Even for native Angelenos, the driving pace that characterizes Los Angeles can sometimes prove wearing. If LA ever feels a little bit too, well, LA for you, a trip to Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz may be just what you need. Ditch your car and indulge in a leisurely stroll down the avenue. Luxuriate in an outdoor café, and peruse a funky boutique or two. Give in to the relaxed pace, and eventually, allow yourself to meander right up to the door of Karuna Yoga
When you reach Karuna Yoga, a sign instructs you to enter through the back door. Follow the sign and discover the lush, cozy garden tucked behind the studio. Pause here. Experience the shift from the demands of the outside world to your profoundly internal yoga practice. Nourish yourself with a moment of silence. Take a seat. A platter of mint tea and cookies lies on the table before you. Nibble on a cookie and sip on a cup of mint tea. Relish in the simplicity of the moment. Treat yourself. After all, that’s what Kelly Wood – founder of Karuna Yoga in Los Angeles – wants you to do. She believes that any time spent feeding the self is of immeasurable value. According to Kelly, the goal of yoga is for the practitioner to “truly accept the self.” For this reason, both her garden and her studio are designed to foster self-awareness. Kelly’s own history as a yogi has a lot to do with her point of view. A few years back, Kelly abandoned her job in the corporate world. She was on a quest to find a career that would both provide her with constant inspiration and allow her to help others. She thought that owning a yoga studio might meet both requirements. In July 2002, in what she describes as a “leap of faith,” Kelly opened Karuna Yoga.
Owning a yoga studio was unlike any job Kelly had ever had, mainly because it never felt like a job. She was amazed by the speed and dexterity with which she constructed the studio. In one month, half of the physical space had already come together. She was invigorated by the idea of exposing new students to yoga. Kelly decided to provide a wide variety of styles of yoga at her studio. Her logic was simple: The more types of yoga the studio offered, the more likely people were to find one that suited them. She eagerly constructed a schedule that included vigorous Hatha classes, meditative Kundalini classes, and everything in between.
Kelly also made sure that meditation had a place on her schedule. She believes that in order to live happily in today’s world, a meditative practice is absolutely essential. If the mere thought of sitting cross-legged makes your sit-bones sore, however, don’t fret. Kelly’s definition of meditation is nice and flexible. Although Kelly, trained in Zen meditation, is no stranger to the lotus pose, she is no meditation purist either. “When I meditate, I use whatever tool resonates with me in that moment,” she explains. To Kelly, something as simple as repeating a mantra while driving to work classifies as meditation.
In order to encourage her students to adopt a meditation practice, Kelly holds a yoga and meditation class at 4:15am, Monday through Friday. The class has remained fairly small, but Kelly still thinks it serves a vital purpose. She believes that the morning meditation energetically enhances the space for the approaching day. Kelly also stimulates the energetic environment at Karuna by playing mantra-music non-stop in the studio. From the moment that Karuna Yoga opened, the music has never been turned off.
Incense wafts through the space in a dance to this ever-present music. The lime green studio walls emanate both the calming and energizing effects of the quaint backyard garden. Time spent at Karuna Yoga is an absolute feast for the senses. Take time out to enjoy this feast. Not only will you feel better yourself, but your action will have a positive effect on others as well. After all, our treatment of the world at large begins with the way we treat ourselves. As Kelly so eloquently explains, “by honoring and accepting ourselves, we unconsciously give others the permission to do the same.”