I discovered Eddie Ellner’s yoga classes in Santa Barbara while attending graduate school. His classes were by donation—held in a funky dance studio a few blocks from the beach—and were always packed, fun and challenging. Eddie was part DJ, part philosopher, part street corner preacher, and a humble and approachable yoga teacher. Soon after I moved he opened his own studio, Yoga Soup, where he continues to teach and inspire. I recently had a chance to ask Eddie a few questions about his yoga practice and teaching via email.
How did you find yoga? What made you stick with it?
I found Yoga at Crunch Fitness, an innovative health club in the East Village of NY, in 1991. My first class was with Noll Daniels who named his class Urban Yoga Workout. I stayed with yoga because life was getting more difficult to navigate and I was running out of wiggle room. At the end of each class I’d feel okay, yet the more I practiced the more I realized life was much worse than I imagined. By this I mean the peeling of the onion that is invoked as the inevitable movement toward truth is actually a razor’s edge that most everyone I’ve encountered unconsciously bypasses. Who can blame anyone for wanting to avoid dealing with the darkest material of their lives? Who can blame anyone for lining up behind the highs, the ecstasy, the alters, the commerce of inquiry rather than walking through the attics of despair and trauma. If you could choose between having arms everyone admires and inner peace wouldn’t you choose …. both?
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What have you discovered in your journey with yoga?
Discovering, slowly, over the years, the price of freedom, what it means to really let go of identification with warm and fuzzy ideas, it’s not until life whacks someone pretty hard that they get it.
Whatever offers insight is okay and yesterday’s potent insight that changed your life might be useless today. The person you thought you were and was therefore protecting is exposed as a series of protective measures needed to survive. Once that’s seen than the question central to every wisdom tradition: Who Am I, is finally alive.
Yoga, whatever lineage one practices, is intended to be a gateway drug of opening. It can also do just the opposite when a student creates a dogma out of it that circles the wagons of self-discovery.
What traditions do you draw upon to inform and guide your teaching?
I started teaching six years after I began practicing and rarely ever felt adequate to the task. My body was extremely bound up.
For the past four years my practice has been most influenced by the Resistance Flexibility work of Bob Cooley and the plant medicine ayahuasca. Both are long stories and interesting (to me) and prove that one never ever knows where the path will take them. The Resistance Flexibility work opens fascia and scar tissue in a way no yoga practice even comes close to. Most yoga practices overstretch tendons and ligaments because of the limitations imposed by the scar tissue and fascia in the hamstrings and back of shoulders.
I’m astounded, awed, at the way people survive their early catastrophes but it comes with a price. Opening to the universal truth of who one is simply means facing the misidentification with trauma. Once that’s seen as not who one is something else is revealed.
I’ve been chasing my own healing since I got into this “business,” and I like sharing what I’ve learned along the way. In my own small pond I became a popular teacher in spite of the fact I didn’t “do” any spectacular yoga poses or sing well or have any original insight. When I started doing the resistance stretching my class size shrunk from 40-50 students to five, yet because I was finally liberating myself from ancient fascial prisons I felt like I was finally teaching something useful. Doesn’t mean what I did in the past was wrong. It’s what I was exposed to.
The commodification and monetization of healing binds every to their domain. But healing is an art, a science and a mystery. Truth cannot be transmitted from one to another. It must be realized in oneself. Everything else is a pyramid scheme.
Who/what has been your greatest influence? Who are your yoga heroes? Who are your yoga villains?
Oh Good Lord. Maybe that should be answer. The Good Lord. I have spent too much time separating the world into heroes and villains. It takes as much energy to burn someone at the moral stake than it does to hoist them up the flagpole as an emblem of integrity. We’re all the same, capable of the same generosity and pettiness. When we let go of a childish need for heroes and villains than our own healing can begin in earnest. I spent some time in the Anusara circuit when it was reaching its zenith and remember wanting simultaneously to be a part of something so exciting and also wanting to run fast in the other direction. There is something about someone having the answers that I’m suspicious of. Very much like the caterpillar-turning-to-butterfly image: if you help the new life form out of its chrysalis it won’t develop the equipment necessary to make the transition.
Our reactions reveal us, if we’re willing to look. It’s never about them. I wish it were, Lord knows, but I know it’s not.
Where do you want to go from here? What are your future plans/projects/dreams?
Yoga Soup, my studio in Santa Barbara will soon celebrate its 10th anniversary. It’s a beautiful community space that’s hosted innumerable special events and served as a gateway and ambassador for work that’s been of some value and entertainment. And I’m done. I’m ready to hand it off and return to my one-room schoolhouse. I’d like the time for the work I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to, to give all that information a little time to blend, like a good soup I guess, and see where it takes me. If anyone out there wants in on a special place in a postcard town, let me know. I’m a motivated seller.