My journey to find a man that helps others to find themselves.
In the outskirts of Hollywood’s lavishly paved terrazzo tiled with brass stars sidewalks and noisy insomniac street life, lies a small quaint cottage with its own parking. This meager structure—known as the Women’s Club of Hollywood—once served as a safe haven for women and now serves a similar function in the lives of beleaguered Angelenos every Monday and Wednesday night. On those nights, you’ll find a man who use to go by the name “Stress” who teaches people how to leave behind the body stimulating flood of hormones he derived his name from. Today, he simply goes by the name of Dan Overberger.
“The word is ‘experience.’ I don’t teach yoga anymore. I’m trying to create a yoga experience,” Dan stated. People come away from Dan’s practice with his words, ideas and his essence. With other yoga practices, you leave tired and physically satisfied, but not with an experience. Each person is a force travelling through time and space that ever so often collides with another force that, as is the case with Dan’s classes, are so strong that they leave a lasting impression years after the collision occurred.
Dan is the living-breathing embodiment of Hollywood culture, like the gurus of old in a modern day landscape. He is of average height, slender yet muscular, moves with grace and purpose, is soft spoken, but what he says has a gravitas that is heavy and profound. Dan tries to be unfiltered and not think too much about the meaning behind what he says. He likens this approach to the process of writing a song: “When you hear the melody, the words seem to manifest themselves.
“The way I understand it and the way you understand it can mean two totally different things,” Dan added. His good nature is present in everything he produces—his website, writing and music—including in email exchange. Many people say that intention and tone are lost or hard to read in written words, but Dan’s rings true. He writes with wit and simplicity. He writes the way he speaks. There’s a “blue-collar-do-it-yourself-punk-rock element” to his classes and the people that have a similar background to his get more out of them.
On your way to the Women’s Club, you come across the Will & Ariel Durant public library—on the corner of La Brea and Sunset—which acts as a shelter for the homeless during the day. The smell of old books and old sweaty men fills the rows of stacks near the young adult section. Their presence serves as a sort of cautionary tale. “50,000 people are on the street in a town where some guy gets $3 million to be a character on a movie that was a comic book. You know? That’s a weird disparity. It’s just weird,” Dan said. He himself was temporarily homeless, but never “skid row” homeless, living out of his car. However, even in that squalid condition, he felt compelled to help people in this situation once he got out of it himself. Since then, he has worked with the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition and raised money for them through yoga benefit events.
Making your way from Sunset to Hollywood via La Brea—a main south-north thoroughfare—you hike past bright neon signs for fast food, strip clubs and cheap motels. Sunset—with its rich history of sex, drugs and rock and roll—and Hollywood—with one of opulence and decadence—serve as a Sodom and Gomorra where the scent of the now legal marijuana lingers in the air. In the balmy breezeless night, Middle school girls in checkered uniform skirts were out with their mothers selling chocolate, while men in mangy wigs were out with their pimps selling their bodies. Treats made available for a variety of palates.
One of the things that Dan discovered from his time as a homeless man was that the Los Angeles community is not one that really helps people at a certain point. “America is not a place where we pull each other up. It’s a place where we climb on top of each other,” Dan said. It made him take business more seriously. Even though it’s hard for Dan to see yoga as his “job,” he loves doing it. He sees that his job revolves around people and helping them get to where they’re going to get. “It doesn’t have anything to do with me, but through me, as whoever I am, is how I facilitate it,” Dan said. He believes that if people relate to him it’s because they’re on a similar path or have a similar background. In America, yoga has been co-opted by several institutions such as the gym and the new age community in forms of physical fitness and self-help. “Yoga is yoga. It’s its own thing,” he added.
The closer you walk towards Hollywood Boulevard, the more you begin to notice the residential buildings that were recently built there. These high-priced high-rise buildings seem out of place and out of touch with the people that live in the neighborhood. Set & Flow Yoga, another studio in the area, rents out the commercial space located on the ground floor of one of these buildings. A young curly-haired woman wearing fashionable yoga attire was manning its desk. She was helping people and having conversations on which brand of kombucha or ghee was superior. Veganism for vanity. There seems to be way too many yoga studios in LA and so many people that have done their teacher training that can’t find work. “A lot of people want to be the teacher because they think that it’s a forum to voice, to be heard, and tell their story,” Dan said. “The only reason I tell my story is so that others can tell theirs. There always has to be something for someone else or else it’s just masturbation.”
