Celebration of Maty Ezraty: 10 Things She Taught Me

Celebration of Maty Ezraty: 10 Things She Taught Me 

My first yoga teacher, Maty Ezraty, passed unexpectedly in July of 2019. There really are no words that can describe the sense of loss and lack of balance I felt when I woke up and learned of her passing. She was my most influential teacher, and although we weren’t personal friends, her absence left a void in my heart. As time has passed, deep gratitude has filled the space and I know how very blessed I am to have learned from such a pure and dedicated soul. 

Maty had a history of dancing which led her to yoga eventually. She met Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois in Los Angeles and then began studying under him. She went back and forth to Mysore, India and completed some of the advanced sequences. She later started to study Iyengar yoga, specifically learning from B.K.S. Iyengar’s daughter, Geeta. She studied at the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India. 

When Maty was just 22, she partnered with Alan Finger to open a yoga studio in Santa Monica. YogaWorks was born. A few years later, Maty bought out her other partners and owned YogaWorks on her own with her lifelong partner, Chuck Miller. YogaWorks was an innovative place that changed the way people practice yoga. There were classes of many levels and lots of well-respected yoga teachers learned from Maty. 

In 1992, Maty launched YogaWorks yoga teacher trainings with Iyengar teacher, Lisa Walford. Maty’s teacher trainings combined the Vinyasa flow from Ashtanga with the attention to detail from Iyengar. The cueing style of YogaWorks teacher training was very precise and has certainly influenced the way that I cue to this day. 

Maty eventually sold YogaWorks in 2004, but she didn’t stop teaching. She continued with her teacher trainings, traveling from city to city. She also offered workshops and retreats. 

I’ve never met a more authentic person. As revered as she was, she was equally humble. Approachable, open and easy to talk to, Maty took time to have conversations with all of us. I’ve taken her 200 hour teacher training, another 100 hour teacher training and two workshops. Each time I felt alive and I learned nuggets of wisdom that I’m now able to share with the beautiful community of yoga teachers that I train. Her legacy lives on through all of us that she has taught and all of those that we teach. 

In honor and celebration of my incredible teacher, I’d like to share 10 things I learned from Maty Ezraty. 

10 Things I Learned from Maty Ezraty, My Yoga Teacher: 

1. The Yoga Sutras tell us that, “first, you have to practice for a long period of time; second, your practice must not be interrupted.” (1:14) 

Maty embodied this Sutra in every breath she took. She practiced yoga incessantly, on and off the mat. She shared her practice with all of us in her trainings, workshops and retreats. She taught from her heart and lived experience. 

2. Quality, not quantity 

I remember her emphasis on “quality, not quantity” in all things. When it comes to yoga teacher training, she believed it was better to spend fewer hours with a highly qualified teacher than many hours with a not-so-qualified teacher. She taught that we could learn more in five minutes from someone who understood and lived the practice of yoga than we could learn in five years from someone who didn’t. 

She also applied this mentality to yoga practice and teaching. When practicing yoga, she taught that it was better to practice each posture with significant attention to detail than to practice many postures. When teaching yoga to others, it’s better to teach quality than quantity. I remember attending a workshop on how to come into one specific posture. We spent two hours on that one posture and I really understood what she meant by “quality, not quantity.” 

3. Always take your yoga practice to YOUR personal edge 

Everyone’s edge is different. Maty taught that in order to grow, we have to work to our own capacity. If we aren’t taking our practice to our capacity, there is no growth, there is no opening, there is no change. If we aren’t changing, we get bored with our practice. In order to properly care for ourselves and maintain our personal practice, we have to go to our own personal edge. 

We also have to respect what our personal edge is, without comparing. It’s dangerous to compare ourselves to others or even to previous versions of ourselves. Every day we wake up renewed and we have to honor who we are on every given day, finding a sense of awareness and going to our own personal edge. 

4. Fear of failure prevents success 

In one of her dharma talks, Maty Ezraty said, “fear of failure prevents success.” I never forgot that. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose and sometimes it gets rained out. Our only job is to show up and give it our best effort, releasing any attachment to outcome. When we operate in fear, we are practicing attachment. 

