There are fresh faces at one of the oldest yoga studios in town. The Santa Barbara Yoga Center — located in the grand, yellow church building at 32 E. Micheltorena Street — has been open for 20 years, and, after considerable talk that change was coming, the business officially has new owners.
In the yoga world, it’s no secret that the center had been struggling for some time. Last fall, a group at the center had plans to turn the business into a cooperative, after the previous owner, Laís Ribeiro da Silva, decided she would sell. “The principle was so great, but it practically just wasn’t going to work in the time frame that we had,” explained Barbara Hirsch, the new owner. So Hirsch and business partner Jivana Heyman decided the best solution was to buy the place (before a corporate chain had the chance). “We were determined to make the business thrive again as quickly as possible.”
The pair signed the papers on Monday, but classes have seamlessly continued over the past two months. “She’s got the local, and I’ve got the yoga,” said Heyman, who recently moved here from the Bay Area and specializes in using yoga to treat people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. He has managed the San Francisco Integral Yoga Institute for 15 years, practiced for 25, and taught yoga for 18. His goal is to start Yoga Therapy in Santa Barbara, and to treat folks with mental and physical disabilities.
“I’m just a student,” said Hirsch. She came to Santa Barbara over 40 years ago to study music at UCSB. Soon after, she founded the classical recording studio OPUS 1, and is an active environmentalist in town. Describing herself as a “ridiculously individualistic,” Hirsch said she initially resisted yoga; group-oriented chanting practices were not her cup of tea. But the practice, humility, and sense of community quickly resonated with Hirsch, and now she’s been on the mat for 10 years. She doesn’t teach — not yet. “I love people who are dedicated to their practice, but don’t think of themselves as teachers,” Heyman said. “Those are actually the best teachers.”
“Our dream is to make yoga accessible to everyone,” Heyman said, explaining the center will maintain its classical style. Currently, the center has 25 teachers, and word of mouth has already brought in hundreds of prospective yogis. “The more the merrier,” Hirsch said. The center offers a variety of classic styles, including Hatha, Iyengar-style, Ashtanga, Kundalini, and Therapeutic and Restorative Yoga. The center also offers teacher training certification and at times has internationally recognized teachers. Erich Shiffmann, Sarah Powers, Judith Lasater, Lisa Walford, Sean Corne, Cyndi Lee, Cheri Clampett and many others will continue to teach at the center.
The center will also keep the same staff. Director Sarah Tuttle called Hirsch and Heyman a “dynamic pair” who have already brought a “vital transition to the beloved center.” Hirsch quit her day-job four years ago — she still runs OPUS 1 — and has enjoyed the added free time, but said she’s eager to take on the new challenge. “It’s not something I was planning on doing for the rest of my life.”