Maty Ezraty, co-founder of YogaWorks, which helped spread the practice of yoga across Los Angeles and throughout the country, died this week while visiting Tokyo. She was 55 years old.
Diminutive but described as a spitfire, the Israeli-born Ezraty was a pioneer in bringing the ancient Indian practice to the West. She opened the original YogaWorks studio in 1987 on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica with her then romantic and business partner, Chuck Miller. Working with Lisa Walford, who added Iyengar yoga to Ezraty’s Ashtanga practice, Ezraty established a teacher-training program that formed legions of instructors.
“She wasn’t political about yoga as some people are,” said Sahaja Douglass, a YogaWorks client. “She was an Ashtanga teacher but she was really a yoga teacher. She also trained in Iyengar and wanted to teach all kinds of people.”
“I watched her deal with yoga drama that made Dynasty look like Disney,” said Alanna Zabel, founder of Aziam Yoga and a former YogaWorks employee and student.
Britta Bushnell, another friend, former employee and acolyte, recalled when the studio had to be shuttered following damage from the Northridge earthquake.
“Within three days she had a new lease. We had to build out the space and we were back up and running within five days. That was the kind of thing that Maty could just make happen.”
“It wasn’t until owning a studio myself many years later,” added Zabel, “that the tsunami of compassion for this woman rolled in, almost daily — truly understanding why she was so intense and what she had dealt with managing a yoga community in LaLa Land.”
Ezraty and Miller sold the business in 2004 and moved to Hawaii, but its impact and influence continued to expand. YogaWorks now has 61 locations in major cities across the country, with 17 in Los Angeles.
“Santa Monica has been the heart of yoga in the United States and a lot of that had to do with what Maty and Chuck and the teachers at YogaWorks did,” said Bushnell. “Maty helped to grow yoga from something that was happening here and there to something that was a household name.”
Since selling the business she created, Ezraty traveled the world as an instructor. At the time of her death, she was in Tokyo teaching at Yoga Tree, which issued a statement saying she had died of “natural causes” in her sleep.
Known for her bluntness and her demanding classes, Ezraty nonetheless considered yoga a spiritual rather than a physical practice.
“She wouldn’t let improper alignment or improper practice go,” said Douglass, as she knew that sloppy students risked injury. “She was very direct and passionate but so full of love. Ultimately, I think she really understood that yoga wasn’t about the ego of the poses … the poses were a means to an end, the end being a more compassionate, peaceful, loving way of being in the world.”
“Asana practice has one meaning,” Ezraty wrote, “to learn to sit in your one beautiful true nature.”