Yoga philosophy teaches us to practice non-attachment, Vairagya. In Sanskrit, raga means attachment, and Vairagya stems from this root word translating into “non-attachment” or “dispassion.” Vairagya stems from the Hindu tradition. Also part of yoga philosophy is Aparigraha, which is the Jainist principle of non-gripping, also a form of non-attachment. 

When we operate in fear, we are blocking ourselves. We are working so fiercely energetically to avoid an outcome that we don’t want that we are sending the Universe mixed signals about what we do want. This blocks our opportunity to manifest what we do want in our lives. 

5. Our industry is in trouble and it’s up to us to keep true yoga alive 

During the last workshop I attended that Maty taught, I was able to briefly speak with her after class. I told her that I wanted to put my yoga teacher training online and she supported the idea. Her advice to me was to stay authentic, to keep my school a yoga school and not merely a yoga business. 

We talked about the changing yoga world and she expressed concern that there seem to be more yoga teachers than yoga students. She talked about people contorting their bodies into unnatural shapes for microseconds to take pictures and she talked about the extreme focus on asana practice. She said she felt that true yoga would make a comeback and she said it’s up to us as yoga teachers to keep it alive. We have to live our yoga, not just practice asana. In our trainings, yoga philosophy is equally as important as asana. 

6. You can’t be a yoga teacher unless you’re also a yoga student 

How can you teach if you don’t learn? This is the question she posed to our group and it penetrated deeply. We must always continue to learn and grow. We will never be in danger of learning too much or knowing it all. We’re all forever students and we’re all forever teachers. 

In my trainings, I always tell my trainees that they are already teachers, even on day one of training. We are all always sharing knowledge with others, and therefore we are already teachers. Every time we learn, we gain wisdom that we can then share with others. Our teaching is informed from our experience as a student. And at the same time, when one teaches, two learns. We learn when we teach so even when we are teachers, we also are students. 

7. Yoga is a vehicle for social evolution 

Asana practice feels great in our bodies, but asana practice is actually a vehicle to help us understand more about ourselves and the world we live in. Yoga can be a tool that brings about social change. When we are living our 8-limb path, we are concerned with right action and we are taking our yoga off the mat and into the world, where social evolution occurs. 

8. We are educators 

Ultimately, we are educators. Students come in our yoga classes to learn and it is our job to reach them and teach them. Some students learn by seeing, some learn by hearing and some learn by doing. It is our responsibility to figure out how to reach every student that comes our way because we are educators and that’s what educators do. The joy in teaching yoga is discovering how to turn on the lights inside of our students. When we see that they have that “a-ha moment,” we know that we have found a way to reach them. 

9. Advanced yoga practice is defined by mindset 

Here in the West, it’s commonly believed that people who come into the most complicated postures are the most advanced yoga practitioners.; and those who practice the simpler postures are beginning practitioners. Maty taught that the postures we practice have no bearing on whether or not we are beginners or advanced practitioners. In fact, advanced practitioners may practice a few basic postures but it’s the mindset with which they practice that makes them advanced practitioners. At the same time, you may see someone in a complicated inversion who is actually a beginner and has much to learn. 

10. Props are tools 

There are many props in yoga. We use straps, walls, blocks, blankets, bolsters and more. Maty said she likes to think of props as tools that enhance our practice. I remember we were in a seated forward bend. She said she would rather see us bend the knees that force them straight and loose the length in the spine. She then said she would rather see us use a strap than bend the knees. When asked why, she explained that if we use the strap, we are opening our hamstrings which is the ultimate goal of the posture. Using the strap as a tool to accomplish the goal of the posture is the most helpful way to adapt the posture. This conversation led to my passion for accessible yoga

It was an honor to learn from Maty Ezraty and it is an honor to carry out her legacy in my 200-hour yoga teacher training and 300-hour yoga teacher training and all of my continuing education courses.


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