by JAMIE MOSES
Evolation Yoga has a new home at 476 Rhode Island St. and the path that owner David Drost took to get there is instructive in how beneficial a yoga practice can be.
In the 1990s David and his brother Mark Drost owned the extremely popular Icon music club on Ellicott St. There were long lines to get in to see acts like David Bryne, They Could Be Giants, Wu Tang Clan, other emerging hip-hop artists and many more acts. Buoyed by their success they started ICON-CERTS and put together EDENFEST, an ambitious plan for something like 70 bands to play at a 3-day festival at a racetrack in Ontario, Canada. Not since Woodstock in 1969 had anyone tried this and it was years ahead of Coachella, Bonnaroo, Electric Forest and other multi-day music & camping festivals that came later.
The EDENFEST line up was staggering, Tragically Hip, Porno for Pyros, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Goo Goo Dolls, Spin Doctors and a lot of other names that meant something at the time. Artvoice interviewed Mark Drost a week before the show and the excitement coming from the Drost organization was palpable. Everyone was riding high. It didn’t last.
Edenfest had a complete meltdown. Although 50,000 to 70,000 people showed up many came in with with fake tickets or walked in free through unguarded areas. A few acts canceled, food ran out, garbage and tires were set on fire, there was semi-rioting and too many other things to list. By the third and last day Mark was driven off the site in an ambulance because, it was reported, he had a panic attack.
“I was the production manager for Edenfest,” said David Drost. “It was way too much for us little folks back then. Mark is an ingenious son of bitch but sometimes that creativity isn’t backed up by a concise administrative process. Things he does are grounded on his love and his zeal. Some people would accuse him of doing things because he thinks he’ll make money, but I know differently.
“We were over our heads with EDENFEST. We told Ticketmaster to get lost when they told us they should really be selling our tickets for us. We said thank you but we’ll make our own tickets, we don’t need you. Then some random company prints 20,000 counterfeit exact copies of our tickets, that’s how many we found, 20,000.”
There was already trouble brewing because there had been an incident of violence near the Icon music club after a hip hop show and the Buffalo News wrote about it, and kept writing about it over and over for a week or two. Many fans of the club felt the Buffalo News articles made people afraid to come downtown to see music at the Icon and attendance at the club suffered for it. But either way, EDENFEST was a financial disaster too heavy to bear and it broke the Drosts in every way. Quite suddenly they were as far down as they had been up.
David’s path next took to him San Francisco where parlayed his club management and production experience into the food industry and for five years did catering for San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Symphony. Then he came back east and spent another five years working in Manhattan for the same catering company, this time running the food at the Guggenheim Museum. As a lot of people in Buffalo can tell you, the food industry is just as fast paced and chaotic as the music industry, if not more so.
While David was bouncing around these big metros brother Mark had been studying for years with Indian hot yoga teacher Bikram Choudry and had become a senior Bikram teacher himself. Mark was developing a plan for a new and healthier business that promised a lot more stability and peace than nightclub/music promoter: a Yoga studio for the public with a yoga teacher’s school for professionals.
In 2003 Evolation Yoga was born in Buffalo under the name Bikram Yoga Buffalo. But even yoga is not immune to the twists and falls of life. A fire consumed the studio in 2007 and if that wasn’t enough Bikram Choudry filed a lawsuit against the studio after they became Evolation Yoga using the same the hot yoga techniques they’d been using for years as Bikram Buffalo.
“Mark started the first Bikram studio in Buffalo,” said David. “The teachers that now own Bikram in Hamburg and Bikram Williamsville come from that studio. They use the Bikram name, the Bikram hot yoga sequence of 26 moves and they’re associated with the Bikram College of India and they pay for that priviledge.
‘We left the world of Bikram in 2007 and Bikram sued Mark and his wife and cofounder Zefea Samson along with Yoga for the People and another studio [the other two studios settled but Mark fought back and the case went to court]. That case was a landmark intellectual property case, and not only for yoga. Bikram Choudry tried to say that he could copyright the way yoga moves were put together. It was like somebody trying to copyright building a cheeseburger, saying you can’t put a ground beef patty in a bun and then follow that by putting cheese on it. Choudry lost the lawsuit.” [The ruling was that he only had copyright on his personal books and videos not the basic moves in yoga].
