Words by Victoria Derr / Photos by Vivian Morellon

 Amy & Michael Caldwell, Yoga One studio owners.
Amy & Michael Caldwell, Yoga One studio owners.

Think back to your first yoga class. Was it a crisp studio space? A room with abstract murals on the wall? Was it a relaxing yin yoga class, or a high powered vinyasa class? A YouTube video? An Instagram clip? Or what about a friend encouraging you to do a few cat and cows?

For Yoga One studio owners, Amy and Michael Caldwell, their first yoga class was far from the norm.

It was on a searing hot blacktop, ambianced with Malaysian marching band music, taught by a dude doing headstands from New Zealand. They both laugh at the memory.

Rewind years earlier, before being studio owners and even before their first yoga class, Amy and Michael were both working in the music biz in LA; Amy, working for Budd Carr, seeking music to place in movie soundtracks and Michael, at Broadcast Music Inc., promoting songwriters and composers. They met at a record release party for Stanley Clark, and from there the yin-yang duo was born. Michael was promoting music to people like Amy, who placed music in movies and television. Already, their meeting seemed synchronistic – a balance of give and take.

Their dynamic duo energy only revealed itself more as the interview progressed. Much like the ebb and flow of an inhale and exhale, their journey with yoga had its moments of collaboration combined with solo self study: from discovering yoga in a book together, to living in separate cities as they deepened their practice.

Shortly after meeting, they wrapped up loose ends in LA and spent the next three years traveling. Between apple picking, bartending, and updating the Lonely Planet guides, the two lived a budget friendly, free-spirited life abroad.

“I mean,” Amy shook her head as she spoke. “This was before the time of smartphones and instant communication, if we wanted to talk to people back home we had to find an internet cafe. Our parents must have thought we were crazy.”

During the last year of their travels, they discovered yoga. For these two, their first encounter with yoga came from a few poses found in a book, Fit for Life. As they continued their travels, they met other individuals who were practicing yoga who would share different parts of yoga, the philosophies, the pranayama.

NTCH sat down with the two yogis, who shared stories of going to JTMF with their kids, driving over tumbleweeds, Vipassana meditation, and balancing their everyday life through yoga.

NTCH: So how did you two come to yoga, or how did yoga come to you?

MICHAEL: It really was super organic. There’s the phenomenon that once you become aware of something, you see it everywhere. So as soon as we did the few poses we found in that book, Fit for Life, we were in Malaysia walking in the forest, and we look down into a valley and there was this guy who was doing something down there. We had never seen a video, or been to class, so we asked ourselves, “Is he doing yoga?” That night we saw him at the coffee shop, and went over to him, and he invited us to come join him the next day.

So my first yoga class ever…he takes us to the edge of a Malaysian high school, and we’re on the blacktop, in the summer, and it’s about eighty degrees, and we took off our t-shirts and put them onto the ground as mats. And we practiced on the blacktop. And in the distance, just across the way, was the Malaysian marching band [Michael imitates tuba sounds for emphasis] And that was my first yoga experience.

AMY: As we kept going, we would find books and other people who practiced. Two years later when we got to India, we were very much ready to immerse ourselves in that experience. We studied with a private instructor for six weeks that came to our house every morning for an hour.

MICHAEL: We were on an exploration. I mean, we both went to college in LA, worked in the music business. How fun, it doesn’t get more fun than some of the experiences we had. But the fact that we were looking for more in terms of personal growth set us up to be open for something like that. Trying to engage with your body for its own purpose rather than as a vehicle to get something done. That was a revelation for us.

NTCH: Can you tell us about Vipassana meditation?

MICHAEL: First person, experiential knowledge. How do you really know anything until you experience it yourself? Vipassana means insight.

AMY: Yoga and Vipassana are really complementary because of that idea of embodiment; so many of the concepts overlap between yoga practice and Vipassana meditation. You’re looking for sensory clarity, increased concentration, and equanimity or allowing or letting go – three pillars are really present in both yoga and Vipassana.

We’re very much still immersed in life – we do our yoga practice, we teach, we incorporate mindfulness into our relationship and our relationship with the kids, as studio managers… but we’re still go go go, life is still happening. We’re very much immersed. And that’s what yoga tells us too. You can take all those tools you learn and take them with you.

NTCH: How do you two balance those conflicting identities, between being parents, being business owners, being yogis, and honoring your own free-spirited identities?

MICHAEL: The yoga really helps [he laughs].

AMY: There’s a lot of responsibility right now, in our life. We’re at that phase, and we’re super grateful that yoga is a tool, I can’t imagine trying to really be present for all of it. Just like anything else, there’s gonna be challenges and difficulties that you try to show up for and do the best you can in that moment.

NTCH: Tell us about Joshua Tree Music Festival? What makes you keep going back?

MICHAEL: One of the reasons that I love the Joshua Tree Music Festival is because it has that same traveling mindset –you’re release from who you were, or who people think you are. When people come to that, either by design or by chance, it’s like traveling. Everyone is open to being their best self. Which is kinda what yoga is. And therefore everyone is free. It’s such a positive environment.

AMY: The festival is all-inclusive, very diverse both in terms of its attendees and the types of music, the age, the workshops. And that’s all grown too, over time. It used to be we were just taking a few yoga classes in the morning, and now there’s yoga all the time. But even though they’ve grown, in terms of their offerings, I feel like that open-traveler vibe is still underlying the whole thing.

NTCH: Do you adapt the way you teach at JTMF compared to studio classes or corporate wellness situations? How do you do with all the external factors at JTMF, from sound systems to extreme weather situations to nearby art installations?

AMY: I love it…it feels really alive. Again, we’re not trying to separate ourselves from the present, we’re trying to more fully embrace it. I think all that aliveness around you, and being in nature, with the trees, the breeze, the sand, the dirt…it’s all there. I like to incorporate it – like let’s do this pose, but look at this beautiful art installation. I find it to be great as a teacher because it forces you to be present – to lead a class in that environment, you can’t be attached. Within the plan, you have to be ready to let go and go with the flow in that environment.

MICHAEL: And remember, my first yoga class was on the blacktop with a marching band. So, really, that’s my people! And what they add to the environment, in addition to multiple sound stages with bands playing, and the art installations and the people camping behind you, is the kid train. It’s a little four wheeler that’s pulling a cart the kids ride on. So they go around and keep coming around saying “Wooooooo!” It’s all part of the fun. It enhances it.

After an hour or so of chatting in the sunlight, a few photos were snapped, and hugs were exchanged with promises of practicing yoga together at the upcoming festival in Joshua Tree. Amy and Michael, radiant as the noontime sun, left graciously, leaving us with anticipation of the looming, fast-approaching desert music festival.

Amy and Michael teach alignment based flow, incorporate their yoga practice throughout their day, and ritualistically have been to the JTMF for thirteen years consecutively. Find them at JTMF this year, where they are scheduled to lead classes, or at their studio in downtown SD, Yoga One.