Initially, Dan wanted to teach at a specific yoga studio, the place where he used to study and had a couple of revelatory and awakening moments. For a while, Dan was obsessed with wanting to teach there. It became his goal, but it never happened. Unlike other yoga studios that might intentionally or unintentionally impose barriers on people, Dan’s approach is based on removing these barriers; which may present themselves sometimes as fluff or intimidating. These barriers may also be economical—some yoga studios around LA only take in students willing to pay costly monthly subscriptions—or educational where the jargon that accompanies the practice revolves on understanding a list of Sanskrit words.
Dan has no real interest in opening his own yoga studio in a physical-mortgage-paying-subscription-incurring space and prefers the flexibility and practicality of his Black Market Yoga, hosted out of the Women’s Club. “I’m an extremely practical person, on some level,” he said. When he thinks about running a storefront yoga studio, he has visions of himself being up all night going through numbers and trying to figure stuff out, like calling people and finding out why one of his teachers can’t come to work tomorrow. “That’s not my life. It might as well be a 7-Eleven,” Dan added.
On the corner of Hollywood and La Brea—the major intersection nearest to the Women’s Club—there is a mega church that has a “come-as-you-are” approach and welcomes the eccentric and diverse people of Hollywood to its stadium seating and rock concert atmosphere worship services. As this establishment struggles with the various vices enticing the lost flock of Hollywood, two buildings over, Dan struggles to bring the subconscious mind into the fold of the self. Of the various layers that comprise the human body, Dan finds that the subconscious mind is the most difficult to bring into alignment. He believes that it affects us in ways we are not aware of; whether we’re dealing with a physical, emotional, or spiritual ailment. Even if we don’t know the source of the ailment, we have to know what to look for. “It’s like telling someone who hasn’t had sex what it’s like to have sex,” Dan said.
Like religion, where we like to believe in fragmented views of God—as a redeemer or bringer of judgment—yoga is also compartmentalized. Ashtanga yoga prescribes a whole way of life in addition to the physical practice. This, in turn, is set aside and dissected by people who are only interested in the physical. “It’s like going to the store to buy a car and only wanting a hubcap,” Dan said.
The building right before the Women’s Club is another brand new building with high rent. The very same space that withstood the gender discrimination of the early 1900s is now withstanding another of the real estate variety. “There’s a lot of financial fear in LA,” Dan said referring to the dire real estate situation in the city calling the phenomenon “economic terrorism.” It seems like the Club is being surrounded by an onslaught of burgeoning modernity, sitting on a piece of property that makes developers’s mouths water.
When you arrive at the Women’s Club, the small cottage double doors open to a welcoming central passage room. Upon first walking in, you are greeted by an antique Victorian card table with cabriole legs and scroll feet decorated with leaf carvings, exquisitely adjoined together by an ornamented stretcher. It neatly displays a variety of informational brochures. The more you walk into the room the more pronounced the scent reminiscent of an old church becomes.
The space that Dan uses to host his students is located to the left of the passage room. It is a banquet hall with a stage at the far end and windows lining the southernmost wall and tall stacks of chairs on the opposite side. It is on the stage that Dan sets up his sound gear and where his students coalesce around. These devout yogis line their mats sporadically across the clean floors of the large hall. Some of them begin to stretch their bodies and focus their minds through meditation. Dan hopes that through yoga and meditation, we can find the crazy and the defects within ourselves. “Humans see everyone as crazy but us,” Dan said about giving advice to students. Initially, Dan found the role of mentor difficult to cope with. It wasn’t until he realized that he was allowed to say “Hey man, I don’t know” that he felt like he didn’t have to know the answers to every question. “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the answer to their question,” he added. “Sometimes people want a human interaction with someone.”
Dan believes that as a student, you always develop a feeling for the teacher because they are guiding you to a certain space. You think that the teacher understands that space or that they know where they are taking you, “but we all go to a different space,” he said. It took Dan a long time to figure out that there were limitations to that. Sometimes it’s difficult for a teacher to know where the student is coming from exactly. “It’s dangerous because it would be like dropping a bomb on their lives and they may not see it even after you’ve pointed it out to them,” Dan added. “They may see it and feel embarrassed.” He finds that this realization often creates a ridge between the student and the teacher.
