Five years ago on the 27th of February, the yoga teacher and innovator, Larry Schultz passed away. Today, we look back on the life of a yoga pioneer, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Bad Man of Ashtanga Yoga.’
That nickname came about since Larry Schultz taught classes that incorporated poses from all three of the Ashtanga series. He was also the inventor of Rocket Yoga – ‘because it gets you there faster’ and was one of the first teachers to promote yoga as a health club concept.
How Larry Schultz Found Yoga
Occasionally in life we come across special people. People who have changed their own lives and have the power to change the lives of those around them. Larry Schultz was one of those people.
Larry came to yoga in his thirties, relatively late in life. Before this he was living ‘the American Dream’ working as an insurance salesman in Texas, and in 1980 he set up his own insurance company with a friend. At some point during this period he went on holiday to Jamaica and, in the words of his wife, Marie Russel, saw a man on a rock in the distance, doing the most dynamic moves he’d ever seen.
The next day he happened to meet this old man in town so he asked him what the moves were. He was told it was Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and he was intrigued. It then turned out that Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India, was going to be in Austin, Texas the following week which is where Larry just happened to be living. It was a turning point in Shultz’s life.
In 1989, after studying with the great K. Pattabhi Jois himself for seven years, Schultz returned to San Francisco and started to teach Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga in his home. Two years later, in 1991, Schultz founded It’s Yoga at 848 Folsom Street in San Francisco.
The Bad Man of Ashtanga Yoga
Larry loved Ashtanga Yoga. His enthusiasm for it was infectious and insatiable, so much so, that he wasn’t content to advance at the traditional rate. Schultz believed that all students should be able to practice all the poses. This was controversial, as the traditional Mysore style of Ashtanga yoga is that teachers are only allowed to authorise the student to progress to a new pose once they have mastered the previous one.
Schultz taught a modified version of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga which incorporated poses from all three of the traditional series, allowing students the chance to give the advanced poses a go. Hearing about this ‘rebellion’, Jois christened Schultz the Bad Man of Ashtanga Yoga.
Larry Launches Rocket Yoga
In the mid-1990s Larry travelled on tour with the American rock band the Grateful Dead as their personal yoga teacher. Not your usual gig for a yoga teacher, but then Larry didn’t seem to do things the usual way.
The story goes that, while on tour, one of the band members asked Schultz what the name of his form of yoga was. When Schultz replied that it didn’t have a name, one of the band members, Bob Weir, replied that, “it should be called Rocket Yoga, because it gets you there faster,” and so it came to be that Larry’s unique, rebellious take on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga became known simply as The Rocket – intense, sweaty and much-beloved.
The Grateful Dead band members later went on to credit Schultz’s yoga as having a real effect on both their emotional balance and the music. Phil Lesh said, “I think both yoga and the new soundspace had a real effect on the music this tour.”
It’s Yoga on Folsom Street became a yoga hub, and became known as a pioneering yoga studio in the region – leading him to acquire his second nickname as ‘The Mayor of Folsom Street’. In 2002 It’s Yoga moved downstairs to a larger space in the same building. It attracted a wide range of people, including celebrities such as supermodel Christy Turlington. He also facilitated the opening of 15 affiliated yoga studios.
As Larry’s reputation grew he taught thousands of classes around the U.S. and internationally. He also set up a rigorous 200-hour teacher training course, which trained more than 5,000 yoga teachers in his unique yoga style. Apart from his fame and commercial success, Larry’s real legacy was in his ability to give people a sense of empowerment over their yoga practice.
“Larry was a warm and generous person,” remembers Yoga Journal Senior Associate Editor, Jennifer Rodrigue, who took his teacher training. “One of his greatest contributions to the yoga community was giving people the courage to own their personal practice, encouraging people to honor the past and to live in the present.”
Larry Schultz was an authentic yoga teacher. “During a time when many yoga teachers were becoming ‘holier than the next’ and ‘more pure then the others’… Larry simply was who he was and earned my deepest respect for that,” recalls David Lurey, an advanced yoga teacher. “He knew what worked for him and wanted to share it.”
This didn’t mean that he didn’t take yoga seriously, far from it. “Larry was dedicated to yoga with every cell of his being,” says Eddie Modestini, co-founder of Maya Yoga. “He was a
wild, joyous, funny, charismatic yoga teacher who turned many people on to the practice. He left us too early.”
This sincere love of yoga is summed up best in Larry’s own words:
There is nothing more satisfying to me as a teacher than to watch the glow with which people arise from Savasana. Often people walk into It’s Yoga with worry, stress and tiredness written all over their faces but when they leave, they show the effects of Ashtanga Yoga: they feel better and look better, lighter, freer, more relaxed and energized. This is why to me, teaching Ashtanga Yoga is a kind of self-realization; every time I lead class I, as a teacher, grow and express the insights of my own yoga. I see people take in the practice from various different angles and develop, change and transcend their limitations, realize their possibilities.