Master yasshole.

Via on Jan 19, 2011

Bryan Kest has a shtick and he’s working it (into the ground).

In Massachusetts, where I’m from, we like to refer to ourselves as Massholes. It sounds mean, but we say it with a sort of love. I’d like to propose a new word: YASSHOLES.

I’ve written a lot about my breakup with yoga after a long monogamous affair, and how I stopped teaching yoga when I realized it was killing my inner artist. But in my heart I still do love yoga, and I come crawling back time and again.

Which is why I recently found myself at a Bryan Kest 3-hour “master class” in San Francisco, with about 100 other yogis.

I’ve studied with a lot of the master teachers in this country and even worked for a few of them. I’ve been to countless yoga conferences and had a lot of opportunities to sample the various different styles and philosophies. But until now my only exposure to Bryan Kest was on an old ’80s-ish workout DVD on which he instructs yoga in denim cutoffs. Sick. I had a hunch I would like Bryan. I knew enough about him to expect an irreverent, potty-mouthed stud with no regard for the yoga mainstream. That’s right up my alley.

In these things I was not disappointed. Bryan Kest has clearly made a name for himself by being a bit of a renegade in the U.S. yoga world. He’s got the credentials (at least, according to him) and he can teach a mean class with just a few simple sequences. He doesn’t buy into the Sanskrit and the yoga-speak, and is partial to making up his own names for poses like “lean-forward-and-touch-your-toes-asana,” which is cute — the first 50 times. He swears. A LOT. And he is pretty keen on normalizing the aging process and emphasizing that modifying is okee-dokee as you get older. In fact, he brags about how he can’t even do a chataranga anymore.

(Then again, dude is still using promotional photos from about twenty years ago, which is kind of curious. For someone who claims not to care about getting older, he sure isn’t stepping in front of a camera these days.)

Regardless, Bryan is from a posse of old-school teachers who learned straight from the gurus in India and are, therefore and in their own minds, above the fray of the consumerized Western yoga movement. Bryan founded and operates one of the first donation-based yoga studios in the U.S. (Power Yoga Studios East and West in Santa Monica) and is therefore walking his talk.

But you can’t deny that Bryan’s got a shtick.

His shtick is that he’s just a crass, uneducated, unassuming guy from Detroit who happens to totally get yoga. He doesn’t really seem to care what people think of him, and he obviously doesn’t hold many people in high regard himself. His entire monologue (yes, there was a monologue, and it was veeeeeery long winded) was one big “fuck you for even being here.”

This did not actually offend me. I thought he was irreverent and funny.

But I’ll tell you what. He’s kind of an A-number one yasshole. Also, a bit of a phony. You can’t brag about having never graduated from high school in a faux-modest way and then immediately start throwing around four-syllable words just for the sake of it. We get it, you bucked the system, but you’re still smart. Yawn.

His shtick gets old real fast. The hyberbole, the repeated phrases, the comedy-club-worthy monologue, all reminded me an awful lot of another Master Yasshole I used to work for—Baron Baptiste. I think these two probably get compared to each other a lot.

On the other hand, I loved his class. It was basic, and still hard. It was so refreshing to spend almost two hours focused on sun salutations, and yet never get bored. I wish I could bottle that Bryan Kest flow class, boil off his shtick, and pour it all over my life.

Oh and the swearing? Doesn’t bother me whatsoever. Doesn’t impress me either. It takes a lot to impress me when it comes to swearing. Sorry, I’m from blue collar Massachusetts.

About Joslyn Hamilton

Joslyn Hamilton is a freelance writer living in beautiful Marin County, California. She is one of the co-founders of Recovering Yogi and also launched Creative Truth or Dare. Joslyn has an imaginary spice + skincare line called SimpleBasic. She is a functioning craftaholic and counts hiking, cooking, reading and rabid tweeting among her many chaste vices. Reach her directly at joslyn@recoveringyogi.com

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36 Responses to “Master yasshole.”