Shortly after the studio fire on Elmwood at W. Ferry, Evolation reopened a few blocks north on Elmwood and succeeded there for years doing hot yoga and adding vinyasa and flow classes, as well. But David realized a change was needed if Evolation Yoga wanted to expand its mission.
“I can’t grow on Elmwood Ave. It’s not Possible,” said Drost. “I love Elmwood but it’s kind of like we all asked for that success to happen and now the boom going on there is crazy. I don’t know how anybody who’s small can stay there. People who own their buildings like Everything Elmwood, Ward and Maureen at Urban will stay. I’ve been here [on Rhode Island St.] a month now and it feels great, man. Feels like shedding Elmwood Avenue.”
It wasn’t just the high rents on Elmwood that drove the move to Rhode Island St. The large open space of the three story Rhode Island St. building, flooded with natural sunlight from the wall to wall windows and the high airy ceilings seemed a natural for Evolation’s next home, especially if they wanted to grow. If they moved into the storefront level they had two empty floors above. There was an incredible amount of parking available, something that was absolutely missing on Elmwood. And the vacant building could be customized to their needs and retrofitted to be energy efficient.
“To continue to pump heat into that old that old dinosaur of building on Elmwood was incredibly inefficient. More importantly, there’s room to grow here,” said Drost. “There was no way to grow on Elmwood. This building has two more floors I could expand into. This room we’re in now is 40 percent bigger than the one on Elmwood. That gives me room to bring more people in.”
Drost demonstrates a sliding wall that separates the front desk from the studio.
“I can open this wall and have an event like I’m having on Saturday night where there’s going to be a deejay and we’re going to be dancing around in our shorts and barefeet. The space is designed for yoga and to also do events. That couldn’t happen in our old space.”
There were other limiting factors at the old location, as well.
“On Elmwood I could only have two teacher trainings a year. Here I can have four or five by taking over another room in this building. I could have 20 people in the room upstairs training and still have a public class going on down here.
“Mark and Zefea head those trainings. They head the organization that is the registered school to train people to become yoga teachers, and it’s not just for teaches. There are a couple reasons why someone might want to do a training, one is to become a teacher, the other is for someone who really wants to deepen their practice. In the classes we have on a regular basis you can only get so much and then you have to do your own independent research.
“A teacher training program really exposes the guts of yoga. Every single branch, every little nook and cranny of yoga gets touched upon in a teacher training. From theory, spirituality, the non-religiosity of it, all the eight limbs of yoga, plus the asana practice [poses and moves], which most people think that’s what yoga is. They’re wrong. Asana is the physical expression of another seven limbs of yoga, because there’s eight limbs of yoga… so we cover all of that… so if you’re open to that process the yoga teacher training is where you get to get into that deeper stuff.”
The Evolation Yoga RYS, or Registered Yoga School, and their teacher trainings are recognized by the Yoga Alliance, which has over 70,000 registered yoga instructors and almost 5,000 registered schools around the world. It’s the largest yoga organization there is and the Yoga Alliance has specific criteria a school must meet before being registered and accredited.
Evolation offers 200 hour immersion teacher training, which takes about 28 days. There’s also 500 hour trainings, which last as long as two months, and thy offer Extended Training, which is basically one-on-one training.
“If someone completes the training,” said David “and receives their Registered Yoga Teacher certification then they can go to a studio or another school and if that studio decides to hire them they know they’re qualified. But yoga is self-governing and not regulated by any governments or corporate rules. So it’s not a law that a yoga teacher be registered and certified. There are a lot of studios that will hire unregistered teachers. I have at least two teachers here that don’t have an RYT certification, but they’ve done thousands of hours of training. Someone might only have a 200 hour certificate and I can tell by their own personal practice and personal studies that they’ve got way more knowledge that the certificate reflects. So it’s a challenge for the Yoga Alliance to even exist because a lot of schools are like ‘I don’t need an RYT’. But that’s the essence of yoga.”
The studio that began on Elmwood was only the first. David, who had left his past lives behind and was now teaching yoga, took over that studio and Mark moved on to start more Evolation Yoga studios all over the world.