Dan moved around the Club—turning lights on, off and dimming them; lighting incense; turning on some reggae music—comfortable as if in his own home. At least in that moment and for the duration of his class, he did own the room. As people began to arrive, Dan, as a shepherd who knows his flock, casually greeted them with a friendly “Hey!” Even in the dark, he recognized his students like the prodigal children he hadn’t seen in years. “I can’t see in the dark so I don’t recognize you, but I recognize your voice,” Dan said, directing his student to the extra yoga mats on the stage.
A student came up to Dan and reminded him of the times when he use to go to people’s houses and play records. “I feel like I’m going to your house to listen to a record,” the student said. The Club is a haven, as warm and as welcoming as a home. Dan was welcoming his students home. “I love this album. It’s going to be great,” the student added referring to Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” a record Dan often plays when there’s a full moon. That night, a waning gibbous—when the Moon and the Sun are on opposite sides of the Earth—lit the sky.
In the darkness, red, green and blue lights pierced through it adding to the soothing ambience of the room. Like the album art—designed by Hipgnosis and George Hardie—we had traversed the prism of the monotony of everyday life into the chromaticism of yoga. The smell of incense and the sound of chatter filled the dark room, as if on the shadowed portion of the moon.
Dan begins his classes with some light banter and levity. His comic timing is impeccable. His slight, wiry figure and lithe light-haired silhouette began a really long one-hour dance; with occasional stillness and movement. Dan asked for stillness. He instructed his attentive students to breathe as he cued “Speak to Me/Breathe in the Air” with a smooth fade in and crescendo into Claire Torry’s primal screams, like Charles Bukowski’s will to write, which should come bursting out of you.
Allowing the rhythm of the music to guide him during class, Dan programs his musical choices so that he can move people in a certain way. “For me, it has a huge impact and it’s very connected,” he said. Even though he was exerting a high amount of energy, his body language was unaggressive.
Dan spends a combination of time on and off the stage, demonstrating positions and making his way through a sea of people as if walking through a living sculpture garden, adjusting students’s positions and spreading his voice through the hall. Dan’s soft voice and sweet drawl provides a soothing yet authoritative guide to do things with your body you don’t normally do in everyday life. You hear a hocket of puffs of air across the room as students exhale.
Amidst the darkness—of the sky, the room and the side of the moon draped in it—these people found the light within Dan, within themselves. The moon was bright, but that night, no surface shone brighter than the light that burned beneath it in that room.
Unlike other yoga spaces in the city that have commercial space in which you feel like you’re in a store—a place where they sell you stuff—Dan’s practice is ethereal and lives in his students’s minds and hearts. They love him and would follow him to any space, not limiting themselves to the Women’s Club or Runyon Canyon, where he teaches during the day. His students feel that Dan gets them. “What I believe is what I believe and it’s not my job to force that onto others,” he said. Giving people personal or spiritual advice is a little broader than what a yoga teacher generally does; however, in America, that’s what’s expected. “Absolutely not! It’s a Western thing,” Dan said referring to the separation of yoga teacher and mentor in India, where he studied. One of Dan’s first teachers barely spoke any English, so most of his practice there was silent. He was expected to work on things on his own. “In India, yoga is much more like a martial art,” he added.
Dan famously ends his practice with a short meditation and the phrase, “You’re living your dream… don’t miss it.” He himself was living his dream of being a rock guitarist named Stress touring across Europe with his Death Rock band—a combination of gothic and punk rock music. However, that dream felt labored, like slowly chipping away at a wall with a pickax. On the other hand, yoga has felt like a series of open doors that Dan simply keeps walking through. “It’s almost like setting out to do something slows me down,” he said. Through Black Market Yoga, Dan is trying to distance himself from a corporatized place and associate instead with something that hasn’t been commodified. “People love power and I think that being a yoga teacher—from the outside—seems like ‘wow, everyone’s listening, I can really get them to buy products that they don’t need’,” Dan added.
The Daniel Overberger Experience takes students through difficult yoga poses that may seem undesirable at first, but through perseverance allow you to explore where the undesirability is rooted. Dan believes that exploring these undesirable fields allows you to face other “real world” fears like moving or facing your landlord or boss. “If you can go beyond the fear, the mind opens up. But initially, the fear closes the mind down,” Dan said. “Everything’s got to be in balance. Unless you’re in balance, then it’s sometimes good to go to the extremes and be in the moment.”
To learn more about Dan’s approach and his yoga class schedule, check out his website: www.blackmarketyoga.com/
Picture used with permission of Dan Overberger.