  1. Ross Knights says:

    You can call it a schtick, but he's a lot more authentic AND a lot more spiritual than many yoga teachers I've been to. Same can be said for Baron Baptiste, who (Bryan claims) took a lot of notes in Bryan's classes back in the day.

  2. mark kreloff says:

    you really captured what makes Bryan amazing if not a bit annoying! It is difficult to understand this kind of yoga until you've experienced it. Bryan Kest is the reason i could relate to yoga 12 years ago…kinda funny, kinda crass and very gifted too!

  3. NotSoSure says:

    Any schtick becomes a distraction for me. My problem is that the schtick, for me, indicates a lack of authenticity. But some folks dig the schtick and lets not forget that there is a commercial aspect to modern yoga. A yoga teacher cannot be a teacher unless folks show up.

  4. Yogini33# says:

    Yes and no. Meditation floats my boat. I too, find myself returning to studio after a few months on my own. Distractions from the yoga teacher? I am used to talky yoga teachers. Way East of the Mississippi, it's practically a regional specialty. I could also guess at what Bryan teaches, too. Sounds like it would be good. After all, to paraphrase Shakira, these (tight) hips don't lie!

  5. Kimberly Johnson kajyoga says:

    Hilarious.

  6. [...] Bryan Kest shirtless in denim cutoffs, with flowing Tarzan locks. Seriously? Seriously. [...]

  7. Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

    Interesting . . .

    I agree with NotSoSure that the big-name yoga teachers tend to have a schtick – part of what makes them so popular is that they are amazing showmen (and women) as well as asana teachers. There are jewels in their teaching but there's also a lot of packaging, and when you start seeing through that (as opposed to lapping it up), yeah, it can be annoying.

    Home practice may be the only route to the distilling and bottling experience.

  8. Kelsey Riley says:

    last time i went to YJC in SF i took a free class from baron's sister, who is riding the wave of her brother's success with a major yasshole chip on her shoulder. she was trying to sell her bro's dvd's during the class. i went up to introduce myself after class, since we were both marin yoga teachers. she told me to just go to her website and check her schedule. uh…..i was just saying 'hi' from one yoga teacher to another in the same community. fail.

  9. [...] one of our star writers wrote a mild but loving critique of rockstar yogi Bryan Kest. One of the comments on said blog referred to some now-tacky, in-hindsight-funny 1990s videos of [...]

  10. vivianne escolar says:

    I was one of those that got back into yoga, after leaving behind Hatha and falling into aerobics! yikes! when Brian Kest released his 90's DVD in denim cut offs and flowing locks! I loved the flows and yoga became hot again in my life. Many years later, after doing all sorts of yoga, becoming a yoga teacher, stopped being a yoga teacher, and practicing many styles , I am back to Brian, and Hatha. I like the simplicity of Bran's routines, and the get to the pose in Hatha. No more round abouts with Chaturangas. And no more yoga voice instruction. What a relief!

  11. 13thfloorelevators says:

    Everyone has a schtick, and it has nothing to do with "authenticity." I'm guessing most people here would strain to even define "authenticity."

  12. Michelle says:

    Love Bryan's classes. He keeps it real, and at the end of his class, I always feel amazing. Started with his DVD, and now practice daily with his audios. Simply, the best!

  13. poweryogi says:

    @ Joslyn Did you not get the irony in Bryan's teaching?
    Obviously he still strikes all poses, I have seen him practice in live…
    it's just his way of saying that you should consider modifying, listening to your body.

    Baron used to to take Bryan's classes, but he was a better marketer.

    Looking forward to practice with Bryan soon

    • Yogini33# says:

      Yeah, this unlikely Power Yoga student has lately become the recipient of Baron's teachings, once or twice removed. I frankly don't care if my fellow students get into a perfect padmasana (lotus) or not; since I don't aspire to that! At least I am not accused of erring on the soft side in the practice, the constant motion is good for the heart.

      Let's face it–I still meditate loads–just not in the motionless way I've gotten great at–not in the Power Yoga class! I've a ways to go to be able to meditate well while in motion …

    • Love to hear more about what you mean by "irony"?

