Maty Ezraty, A Life of Integrity

When I process deep emotions I either shut down or go manic. When I shut down it is because I am not ready to voyage into the abyss of my story. But when I go manic, I usually produce something. In the days prior to Maty Ezraty’s Celebration of Life, I burned the midnight oil in compiling a selection of photos, news articles and personal statements as a testimony to this amazing woman, titled “Maty Ezraty, A Life of Integrity.”

The Celebration, on November 9, 2019 was artful, heartful, healing and wondrous. People went to the flower market in downtown Los Angeles and crafted beautiful floral arrangements. A sound stage was assembled for Dave Stringer, Saul David Ray and Marla Meenashki Joy and Ron. The west room in the Montana YogaWorks, Maty’s Ashtanga room, the original YogaWorks, displayed a meditation alter that showcased a larger than life picture of those azul eyes glowing with joie de vie. Maty was a jewel of a lady, different, fiery, temperamental. And we loved her.

At the Celebration, I spoke of how Maty and I would practice together. Comparing how her bow legs and my knock knees effected different poses made for lively yoga discussions! Should the back leg turn out, or in, in Parvritta Parsvkonasana? Draw the outer shins in, and she would tie her legs up. “Will they ever be straight?” she asked pensively. Maty disliked her feet, she found them big and basic, and yet she taught how to build “shapely” ankles by lifting the inner arch and drawing the outer ankle in. Whatever she approached was important. She was an “in your face” kind of person, honest to a fault, yet tough as nails.

As I sat with the memories and the inexplicable reality that she was gone, gone at 55, young, in her prime… I realized that, for me, she embodied true discipleship. One who sought out the best teachers for her own studies and who drew out the most impassioned practice from her students.

The Yoga Sutras mention eight ways to build a contemplative practice and maintain equanimity. Nischala Joy Devi interprets them as follows:

1.27. Repeating the sacred sound OM manifests Divine Consciousness.
1.33. To preserve openness of heart and calmness of mind, nurture these attitudes: Kindness to those who are happy; Compassion for those who are less fortunate; Honor for those who embody noble qualities; Equanimity to those who actions oppose your values.
1.34. Slow, easeful exhalations can be used to restore and preserve balance.
1.35. Or engage the focus on an inspiring object.
1.36. Or cultivate devotion to the supreme, ever-blissful Light within.
1.37. Or receive grace from a great soul, who exudes Divine qualities.
1.38. Or reflect on a peaceful feeling from an experience, a dream or deep sleep.
1.39. Or dedicate yourself to anything that elevates and embraces your heart.

I found myself saying that Maty was an enlightened being, one whom I would hold dear in my heart. 1.37; To receive grace from a great soul, who exudes Divine qualities. What I meant is that her devotion to her subject, her students, the practice, and her quest for an honest and loving life is her legacy. Those qualities are worthy of reflection, and she lived those qualities. She was not perfect, but neither is life. Her quest was sincere… Her picture now rests on my own alter alongside Guruji Iyengar and Geetaji.

And what a funny girl; different, curious, fiery, temperamental. Maty Ezraty fell into her destiny at a young age. In her early twenties, she took a Yoga class at the Center for Yoga in Los Angeles. Not only did that class change the future of yoga, but it ignited a passion in Maty that led her to surround herself with all facets of the yoga culture. The asana practice, the business of yoga, yoga attire, teacher training, kirtan, mentoring, writing, contemplative practices and finally, international leadership.

My time with Maty started in the 1980s. We were all babies in yoga. If I told someone that I taught yoga, they would ask; “Do you mean that you burn incense and chant?” Well, no, not exactly, I would respond. Now, thirty years later, when I tell someone that I teach yoga, they either ask; “Will I get a good sweat?” or, “I couldn’t possibly do yoga, I am too stiff”. And I respond: “Anyone can do yoga. Yoga can be adapted to whatever your needs are.” Then I refine my response by telling them that they will probably not sweat bullets in my class, rather, that I will request from them a quality of focus that is not possible when they jump around a lot. We practice a “work-in” rather than a “work-out”.

In her classes, Maty managed to do both; sweat and demand complete focus. In her later years, she traveled extensively teaching workshops. She attended several silent meditation retreats. She used the basic sequences in the Ashtanga Vinyasa of Pattabhi Jois, and honed them to such a fine degree that a simple sun salutation became a moving meditation of a fully embodied eco-system. All parts are necessary and connect to the whole, and every part plays it tune. The lift of the chest connected to the length of the back informing the abdominal wall to enable the arms to rise while anchoring down into the legs, feet, arches, ankles, and all of it, including the breath. Artistry at its finest. Being in one of her classes was like being in an orchestra, each of us playing our own instrument as she modulated the pace and intensity.

I first met Maty when she opened YogaWorks in 1987. I was already a certified Iyengar teacher, and teaching full time. I had dissolved my two dance companies, the Sacred Dancers and the Stardust Dancers, in 1983, and completed three years of programming funded by the California Arts Council. With fifteen years of daily devoted dance studies and a Bachelors degree in choreography, I loved the synchronization of movement into asana that had been a hallmark in the early years of Iyengar yoga. By the time I traveled to Pune to study with the Iyengar family, the emphasis was on building intelligence through detail and precision in each asana. I loved that as well, but I sought a sangha, a study group..

I found a community of fellow yoga practitioners in the Ashtanga classes that Chuck Miller taught. Arising before daybreak, I would warm up at home before showing up for the ritual 5 Surya Namaskar A and B’s that were the signature of the system at the time. Practice began around 7 AM. Maty and I were both supple, spunky, and short. We loved cajoling and encouraging one another through the series. Maty said that I was the only one she could look down on, by a half inch! She was four foot eleven with a voice and presence that commanded attention and respect. Everyone loved seeing one another in those early morning sessions, as Chuck kept a mature and even emotional temper on the fiery practice.

Maty frequently invited teachers to her house for potluck dinners. Those were the macrobiotic days, and she generally served rice dishes, greens, and vegetables, introducing many of us to the benefits of healthy and delicious eating. She cooked with pressure cookers, lots of olive oil, and ate with chop sticks. She loved having people around. And the community grew.

The history of the first decade at YogaWorks remains in the hearts and lives of many of yoga’s most influential teachers today. Maty would invite teachers from many traditions, Viniyoga with Gary Kraftstow; Iyengar yoga with Gabriella Giubilaro, Patricia Walden, Eddie Modestini among others; Yin Yoga with Sarah Powers and Paul Grilley; Richard Freeman, Tias Little and John Friend all frequented the workshop schedule. Erich Shiffman, Rod Striker, and later Shiva Rey and Sean Korn were on daily class schedules. It was a fertile era, and many of these yogis showed up for Maty’s Celebration of Life.

Jack Kornfield gave a moving eulogy and meditation. At one point he asked us all to imagine that Maty was speaking to each of us, and what would she say. I found Maty saying to me: “You have arrived.” I continue my practices, studies, teaching, reflecting, praying.

I am forever grateful for the early years, creative years, seminal years, my holy years.

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