Our columnist, Amy Ramos, checks out Yoga Soup. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

My favorite yoga class at my regular gym didn’t survive the pandemic, so I was excited to try the offerings at Yoga Soup, the treasured Santa Barbara studio founded by Eddie Ellner in 2006. I was looking forward to increasing my flexibility and relieving muscle tension. What I found was a space that offered a class for nearly every mood and physical circumstance.

I started with a Strong Flow Level 2/3 class on a weekday evening. Instructor Lauren Hopper led the packed class through a series of asanas, including chair pose and fallen angel. As she challenged our balance with a transition from twisted chair to twisted crescent, Hopper shared a quote from Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön: “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” Or, as my friend who’s a regular put it: “This class is brutal but it’s good for me.”

For those who may still not be comfortable exercising in a large room in close proximity to strangers (especially when you’re all being exhorted to exhale through your mouth), Yoga Soup offers online and outdoor options as well.

In the Active Beginners Level 1/2 that I took by Zoom, instructor Heather Tiddens emphasized form and breath, and offered modifications depending on flexibility, making it a good choice for someone new to a yoga practice. The 12:15 p.m. time slot also makes it a perfect lunch break for someone who works from home.

Founder Eddie Ellner’s class at Yoga Soup.

On the first sunny day in weeks, I pedaled my bike to Shoreline Park for an Outdoor Energy Flow class. As Sepideh Taheri led us through — what else — sun salutations, I could hear the waves lapping at the shore below us and smell the grass we’d set our mats on. When I got sweaty, it was from the sun shining down on us, not from being in a room full of people.

The outdoor setting was a bit distracting – I could hear the slap-slap-slap of a man hitting boxing pads nearby, found myself admiring a Chihuahua mix that looked like a tiny German shepherd, and couldn’t help eavesdropping on power walkers discussing couples therapy. But the main location is not completely free of distractions either: depending on the studio, you may hear the exhortations of the instructors from the neighboring pilates studio, the trash truck on its weekly rounds, or the whistle of the Pacific Surfliner as it chugs through downtown.

After suffering a muscle spasm in my back one morning, I decided Carone Scott’s Gentle & Healing Flow was in order. Most of the poses were done while sitting or lying on our mats, and Scott had us use blocks and bolsters for support in various poses, which did make for a gentler practice. I wound down a weekend with Cristy Candler’s Sunday Slow Flow. Although Candler led us through a challenging series of asanas, she claimed that some people take a nap during her class, just coming “for the vibe.” While we were in savasana, she used singing bowls and Koshi chimes for sound healing during the final meditation. I found myself breathing deeply, my mind calm — the Sunday scaries fended off.

No trial membership of Yoga Soup would be complete without taking a class taught by Ellner himself. One feature that sets Ellner’s class apart is the playfulness he brings to the practice — the moments between tree pose and half-moon when he urges the class to do freestyle movement, hop on one leg, or dance with a partner. The running theme of Ellner’s class is the encouragement to love ourselves, to let go of the stories we’re telling ourselves about our bodies — about their inadequacies and even their perfections — and simply experience being in our bodies, rather than constantly struggling to make them assume a different shape.

Easier said than done. Ellner, a former creative director and screenwriter who’s been teaching yoga for more than 25 years, acknowledged, “You can’t eliminate vanity, because we are quite addicted to appearance.” His job, he said, “isn’t to change people or reform them.” Instead, he tries to establish a different context for them. In his class, he sometimes has everyone flex their biceps like bodybuilders, then let their arms go slack so the triceps flaps around – and consider the question, “Which one am I?” The answer, of course, is that we all contain multitudes.

That’s true of Yoga Soup as well, which combines elements of a bookstore and boutique and where you might snack on one of Ellner’s legendary roasted sweet potatoes after class. Ellner’s focus is on creating an environment where people feel safe, accepted, at home — and explore, as he puts it, “being in the truth of a body.”

Perhaps my quintessential Yoga Soup experience occurred when I took Hattie Bluestone’s Saturday morning Yoga + Weights class. The relentlessly cheerful Bluestone encouraged us to set our intention before leading us through what was fundamentally a circuit training class. There were moves that were familiar from the gym (squats), others that tested balance (lunges with bicep curls), and some that got our heart rates up (alternating lunges and kicks), along with traditional yoga asanas like chaturanga, cobra, and pigeon. There were no impact moves and, refreshingly, nothing that felt unsafe, unlike some circuit training classes I’ve been to.

Afterwards, sweaty and spent, I helped myself to some hearty vegetable soup from Organic Soup Kitchen and bread from Oat Bakery, which are always available in a corner of the Yoga Soup shop. For dessert, there were strawberries and organic whipped cream set out by Ellner himself. As I enjoyed this humble feast (for which I left a donation in the jar), a woman sitting on the sofa adjacent to mine strummed a guitar. It was a sublimely peaceful interlude before a return to the usual Saturday rush of errands, and it helped me understand something Ellner had told me: “It is kind of a miracle that this place exists.”

411: Located at 28 Parker Way, Santa Barbara. Some classes are offered online and outdoors. Classes in various yoga disciplines, (no hot yoga), memberships, class packs, and drop-ins available. Online reservations with drop-ins permitted if space allows. Cubbies and shelves provided for storing personal items; members can store mats on-site. There are bathrooms but no showers. Parking on street and in city lot #12. Mats, blocks, blankets, bolsters, and other props are provided, including spray bottles and clean rags for cleaning mats. See yogasoup.com.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.