New yoga studio has Capitol connections

Josh Pane spends his days trying to improve the business climate for clients like the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. But he also has a new business interest of his own: a yoga studio, hatched on a legislative trip that included a visit to a Shaolin temple, and housed in a New Deal-era building renovated with a public grant.

Yoga Shala opened on July 6 in the old YWCA building on 17th Street. Blocks from the Capitol, the studio has already drawn in several legislative staffers.

Pane’s partner is yoga instructor Tyler Langdale.Langdale was also one of the instructors who travelled to Washington D.C. with his now former employers, Zuda Yoga in Midtown, to teach yoga classes on the White House lawn as part of the annual Easter Egg Roll last year. The enthusiasm that Michelle Obama and other members of the First Family have for  yoga has certainly contributed to its growing mainstream appeal.

Pane said he knows lots of people around the Capitol who do it, including Republicans like Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, and former Assemblyman Guy Houston. He started practicing a decade ago, and said the practice transcends mere exercise and helps him unwind from his daily political battles.

“Yoga seeks to purify the body, and then one can purify one’s mind,” Pane said. “It is a wonderful moving meditation.”

His association with Langdale, 27 — a former All-American college swimmer at Principia College in Illinois, and later a swim coach — started four years ago, when he became one of the clients of Langdale’s massage therapy business. When Langdale started teaching at Zuda, Pane came over to the new studio.

“He’s been a big supporter of mine forever,” Langdale said. “He took my second yoga class ever, and he was the only student.”

Early last year, Pane decided he wanted to take teacher-training classes.

“He wanted to go to the source for training,” Langdale said. “I was like, India? I’ll go to India!”

About that same time, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, brought a group of Shaolin monks from China. Pane arranged for them to do a martial arts and acrobatics show at the Masonic Temple, which also houses the offices of Pane & Pane, the lobbying firm he started with his wife, Donna Pane, in 1993.

Yee was planning a legislative trip to China at the time. Pane suggested to Langdale that they tag along, then head to India afterwards. While Langdale has been specializing in teaching a style of power yoga known as Vinyasa flow, for months the pair studied a related but more traditional Ashtanga style.

This culminated in a month-long adventure in November, which included 12 days in China and another 16 in India. One of the nights was spent in a Shaolin Temple, high in the sacred Shao Shan Mountains.

“It was freezing cold,” Langdale said. “No one spoke English. It was so much fun looking back on it. The next day we got the private tour from the abbot himself.”

They later headed off to several spots in India, including the famed Mysore Mandala Yoga Shala, in the ancient city of Mysore, near the equator. They studied with a yogi there, who, in sweltering conditions, put “these two big American guys” in positions so awkward that Pane said “you could barely do anything.” Then he had them concentrate on their breathing for long periods. Concentrating on breathing in and out of your nose for 90 minutes, Pane said, really helps in learning balance.

It was while sitting on a beach in Goa that the pair started to talk more seriously about Langdale opening his own studio. But it was several months before things really got going and they decided on the YWCA space.

“When we came back, he put a little money together, I put a little money together, and started searching,” Pane said. “We were very fortunate to get that space after we looked at 20 spaces.”

The midtown YWCA building was built in 1934. It was recently renovated with a $2.8 million grant from the Sacramento Housing & Redevelopment Agency and the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. It reopened in late June. Yoga Shala is the only business they are renting to, Langdale said. The classes are taught in a large open room with an exposed beam wooden ceiling.

“It’s been an absolutely beautiful place to open up,” Langdale said. “It provides that sense of simplicity.”

This back-to-basics ethic can also be seen in the name Yoga Shala, which essentially just means “yoga school.” The teacher line-up includes some other ex-Zuda instructors, including Rachel Miller, who is also a recognized local artist.

The studio seems to be catching on with at least a few Capitol staffers. Stephanie Hineline, scheduler for Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, was part of a group of staffers who had been meeting for the last couple of years after another studio on the K St. Mall was closed by an eminent domain dispute. For a while, she said, they were doing yoga in Capitol Park.
“It was hard,” she said. “You had to balance on the grass.”

For her, the proximity and lunchtime classes make a huge difference. Because she’s a parent and lives out in Elk Grove, she said, evening classes weren’t really a possibility. Another student is Ryan Ojakian, also in Simitian’s office. They noted that while there were at least three Republicans in the group of 10 or more Capitol staffers who go to Yoga Shala, so far he’s the only guy. With the legislative session now at an end, he’s planning on being there a lot more.

“The last month has been brutal,” he said of the long hours that come with the bill deadline.

Erica Martinez, a consultant with the office of Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, agrees. A runner, she said that the last few months she found herself “problem solving” in her head while she hit the pavement.

She had never done yoga before a few months ago. But she said that yoga allows her to clear her mind in a way that running doesn’t.

“It sounds corny, but I feel like I can find kindness and solace there,” Martinez said. She added, “It is more frustrating in the last two to three years than it has been in the past. The budget situation is so horrible. The dynamics in the Legislature can be challenging. It’s very stressful to be in the building.”

These days, Pane and Langdale still meet once a week for a private yoga class together. They also talk regularly about possibilities for the business. One idea they’ve been working on is going to a donation-based system, where students pay what they can and what they think is fair.

But in the meantime, they’re mainly hoping that their passion catches on with others around the Capitol.

“I’ve joked with Tyler that we have to do a ‘yoga for lobbyists’ class,” Pane said. He added, “I think it helps in dealing with the pressure cooker amazingly.”

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