      • poweryogi says:

        @Joslyn
        “…In fact, he brags about how he can’t even do a chataranga anymore.”
        I meant this part as him being ironic.

  14. [...] really enjoyed Joslyn Hamilton’s latest article on her experience with famous yoga teacher Bryan Kest. In her piece, Hamilton called out Kest’s “schtick.” For lack of a better reference, [...]

  15. Jenn says:

    I had an experience very much like this one when I was in a Kest workshop in Dayton Ohio. I hadnt heard of Bryan but was pretty surprised by his schtick. I was really put off, but wondering if that's because we didn't start physical practice till about 45 minutes into the event…..

  16. Caitlin says:

    I was an avid student of Bryan’s at his studio in Santa Monica for several years. I have since moved back to the east coast and just a few months ago, attended one of his three hour master classes. They are different experiences. Spending time in a teacher’s class, week-to-week, year-to-year, you’re naturally going to know the teaching and style more than you would during a few hours. During my regular practice at Power Yoga, not only did I get to practice a rigorous flow, Bryan’s philosophies such as staying present, not competing, not overreacting, noticing what happens in my body and listening to myself rather than spending time in other people’s business and affairs (just to name a few) helped me a lot in my daily life.

    Yes, he has a distinct style and he likes to curse but he does it with a purpose. My interpretation of that purpose is: can you still pay attention to what’s happening with you, on your mat, even if you want to judge or get annoyed by the fact that the instructor just cursed or repeated himself or is a "master yasshole" (according to, Josyln)? What are you really paying attention to in your life? That’s the environment he creates.

    A lot of teachers and studios want to create this perfect experience and pamper the student. That’s wonderful, has a place and is very therapeutic but that’s not how life always is — there are challenges. That, I believe, is what Bryan attempts to prepare his student for out there in the world and that’s an honest, authentic endeavor.

  17. Rudy Mettia says:

    My first impulse, and usually last when it comes to defending my Mentor, Bryan Kest is to challenge the person defaming Bryan to a fight to the finish, a battle to the death that I, being the worlds most dangerous yoga teacher would undoubtedly prevail in. However, this doesn't bother me, if it did I'd come find you:) Those who don't know BK, ( we who know and love him call him BK.) The uninformed may just see the success, the "Stichtick" as an act of some sort but Bryan lives by what he preaches. I've watched him closely day by day for over 15 years and what you see is what you get and what you get is a lot. Before BK I dabbled in yoga but the glazed eyed, hybrid driving, Gitmo closing, tofu eating, chanting, hemp wearing, coexist bumper sticker displaying pussies and hyper BS spirituality crap made me want to vomit and to this day I try t o maintain the BK way and "just do it till it feels so fucking good' while keeping it SMPY real.

    • I totally respect what you are laying down here and trust that you're probably right. My sense of Bryan Kest (and what I've heard from a few other people here) is that he is probably great to practice from on a regular basis in his home studio. My time in the yoga world taught me that "master teachers" have to put on a shtick to hold their audience captive in a workshop-type situation. I worked for a master teacher for many years and got quite used to hearing him repeat the same monologue over and over again. After I had heard it about 100 times it stopped having any impact on me whatsoever (in fact, I got rather sick of it), but I always tried to remind myself that a first-time listener was having a whole different experience than my jaded self.

      Another thing my time with this master teacher taught me is that master teachers don't always practice what they preach. I would love to think that Bryan indeed does.

      At any rate, I have to clarify that I loved his message and I loved his class. If it wasn't clear in my intro, the term "yasshole" — just like it's predecessor "Masshole" — is a term of endearment.

      PS if you aren't into the glazed eyed, hybrid driving, Gitmo closing, tofu eating, chanting, hemp wearing, coexist bumper sticker displaying pussies and hyper BS spirituality crap I would urge you to check out http://www.recoveringyogi.com, a side project I launched recently with some friends.

