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Sandwiched into a sunny alcove on the main strip of Palo Alto’s California Avenue, Avalon Art & Yoga Center is one of those magical places that makes one re-envision how they do yoga. That could have something to do with the name, which summons up romantic thoughts of the mythical Arthurian isle, or perhaps it’s simply the integration of yoga and art that makes Avalon so different from your run-of-the-mill yoga studio.
Founded by Paul Crowl, a massage practitioner and avid yoga buff, Avalon scores points for blending yoga and art in one gorgeous, contemplative setting. If you’re accustomed to walking into your favorite studio and being hit by waves of tense energy, despite the efforts of well-meaning instructors and yogis just looking to blow off some steam, Avalon might seem like a totally different world. Not only does the studio boast a noncompetitive environment, it really delivers on the full relaxation experience in ways most studios can only dream of.
Crowl, who has been practicing yoga for 20 years, says that he first became interested in the practice after stumbling upon an advertisement for a hatha yoga class on a sandwich board in Palo Alto years ago. He was turned on to yoga after a debilitating illness, which caused him to be “bombarded with a multitude of Western medicine tests to figure out what was wrong.” But after giving yoga a try, he was amazed to see how much his body and mind shifted in such a short period of time. Crowl went on to become a massage therapist who regularly incorporated yoga into his work with clients.
In the early to mid-90s, Crowl was becoming increasingly accustomed to yoga classes that were jam-packed with people. In the interest of creating a space that provided both the physical and spiritual room to practice yoga, Crowl came up with the idea of Avalon.
“I think of Avalon as a combination of accident and intention,” he says. In 2002, while walking along California Avenue—where, incidentally, Crowl had noticed the sandwich board ad for his very first yoga class so many years ago—he discovered a gorgeous space: a former art gallery that was available for lease. The process of transforming the space into a yoga center happened quickly. With the help of several artist and artisan friends, Crowl (who also came up with the concept and design of Avalon) built a yoga center from the bottom up.
Aptly, given the shared meditative aspect of both art and yoga, Crowl decided to preserve the artistic element of the space he was taking over. Aside from hosting rotating exhibitions, Avalon’s very environment is as exquisite as any artist’s creation. Visitors practice their asanas on a sprawling, floating hardwood floor. A fountain murmurs contentedly in one corner of the space, while a gorgeous bamboo mural, mosaic tiles in the bathrooms and a redwood and glass partition offer an organic, architecturally sophisticated space for contemplation. It’s airy; it’s calming; it’s beautiful. In short: It’s everything a yoga studio should be.
A team of about 25 highly experienced instructors, whose styles range from Ashtanga to Iyengar yoga, lead nearly 50 classes a week. “We’re not set on one modality,” Crowl says. “It really depends on where you are in your body and mood. Whether you want restorative or rigorous yoga, it’s our aim to offer all those things.” In fact, the studio generally recommends mixing modalities. For example, students who practice Ashtanga might find Iyengar yoga helpful, to work more effectively with alignment and correct positioning.
Crowl describes Avalon as a traditional yoga studio. “You don’t come here to get your yoga workout,” he explains. “We really want to convey the mental and spiritual aspect of yoga, not just the physical.” As a result, even the high-energy yoga classes tend to be low-stress, and despite the enormity of the space, instructors strive not to have more than 40 bodies in the space during a class. An assortment of pranayama and meditation techniques supplements the other asanas in most of the center’s classes.
Aside from the yoga, Crowl and his team of three associates, who assist in running the daily operations of Avalon, host special workshops and events in the space, ranging from a vinyasa intensive with Marti Foster, to devotional chanting with Jai Uttal, to interactive inquiries with luminaries like Ganga White and Tracy Rich. Events are generally limited to one a month or one every other month because, as Crowl says, “That’s our way of keeping it special.” Given everything else Avalon has going for it, it’s safe to say there’s no risk of making it anything but.