Good Sweat

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The journey of Alan Finger, a yoga master’s master

Alan Finger

Alan Finger’s ISHTA yoga studio turns five. And yet it’s the kind of place that feels under the radar, insider-y, and not a bit scene-y. Not what you’d expect for a man who’s so famous in the yoga world.

 

Alan Finger is a yoga legend, who’s on his second honorary title. First Yogiraj (meaning “master”) and now, about 50 years into teaching, he’s acquired another that comes with passing on teachings to a new group of yogic masters: Kavi Yogiraj.

While “Kavi” confers a new level of seniority, it also means “wandering,” which couldn’t be more appropriate. Since Finger came to the United States in 1975, he’s lived in Maryland, Los Angeles, and New York, taught yoga on Hollywood sets, in the homes of celebrities like Barbra Streisand, and started a slew of studios, starting with YogaWorks.

But this Thursday, he’ll celebrate the fifth anniversary of ISHTA, the New York studio he founded with his wife and business partner, Sarah Platt-Finger.

ISHTA is the first studio Finger named after his renowned method, and while the Kavi Yogiraj has permission to wander, it seems like he has finally found a true home for the yoga he’s spent years developing and teaching.

THE EARLY YEARS

Finger’s father, Mani Finger, found yoga after hearing Yogananda speak on a trip to LA in 1951. When his father returned home to South Africa, he transformed their home into an ashram, where as a child, Finger lived among traveling swamis. (B.K.S. Iyengar was just one of the esteemed visitors.)

In the late ’60s, Finger and his father developed ISHTA, which stands for Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda. “The word ISHTA means ‘that which resonates with your spirit,’ and I like that because it’s the yoga that resonates with an individual—because we’re all different, our bodies, our energies, our minds,” he said, when we caught up with him last week.

In 1975, politics in the country compelled him to pack up his mat and head to the U.S. His first studio was in Maryland, outside of DC, but he moved to LA after just nine months. “It started snowing, so I packed up, locked the door, and moved to California!” he says. There, Finger became a yogi to the stars, teaching James Taylor, Barbra Streisand, and Joni Mitchell, and on the sets of shows like Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy.

ISHTA Yoga

Finger with his wife and business partner, Sarah Platt-Finger.

But Finger got tired of catering to celebs and in 1987 founded YogaWorks with Maty Ezraty and Chuck Miller. In the early ’90s, he decided to move to New York, and after selling his stake in YogaWorks, he founded Yoga Zone, which he ran while filming a TV show of the same name. The show aired in 64 million homes in the U.S., increasing Finger’s fame. “Wherever we go today, people still say ‘Oh my god! I started yoga with you in my living room!’” Finger says.

After Yoga Zone, he founded Be Yoga, which—in a full-circle twist—was later bought by YogaWorks.

THE ISHTA ERA

After such a long and winding path, in May of 2008, Finger opened ISHTA in Union Square with partners Julie and Bruce Wilcox, and Sarah Platt (now Platt-Finger), whom he married five months later. In many ways, his bond with Platt-Finger has allowed him to create the first real headquarters for what he’s always wanted ISHTA to be.

“Sarah has made it much more authentic than what I was putting out at YogaWorks and Yoga Zone and Be Yoga. I’m teaching pure ISHTA,” Finger says, pointing to her commitment to sticking to the “real thing” while also translating his teachings into an accessible practice that young, urban yogis understand and are drawn to.

It’s working. Finger’s 90-minute weekday morning meditation classes are regularly packed with 45 participants, and the studio’s larger community is thriving, with a second location now open on the Upper East Side.

Of course, that’s not to say the Kavi Yogiraj will never wander again. “I just flow along and wherever life takes me, that’s where I go,” he says. —Lisa Elaine Held

For more information, visit www.ishtayoga.com

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