This is the first individual spotlight in series two of the “This Is What a Yogi Looks Like” (#whatayogilookslike) media series, a collaboration between the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and Yoga International based on the YBIC campaign that launched in 2014 and their continued work in challenging stereotypes, growing community, working collaboratively, and highlighting the diversity of yoga practitioners and yoga practices, as well as their staunch commitment to diversifying yoga media.
Caleb Asch is a yoga teacher and photographer based in Santa Monica, California. Studying with Bryan Kest and then participating in his first teacher training, Caleb started teaching as Bryan’s protégé at his Santa Monica Power Yoga Studio in 1995. Two years later, Caleb participated in and completed the YogaWorks teacher training with Maty Ezraty, Chuck Miller, and senior Iyengar teacher Lisa Walford. In addition, Caleb has studied with Shandor Remete, Dona Holleman, Gabriella Giubilaro, and James Wing Woo. Caleb currently teaches at YogaWorks Centre for Yoga, Westwood, and Los Feliz Studios, as well as Equinox Beverly Hills. You can view his photography here.
You’re not out there on social media trying to get clicks and likes. You’re deep in your practice and sharing that practice with others.
Caleb, you were one of my most formative yoga teachers in the early years of my practice. And I still stand by the fact that you’re one of the best and, dare I say it, underrated teachers in all of Los Angeles. I mean, you’re not out there on social media trying to get clicks and likes. You’re deep in your practice and sharing that practice with others. Can you share with readers how you discovered yoga and started your practice?
Sometime in April 1995, I walked into Bryan Kest's “advanced" class on a recommendation from a personal trainer who was also a student of his. I was one of only two people he ever let do that. At the time, he required students to take a certain number of his regular classes before you could practice in the “advanced” class. There was an immediate connection. We became fast friends and stayed very close for the next seven years. I had come from an extensive martial art background which included teaching and training. I loved Bryan’s Power Yoga and immediately jumped into a five-day-per-week practice.
Not only did you start a dedicated and consistent practice right away, you became completely immersed and embarked on your yoga teacher training shortly thereafter, right?
Yes, in 1996, in response to a request from me and another student at the time, Bryan put together his first teacher training. It was his first and it was very extensive. It was six months long and it was awesome!
Oh, I remember Bryan’s early years and the sheer intensity. And that intensity wasn’t only physical, as most people suspect or assume.
That’s right. Bryan taught me focus. Completing the teacher training included a silent 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat. I began teaching professionally immediately. Bryan found me a private client who stayed with me for the next three years. I began teaching for Bryan when he travelled, which became more and more often as his fame and schedule grew. I was his protégé, so to speak, and he always gave me very direct feedback: “People just don’t fuckin’ like you, Caleb!”
I always find that hard to believe!
I am a bit of a knucklehead, you see, and the clay from which I was formed is dense and very hard so it required some chiseling.
But your training and experience goes well beyond your training and practice with Bryan.
Yes, in addition to practicing and training with Bryan (as well as teaching at his studios for seven years), I took the original YogaWorks Teacher Training with Maty Ezrati, Chuck Miller, and Lisa Walford. I was already teaching professionally by then with privates and several morning classes on Bryan’s Santa Monica schedule, but I wanted to go deeper in the area of alignment. Given my 25 years of experience in martial arts, form was important to me. This was before the so-called “Yoga Alliance” was formed. These teachers were training teachers, not delivering a “product.” I was very fortunate to experience that level of quality of teaching. I still take Lisa’s classes and Maty’s workshops when she comes to L.A. It’s amazing to realize that now I’ve been teaching for 20 years!
Your practice and teaching infuses every aspect of your life. I’ve often heard you talk about teaching yoga as yoga practice.
Absolutely! For me teaching yoga is more “yoga” than practicing asana. It’s another yoga practice in itself. You really get the opportunity to see the outside world as a reflection of your inner landscape. In my experience I’ve found that if I’m angry inside, I’ll manifest angry students. If I feel like a victim, “victims” will be in my room. When I’ve felt desperate, my rooms have been empty. It’s been one of the most amazing and incredible rides I’ve ever been on. A growing-yourself-up process, if you will. Change the inner landscape and the outer reality changes. It’s that simple, but not easy, just like a yoga pose!
For me teaching yoga is more “yoga” than practicing asana. It’s another yoga practice in itself.
And you’ve continued to discover new layers of your practice and ways that you can engage in practice off the mat and outside the yoga room.
Yeah, I dabbled in photography while I was working on the first Star Wars movie as an "optical camera assistant" in 1977, and I rediscovered it two years ago. I mean, I never really stopped, but it was more of a casual thing since I was never seen as the “creative one” in my family.
And you’ve said on many occasions how yoga and photography are one and the same. How so?
They are both present-moment practices. They both require you to be present. It's life changing.
How has your yogic foray into photography as a passion, a need, and a practice changed your life, and what are your intentions with the art you produce?
Like any yoga practice, I try to take pictures every day. Some days it flows effortlessly and some days I hate everything I see in my camera. But it’s always intimate, calming, and centering. It always returns me to my Self. I take road trips on my days off to shoot landscapes. I drive after classes to record cityscapes. I walk around before class to practice street photography and macro photography.
In the end, I’m trying to create myself. I want to do it in a way that touches and moves others in that deep part of themselves as well.
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Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker, and Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Santa Monica College. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty,... Read more>>