In the bright midday sun of a beautiful SoCal November day, I found myself wandering down Venice Boulevard towards the ocean. I don’t know Los Angeles very well and was really excited to meander aimlessly and explore! After about two hours, I encountered a MetroBike station and decided it was time to try out another form of transportation. As luck has it, it was a Tuesday when single rides are discounted to only $2.00 for a half hour ride. I popped my credit card into the kiosk, grabbed the bike from the dock, and gleefully pedaled towards the horizon. In a short while, thanks to the flat terrain and dedicated bike lane, I arrived at the Pacific.
I exuberantly removed my shoes and flung myself into the warm sand. I walked south, along the water’s edge, headed towards a cafe on the recommendation of a lovely woman named Kristin who owns a charming boutique, Inland, that I happened upon (1325 Venice Boulevard Venice, CA 90291). Where the pier jutted out into the sea, I turned towards Marina del Rey and found Cow’s End situated amongst surf shops mand bars (34 Washington Boulevard. Venice Beach, CA 90292). It was perfect for my needs, with a vast menu of smoothies and salads, sandwiches with vegan and gf options, and an espresso machine. They didn’t even make me put my shoes back on. I sat down at an outside table, logged onto their wifi and begin to search for nearby yoga studios. Fortuitously, there’s was one immediately next door with a class starting in an hour.
Yoga Nest is what one wants in a shala adjacent to the beach – a single upstairs room with minimal embellishments, gossamer curtains that flutter in the breeze and the ever-present smell of sea. I expected it was a little overly ambitious to try out an hour and a half power class right after lunch.
What I didn’t expect was that the instructor would turn out to be a heavily pregnant woman. She didn’t expect me to turn up with dirty bare feet, effusively chatty about blogging for an online yoga journal.
She made a point of telling me that the studio prides itself on creating a feeling of community and home where everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation can feel free to practice. And after washing my feet in the bathroom sink, I felt ready to tackle whatever sweaty pretzels I was expected to power my way into.
The class was indeed powerful and dynamic. The sequencing flowed and there was plenty of room for modifications. The instructor’s cuing was excellent, clear and succinct, as she walked her way about the room. And in spite of her advanced state, she demonstrated several postures with ease and perfect alignment.
The class offering at Yoga Nest is heavily Vinyasa oriented, but they do have a smattering of Hatha, Yin, and Meditation throughout the week. And in keeping with their motto “come home”, I imagine other instructors would make one feel as equally welcome as I was made to feel during that lovely late fall day by the sea.
Yoga Nest Venice
38 W Washington Blvd, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
$18 drop-in/ new client offer, 2 weeks unlimited for $29
RA MA Yoga Institute is the home studio of celebrity teacher Guru Jagat and is focused exclusively on Kundalini yoga and meditation. One of the youngest certified senior teachers, she has the distinction of having trained under Yogi Bhajan, the man responsible for bringing Kundalini to the west. Guru Jagat is, according to her website, “the new face of Kundalini”. She’s building an empire: in addition to the Venice studio she and her team have a Mallorca outpost, a recently opened shala in the fashionable Lower East Side of New York City and are expanding to a second Los Angeles venue. She is described as a “leading global figure helping to create, delineate and refine the new feminine matriarchal archetype”.
Her goal is to bring tools for expanding consciousness to the general public, with the help of shoutouts from some of her close friends, like Kate Hudson and Alicia Keys.
Her presence is formidable. She is indeed, a powerful woman, a charismatic leader, and a dynamic instructor. And in spite of the ego associated with being a “guru” and an emerging celebrity status, she’s also down to earth and relatable.
Throughout her hour and a half class, she made references to pop culture, cracked jokes and interacted one on one with participants. I left feeling like she was my new best friend, someone with whom I’d really enjoy deep existential queries over a bottle of good California wine.
Her overarching philosophy is that the science of Kundalini is available to everyone, regardless of physical capability, spiritual vocabulary or social standing. Guru Jagat recently penned a book, Invincible Living: The Power of Yoga, the Energy of Breath and Other Tools for a Radiant Life, which reads like a modern-day self-help and wellness manual. It’s chock a block with Ayurvedic beauty tips, kriyas for prosperity and exercises for improving relationships and sexuality. I was thrilled when she inscribed my copy with a witty and totally apt quote from Yogi Bhajan.
I grew up in Manhattan and have rubbed elbows with the rich and famous professionally for most of my adult life. I’ve never been easily swayed by celebrity. Nor have I ever looked for a guru or a master, believing rather that the teacher lies within us all. But there is something undeniably magnetic about Guru Jagat and the coven of staffers who support her. As if infinite possibility and self – actualization were encapsulated into a smartly packaged protein bar perfectly positioned at eye level to be impulsively purchased and consumed.
Hungry for something other than knowledge, I found myself at Kippy’s, a creamery that specializes in dairy and sugar-free ice cream (245 Main St #3d, Venice, CA 90291). Golden Milk seemed like an appropriate reward after the expenditure of extended periods of holding my arms above my head and breath of fire.
Delightfully cooling, slightly sweetened with raw local honey and bright yellow due to a generous helping of turmeric, it was the perfect Ayurvedic treat for this fierce feminist foodie.
I took my cup down to the beach, sat in lotus, and meditated on my good fortune.
RA MA Yoga Institute
316 Lincoln Boulevard Venice, CA 90291
$18 drop-in/ for new students 3 class pass $18/ $45 unlimited first month
I chose Bhakti Yoga Shala for its central location in Santa Monica on my last day in LA as I was trying to squeeze in one more class, a visit with an old friend and a little more beach time. I wound up at a mid-morning Vinyasa class taught by a gorgeous former model. The class demographic was exactly what one would expect: lean bodies perfectly outfitted in the latest ALO trends for the season. But the studio itself – one single room tucked into a little mini-mall – was decorated with images of saints and gurus and felt rather sacrosanct. Every class at Bhakti is donation based, which further encouraged me to leave my snark at the door and be present to the experience.
The class was physically challenging but peppered with mindful breath and intention. The instructor ended the practice by singing and playing one of her own compositions on guitar. Her incredibly beautiful voice filled the room with a delicious resonance that perfectly accompanied the delight of lying still on the floor after so much vigorous movement. After class, I commented on how much I enjoyed Savasana. She gifted me two CD’s, one of her and her husband and a solo album.
The following day I popped her CD into my player and pointed the van in the direction of Arizona. I was surprised to hear soulful singer-songwriter inspirational pop rather than devotional music. From her name, the name of the album and the jacket image, I thought for sure it would be Kirtan. By the time track four rolled around, I realized I’d heard this music before. Somewhere along the way, someone I encountered (who?!? where?!!?) had been singing this song’s praises. “I am beautiful” is a gorgeous piece about finding beauty within and self – love. (www.jacquelineradharosen.com). It’s a distillation of why we push our bodies, hone our minds, and pursue spirit in all our myriad yogic pursuits. An ideal bookend to a lovely, sun-soaked and sandy visit to the city of angels.
Bhakti Yoga Shala
207 Arizona Ave Santa Monica, Ca 90401
Donation based $10-$15 suggested