Hers is a name widely cherished among yogis near and far.
A prominent leader in the evolution of yoga in the U.S., Maty Ezraty and the teacher training program she co-founded shaped the lives and teaching methods of tens of thousands of yoga instructors worldwide.
Many credit her for not only bringing the practice to the West — with intensity and passion — but making it accessible to the average person.
Only 55, Ezraty died suddenly July 9 after teaching in Tokyo. The cause of death has not been determined.
In 1987, Ezraty and Chuck Miller, her “life partner in business and love,” opened YogaWorks on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. Their intention was to draw in the best yoga instructors from around the world, people they could learn from.
Eventually, the business became a model for yoga studios that were popping up in the late 1980s and early ’90s. From there, the popularity of the Indian practice swelled.
“She had an amazing ability to see what needed to be fixed and to know how to direct that energy, be it in yoga or anywhere else,” said Miller.
The studio offered more than 100 classes daily to more than 700 students, teaching them a fusion of the flowing, intense Ashtanga practice and Iyengar, which focuses on alignment and precision.
Many of her students went on to open their own yoga studios in Los Angeles.
The couple took notice of the burgeoning demand for more experienced and properly trained teachers, and decided to meet that need. In 1990, with the assistance of Miller and Lisa Walford, Ezraty founded the YogaWorks Teacher Training Program, which produced some of the world’s most prominent yoga instructors.
“She mentored so many people,” said Vinnie Marino, a yoga instructor trained by Ezraty who has taught at YogaWorks for more than 20 years. “She gave the opportunity to so many people in Los Angeles and beyond to become yoga teachers with her really strong training.”
But running the studio and the program eventually took its toll. So in 2004, wanting to “reclaim their lives,” as Miller said, they sold YogaWorks and moved to Hawaii, though both continued to teach across the world. Today, YogaWorks the business continues to grow, with 17 studios in L.A. and more than 60 locations in the country, including Houston, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Ezraty was born Sept. 2, 1963, in Israel. After her parents divorced, she moved to the U.S. when she was 11 with her sister and mother, Miriam, a psychologist. She is survived by her mother.
Her first love was ballet but she abandoned it when she took her first yoga after graduating from Beverly Hills High School. She worked at Los Angeles’ Center for Yoga in exchange for classes.
She started teaching yoga in the mid-1980s and became the center’s director. Years later, she co-founded YogaWorks.
“Her intention from the beginning was to have an environment where she could invite the best teachers in the world,” said Miller, who remained in Ezraty’s life even after their breakup. “It became a huge incubator for world-class teachers.”
Ezraty focused on proper technique and body movement. She was known for demanding excellence from other teachers.
“So many of us thought we were really good practitioners until Maty got her hands on us. She always found something we could improve on, or 20,” said Brent Kessel, a student and friend.
But in recent years, Ezraty had softened. She was able to laugh at herself and with her students while still encouraging the best in them, he said.
“Her dream was to spread yoga,” said Maryam Askari, a former student and longtime friend. Askari brought the teaching program to France when she opened her own studio in Paris in 2004.
“She played a really instrumental role in catapulting yoga from being just a practice into bringing it into your life.”
When news of Ezraty’s death spread, the global influence she had was palpable.
“I’m getting messages from all over the world,” said Maren Morstad, Ezraty’s website and social media manager.
She said it’s as if “there are pieces of Maty across the entire globe.”