“In a lot of ways, I feel like the last 15 years have been a kind of apprenticeship for me,” mused Eddie Ellner on a recent sun-soaked morning while finishing an almond milk latte outside of Handlebar Coffee. “It is like I am really just now starting to teach.”
The man behind Yoga Soup, an undisputed titan in Santa Barbara’s ever-growing yoga universe, was waxing philosophical about his Parker Way studio’s 10th anniversary, which he’s honoring with a rebirth of sorts, reimagining philosophies, offering new classes and teachers, expanding the schedule, and remodeling modestly. “Often in life, you end up taking a journey you didn’t sign up for but wind up with gifts you could have never imagined,” said the reenergized and evolved Ellner with a certain sparkle. “I have taken that journey myself in recent years. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’m here and I have a renewed appetite to offer what I’ve learned. It feels great.”
A native New Yorker with curly, indifferent hair and sympathetic brown eyes, the 55-year-old yogi once made a living writing for professional wrestling magazines and advertising agencies before moving west in the early 1990s and finding yoga. Soon enough, he was teaching classes at the Santa Barbara Yoga Center, where he began developing an approach to yoga that’s grounded more in the grit and regular miracles of reality than in the crystal-gazing, neo-New Age of Om. Ellner quickly grew a devoted following of yoga misfits and folks scratching for something beyond a good stretch, so it was only a matter of time before he opened his own space.
Yoga Soup was born in 2001 and fast became one of Santa Barbara’s most beloved places to bend and breathe. “From the beginning, my mandate was to create a community space, somewhere you can go to have that honest discussion you cannot find anywhere else,” explained Ellner, whose unique take on yoga once featured a casket prominently displayed in the studio. “In its own small way, Yoga Soup brings folks together to speak freely and plainly of their lives.”
The yoga landscape isn’t nearly as barren as it used to be, and remaining financially viable has never been harder, even for a regular Best Of S.B. winner like Ellner. So he’s broadening what the Soup offers, subtracting himself from the equation a bit and recommitting to his charting vision of an open and accepting community. “There is no cure for this life but to live it as honestly as we can bear, and for that to happen, we need each other’s backs,” said Ellner, whose students past and present kept interrupting our conversation to say hi. “We need to be able to sit down and have a carrot or cup of tea without having to prove anything to anybody. That is the mandate of our studio and the challenge to our staff every day.”
Yoga Soup (28 Parker Wy.,  965-8811) celebrates its 10th anniversary with free classes Monday-Saturday, April 4-9, and a party on Sunday, April 10. See yogasoup.com for details.