Maty Ezraty: Honoring a Teacher and Leader
How do you sum up a life? How do you put into words the amount of love so many felt for one woman? How do you convey the luminosity of a light that shone so brightly it radiated across the entire globe? Maty Ezraty was more than just a yoga teacher, she was our yoga mama. She helped birth the modern yoga scene as we know it and we are all better for it.
At the age of nineteen, Maty took her very first yoga class. She was studying ballet and had heard fellow ballerinas talking about it in the locker rooms. At the time, yoga was still a counterculture phenom, but she felt a calling. Maty found her way to Center for Yoga in Larchmont Village (now a YogaWorks). She enjoyed her first class, but it was the one she took the very next day that set her on a path that would touch so many.
On a Friday night, she took master teacher Chad Hamrin’s class. In her own words Maty said, “When I took (my first class) I knew I liked yoga, but when I took Chad Hamrin’s I knew I loved yoga.” After class, the studio announced they were hiring people to fill work-study positions. They needed someone to staff the front desk in exchange for yoga. She got the job.
Soon after attending these classes, Maty began teaching, in 1985, and was quickly promoted to director of Center for Yoga. This was also the year where she met one of her primary teachers and significant influences, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the codifier of the Ashtanga Yoga system. According to Maty’s bio, she was “one of a handful of women to complete some of the advanced sequences.” Other pivotal teachers in her early days were Dona Holleman and Gabriella Giubilaro. Later in life, Maty studied regularly at the Iyengar Institute in Pune with B.K.S. Iyengar’s daughter, Geeta.
Only two years after she began teaching, senior teacher Alan Finger presented Maty with the opportunity of a lifetime: To partner with him in opening a yoga studio in Santa Monica. YogaWorks opened its doors in 1987. It was a single room in what is still the Montana Avenue location. She was 22 1/2 years old.
Maty’s vision for YogaWorks was unlike any other yoga studio at the time. Maty always preferred to go her own way. She wanted to create a place that offered a variety of classes and levels. Maty was the backbone of the studio, running the schedule and managing the teachers. Just before YogaWorks opened its doors, Maty met her long-time partner Chuck Miller. In a few short years after opening, Maty bought out her other business partners and became sole owner, running the studio with Chuck for 17 years.
In the nearly two decades that Maty ran YogaWorks, many of the world’s most renowned teachers graced the mat spaces, including Annie Carpenter (founder of SmartFLOW yoga), Shiva Rea, Seane Corn (co-founder of Off the Mat and Into the World), Bryan Kest (founder of Power Yoga), and other noted teachers including Vinnie Marino and Kathryn Budig. The long list of names continues. Many of these teachers have gone on to found their own schools and styles of yoga, which is evidence of Maty’s influence on the modern yoga scene. One would be hard-pressed to find a teacher who has not studied with Maty or one of her proteges.
In 1992, Maty had another vision and joined forces with incredible Iyengar teacher Lisa Walford to develop the YogaWorks Teacher Training. Maty envisioned an approach to yoga that combined an Ashtanga-influenced style of vinyasa with the precise alignment cues of the Iyengar tradition. The YogaWorks method was born. Although the trainings have transformed over the years, Maty’s influence is still strongly felt. The YogaWorks teacher training is now taught in over 20 countries and boasts more than 15,000 alumni, all of whom are descendants of Maty, no matter how indirect.
In 2004, Maty sold Yogaworks. She then took her approach to practice on the road with teacher trainings, workshops, and occasional retreats. Maty was known for her effervescent energy, one-of-a-kind idioms, and silly jokes. She regularly garnered laughs, calling the occiput (the back of the skull) an octopus or yelling “Molto! Molto!” as she lovingly coaxed a student past their edge.
Maty was a strong believer in the importance of continued study. In recent years, she became interested in Vipassana meditation and the teachings of Insight Meditation society and Spirit Rock. In her trainings, Maty would often teach the same pose numerous times allowing students the opportunity to learn something new every time. And personally, the deepest savasanas I have experienced were in Maty’s classes.
Since leaving YogaWorks, Maty was vocal sharing her thoughts about the yoga world and its future. But, she always remained positive. In a conversation we had in 2014, Maty said, “I look at the yoga world and I wonder where it’s going. There seems to be so much emphasis on asana, but I think things are coming back. I’m feeling a wave…I’m feeling a return to something different. The community is getting older and things are changing. And I’m hopeful.“
Maty emphasized that the key to this positive change begins with the teachers. Her message to new and seasoned teachers alike is this, “Yoga is not a career path; it is a lifestyle. You have to live it.” This means continuing to be curious and always being students. Of course, learning will not be as much fun with our beloved teacher gone.
Maty passed away peacefully in her sleep on July 9, 2019 in one of the cities she loved most – Tokyo, Japan- doing what she loved most – teaching.
Maty, we will miss you, but you will always be with us on our mats and in our hearts.