Fitness Feature: YEP (Yoga Echo Park)
It’s been a while since I’ve done a Fitness Feature. I’m committed to only featuring studios/workouts that I’m genuinely excited about so I’m really happy to do this one.
When I was first figuring out my living situation in LA, a major selling point for my apartment was the fact that it’s a short five minute walk from Echo Park Lake. From what I’ve gathered, the lake has been recently transformed from a space that was largely associated with the neighborhoods blight – known for gang-related violence and drug activity – to the beautiful green space that it is today (check it out in the photos). Every Sunday morning I have the pleasure of going to an amazing 70 minute donation-based class at this lovely lake, instructed by Steven Arcos. Steve is awesome, to say the least, and so is his class, so I was so grateful that he took the time to chat with me about his motivation to start YEP and his personal journey with yoga. I’m really excited to share Steve’s vision with you guys and hopefully spread the word about one of Echo Park’s most awesome attributes.
Steve began YEP at the end of July of 2013 after having gotten the idea while walking his dogs with this mom. Having grown up in Echo Park, Steven is familiar with the park’s history as a “beacon for trouble,” and decided to start YEP as a way of honoring the newly rehabilitated space and “give back to the community” by bringing people together. He decided that the class would be donation based to make it accessible to a wide range of people, acknowledging that the costs of yoga classes in LA are “insane,” and can be a hindrance to participation. This inclusive communal spirit also manifests in the class itself, with its open and supportive environment. From my post-class eavesdropping, I know that it’s common for beginning yogis or first-timers to come to this class and feel comfortable with their own level of practice. While studios can be awesome, being out in the open of the park definitely creates a literally and figuratively less stuffy atmosphere that eliminates the intimidation factor of yoga studio culture.
As far as Steve’s own journey with yoga, he did yoga for the first time about six years ago but he didn’t “warm up to it right away.” It was secondary to other aspects of his fitness life until about a year and a half ago when everything suddenly clicked. Steve describes this moment saying, “everything felt amazing… I could breathe again. It all just lined up… I felt my breath connected to the movement and the movement responding to the breath… I felt strong and confident. Everything just clicked.” Even after this experience, Steve didn’t immediately set out to be an instructor. It was only after his cousin suggested the idea to him that he decided to pursue his certification and now he’s a certified instructor, teaching at studios in addition to running YEP.
While Steven acknowledges that many people take yoga purely as a form of exercise, he advocates fully committing to the physical, mental, and spiritual components of the practice. This is evident in the way that he designs YEP classes as he gives attention to meditation, breath practice, and strength training, making for an extremely well-rounded session and a challenging, yet relaxing workout. When asked about his vision for the class, Steven says that he hopes that the class will inspire people to continue their practice, even if it’s not at YEP. He also wants the class to help to build community amongst people in the neighborhood, noting that the word “yoga” actually means “unity.” Steven does a great job with helping facilitate connections between YEP-goers, not hesitating to put students with shared interests in touch with one another, and ending class by asking people to give the person next to them a high-five. His dedication to community is also evident in the fact that he quickly retains the names of YEP-ers (It’s really impressive. I’m pretty sure I only told him my name once), always sticks around after class for chat sessions (I usually have to stand in line just to say “hello”), and always has a delicious basket of fruit waiting on the table. While these gestures might seem small, they go a long way. The name exchanges and brief convos that inevitably take place after class tell me that Steve’s dreams of promoting community through YEP are well on their way to coming true.
As an LA newbie, I am still working to build up a community for myself in this crazy, fragmented, sprawling metropolis. The positive atmosphere and community spirit that YEP harbors are a breath of fresh air which, if you know anything about LA and its driving pollution, is extremely hard to come. It’s awesome to have a beautiful space so close to home where I can go and feel supported in my journey to become mentally and physically stronger.
(The view from my mat. Not to shabby, huh? Oh and that’s Steve dragging his mat closer to the group)
YEP happens three days a week. Wednesday evenings at 4:30pm (will be changing to 5:30 soon) and Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10am. Angelenos should definitely check it out. It’s one of the best ways to spend an hour and ten minutes of your life.