It’s the story of a lot of people coming together for a lot of different, really good reasons. The word collective is definitely the right word. There was this amazing convergence of talent and support and ideas and lots and lots of people working for Square One, just because they believed in it and wanted to help out. Square One would have been much different and way less cool if I had tried to do it on my own. It might have never happened at all.
It was also a string of lucky events. I was living in the city, going to yoga, doing my thing, teaching math, and one day I decided to buy a car. It was a cool car. It ran on vegetable oil and was old and nothing worked quite the way it was supposed to, and I was pretty thrilled. I was also paying a lot of money in rent. I hadn’t really minded. I lived two blocks from my favorite studio and the place was really cute and had bay windows and stuff. But I thought:
I know! I’ll move to the East Bay. I have this car now, it’s green, I can commute and save lots of money. So I went apartment searching. I found a kind of weird apartment. It was really, really big and pretty cheap. It was in Emeryville. I didn’t really know how I felt about that. Emeryville? Isn’t that like IKEA? But the great thing about the apartment was that it had a giant room with wood floors. Well, plywood floors, but it got me dreaming.
You see, I had just gotten certified to teach yoga. I spent a month camping in the woods doing lots of asana and pranayama and learning all about Atman and Brahman and how it’s all the same thing. It was pretty amazing. I wanted to teach yoga, and I saw this opportunity. I would take the apartment and make that giant room a community yoga center. I would have classes in there EVERY NIGHT and make them donation based, and I would make everyone happy, especially myself.
It was a great idea. I took the apartment. I was gleeful. I was opening a yoga studio in my home. I knew there were some kinks. Like all the students would have to walk through my kitchen. But they wouldn’t mind, right? And the hallway smelled like pee. But I would clean it up. It would be ok.
So my first night in the apartment, I’m in my big room doing yoga. It’s 7 pm, just the time when my nightly classes would be. And my neighbor turns on his TV. And I hear it. Like really, really loud. I hear everything. Canned laughter, my neighbor yelling at his kid. It’s as though it’s in the next room and the walls are really, really thin.
In fact, it was in the next room and the walls were really, really thin. And it happened every night. I was devastated. I cried. I hated the neighborhood. I missed my little apartment in SF with its bay windows and tiny kitchen and great yoga studio two blocks away.
But I started thinking that maybe I would just rent a space. I was saving a lot of money, right? So I started looking on Craigslist every week or so. Very casually, just to see what might be out there. Then one Sunday night, I see an interesting ad. There was a space, not too far out of my price range, and it was at 4336 San Pablo. Really? But my address was just one digit off. I thought it was a mistake. I kept looking at it trying to figure out how there was a retail space available in my very building. I called. She was there. Ten minutes later, I was standing in my new yoga studio. I knew I was. And so it has turned out to be.
It was Emeryville Community Hatha Yoga. ECHY. Great name, right? I was going to find lots of great teachers, and we were going to build a yoga community together. And basically, that’s exactly how it’s happened. But with a better name.
Of course it’s way better than I imagined. That’s thanks to all those people I was talking about earlier. Most of them didn’t even practice yoga; in fact all but a few still don’t. They just saw me with a vision and wanted to help. Here they are:
Leigh Okies and Pablo Ortiz. People always comment on the look we have created. They did that. Everything paper and all the signs and the buttons and “i heart yoga” are Leigh. Plywood and whitewash and barn doors are Pablo. Actually, there is a lot of Pablo in the graphics and a lot of Leigh in the architecture. They taught me that design is much, much more than how things look. The conversations that I had with Leigh and Pablo about design were the conversations that made me realize and articulate the vision I had for square one.
Jay (my brother) and Chris Hargis and Glen (whose last name I will find out) who came down from Portland and did my buildout. It helps to have a brother who builds retail spaces for a living. Without them: no dressing rooms, no exposed brick, no custom furniture, no great lighting. They also painted me a picture of Ganesha late one night after many hours at the neighborhood bar. Something was seeping in…
Meisa Salaita, who spent hours painting and chipping off old linoleum and cooking and listening to every detail of every thought about the studio I had. God bless her. Other fearless and hearty volunteers: Khaled Salaita, Jill Millstone, Korin and Doug King, Alison Jackson, Amy Vogel, Nora Bales, my mom. My dad, who’s written a couple of very important checks. The advice of Jason Crandell and Deborah Burkman, my teachers on the mat and now also about business matters.