“Not all of them are named Evolation,” said David. “Some of them have their own names but they’re affiliated with us and we bring up teachers and rotate teachers in and out through all the studios. There are at least six named Evolation and 20 in the collective easily. There’s two Evolations in South America that have our name, Evolation Bogata and another one in Argentina. There’s an Evolation in Spain, Tampa, Pikesville, Kentucky, a huge studio in Atlanta, there’s one in Santa Barbara, California.”
According to David at least half the students that take the teacher training here come from the Buffalo area and half come from other places around the world.
“This summer we had people from NYC, Long Island, a girl from Jordan, a girl from France, a lot of Canadians. They hear about us through the yoga community, especially with Zefea being so tied in to the yoga community in Europe. We have a huge presence in Europe, specifically Spain, the Netherlands, France, Italy is blowing up. There’s been at least four trainings in Dubai in the last two years.”
While there is no Western New York yoga association David said that all the studios are very aware of each other and supportive of each other.
“We share teachers with other studios,” said David. “We share teachers with Shakti Yoga, Power Yoga Buffalo, Healing Waters in East Aurora. We used to share teachers with East Meets West, but haven’t lately.”
When asked if he’s seen any change over the years in the number of people and the type of people practicing yoga David said there has definitely been a change.
“People are coming in with more knowledge. Before people thought you had to have a body like a rubber band to practice yoga or that it was bound to some religion because they saw a statue of Buddha somewhere or some other Indian deity, but it’s not. So more people realize it’s not about any kind of religion and you don’t need to meet any flexibility threshold to begin a practice. Because of the growing studio culture here, like the studios I’ve mentioned, more and more people are learning what yoga is and what yoga isn’t.”
The explosion of yoga support industries like Lululemon clothing, Jade Harmony mats and other yoga accessory businesses reflect a definite cultural shift in this country.
“Yes, yoga has become very popular but thank God the studios here in Buffalo tamp down the trendiness of it because we stick to the yoga. The practice of yoga at its core needs to be sustainable in the body. If you’re pushing too much it’s not yoga. We’re in a reflective mode trying to get rid of the ego and only do what we can when we can on a day-to-day basis. Its not about I did 20 reps yesterday and today I’m going to do 25 and I’m doing 30 reps next week. It’s about what’s going on in me today. What’s affecting me today, from what I ate to what I drank to what I smoked or what I didn’t do.
“The studios here in Buffalo don’t get swung by trends… it’s not hanging off the wall yoga and laughing yoga and aerial yoga or ball yoga or just doing anything and putting the word yoga in it. The studios that are here are studios that are grounded in the yoga. East Meets West is an awesome studio, Baron Baptiste, which is Power Yoga Buffalo, Baron Baptiste came from Bikram Chaudry back in the nineties and he started a vanyasa practice and that’s what that studio is, that’s an amazing studio, it’s just a different type of yoga. Healing Waters in East Aurora is also awesome, and Parkside, I love those guys. Megan Callahan who started that has found a total blooming in their space in North Buffalo. She also does Kirtan [a yoga event with shared singing and music]. I look forward to her doing kirtan here in our community on the West side someday.
“So it’s exciting that this growing popularity is growing the number of people who better understand what yoga is and what it isn’t. And more people are realizing that yoga is not just for women. More and more men are coming to yoga than ever before. More people who may not fit the general public’s perception of who practices yoga are coming because they’re finding out what it is and how it can benefit you.
“Consistent effort is needed for a practice. You might think ‘I just want to go to work, come home and plop myself on the sofa.’ Meanwhile you’re destroying yourself. Give a consistent effort to a yoga practice and the dividends will pay unbelievably. That’s what we teach.
“You know, I sat with a guy yesterday and he brought up my old days at The Icon and he said “Is this yoga thing something like your ying to that yang, with you partying all night?” And I explained that no, on the contrary what we did back then was more about the community, it wasn’t about the bottom line or partying, it was about what we wanted to do for the community. People called the Icon a bar and nightclub business. Well yeah, but really it brought people together, like-minded people who appreciated the music we were offering. So this is a little bit more adult and healthy and there’s a lot of community and we’re still doing the same thing. Trying to give to the community.”
NOTE: Starting this weekend, Saturday, November 5th, 7pm and the first Saturday of every month will be a Music and Movement Journey organized by Eliza Schneider. This is free form dancing with no steps, move how you want. The dancing begins at 8pm. Prior to that at 7:30 is Opening Circle and a short guided meditation. More details can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1214586691947644/