great growth, change and mutation. Mutations can be evolutionary or detrimental. I hope [the center] maintains the broad and open-minded perspective for which it has become known and respected.”
Before Yoga Works acquired the Center for Yoga, the Larchmont location had one of the highest numbers of monthly student visits of any single studio: 5,135 in July 2003. The visits have inched up 7 percent to 5,488 this year, not the dramatic climb of other Yoga Works acquisitions, especially when you consider that students with Yoga Works passes can now take classes there for free. While the center’s status seems more or less secure for now, it remains to be seen if the studio will become emblematic of American yoga’s future or its past.
“Los Angeles today is to yoga what Paris in the 1920s was to literature and art,” says instructor Sydney Coale Light, who left Yoga Works because of its business practices.
“Some of the best teachers in the world are centered here, and this is a highly creative moment. Whenever you have enormous creativity and growth, there’s a lot of power, and people like George Lichter are attracted to it. But I don’t see Yoga Works as an evil empire.
I see their actions as a huge opportunity for teachers to ask themselves ‘Is this how we want the yoga world to run?’ and then take it to the next place.”