    • Caitlin says:

      Totally supporting you, Rudy!

  18. joni says:

    here in LA, i feel fortunate that we can have it all when it comes to finding what we want in a yoga practice. want a teacher who'll educate you on yoga philosophy and history while we're going through the poses? we have that. want someone who spends a good amount of time with meditation and pranayama? we have that. want someone who can make you work hard, whether it's doing long-hold simple poses or crazy arm balances and inversions? yes, got it. want someone funny and/or entertaining? hey, this is hollywood. of course we have it. and for me, bryan kest fills at least one of those needs. the yoga scene in LA wouldn't be what it is today without him.

  19. Branáin says:

    Thanks for the post. As a fairly new yoga teacher, I'm always looking for a schtick to spice up my classes (mine is bit limp these days, no matter how much Yo-agra I take).

    My students are always telling me, "I like your classes, they are just yoga."

    Just yoga? Man, I'm working hard up there to be enlightening and funny. Kind of Eckart Tolle meets Robin Williams. I guess I'm more like Kermit from the Muppet Yoga Christmas.

    If you do manage to boil off Bryan Kest's schtick, let me know. I'd like to serve it with some micro-distilled vodka at my detox-retox yoga studio/nightclub.

    • That sounds like the kind of place I'd like to hang out. I used to walk by a bar called "Retox" every day on my way to work and I thought it was the best name for a San Francisco bar ever (besides "The End Up").

  20. [...] life-changing or not, overlapping my “yoga saved my life” deal. Oh God, is that my schtick? There have come others before me that are just like me, and it makes me heart feel like mud. Then [...]

  21. [...] we say it with love. I like to think of us new wave of 21st century yogis as YASSHOLES. (I myself wrote an article about this recently for Elephant Journal, to mixed reviews.) We’re yassholes because we want to be good, we really [...]

  22. Zee says:

    sure, he has a shtick. all big name teachers have a schtick–it's how they got to be famous. like it, or hate it, it gets people talking about you

  23. Cyn says:

    I have BK to thank for giving me yoga and it was those cheesy videos with him wearing those cut off denim shorts that did it. Yes I laughed at him a bit with the hair and being shirtless (he has since said that those were put out by Warner Brothers, if my recollection is correct, and that they had a good deal to say about how he should look etc) but the flow was amazing. For the first time I didn't feel like an outsider trying to wade my way through a bunch if Sanskrit terms which seemed almost purposefully obscure so as to separate those who were "on the inside" from the rest of us (Classical Sanskrit is to Hindi what Latin is to English). When I finally got to take his class in real life, I was even more sold, every pose was completely accessible and you could make the class as challenging as you wanted or dial it back if that's how you were feeling. BK is also the guy who really helped me get the idea of getting out of my own ego which is still a bit of a struggle but at least I'm aware and working on it. Last but certainly not least, he has seen thousands of people in class and in workshops over the years and still recognizes me and always has time, no matter how many people are waiting to talk to him, to say hello, offer a hug and ask how I'm doing but that's how he is with pretty much everyone. As another commenter said, he's a guy doing his best and it's good enough for me.

  24. סולידטרסטפיי says:

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  25. Jacquie says:

    He’s a beautiful man, anyone who can inspire others into yoga, big or small, authentic or not is a thumb up, even Hiram who mocked that Iyengar yoga is like a sex shop with the props..
    I myself though is a dedicated student of Guruji BKS Iyengar…

  26. Jacquie says:

    He’s a beautiful man, anyone who can inspire others into yoga, big or small, authentic or not is a thumb up, even Bikram who mocked that Iyengar yoga is like a sex shop with the props..
    I myself though is a dedicated student of Guruji BKS Iyengar…

  27. Jacquie says:

    I discovered yoga at 12 yrs old, but only committed myself to a daily practise at 36 yrs old, well over 12 years ago. Yoga is a way of life…the asana practice though a crucial part is only one of the 8 limbs..there’s no beginning no end once made the true commitment…

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