Q & A with Yoga Circle Founder Knekoh Frugé
by Damaris Candano
How long has Yoga Circle Downtown been around?
Yoga Circle Downtown has existed in Downtown Los Angeles in some form since 1999. We moved into our current space at 400 S. Main St. in 2003.
What was the inspiration behind opening a yoga studio?
There have been many moments of kismet that set me on the path to opening Yoga Circle. In retrospect, Yoga has been part of my journey before I consciously knew what it was! I’ve been practicing it instinctively in some form or another since childhood, using my breath to enter meditative states. This allowed me to calm my fears, ease pain, and achieve a sense of complete peace.
When I was 19 years old, I took a class called Movement for the Theater at Louisiana State University. Our teacher, Rick Nye, incorporated elements of Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong to show the possibilities of our bodies’ energy through movement, breathing, and intense focus. It was in this beautiful wooden room where I once again encountered that feeling of absolute peace in our final resting pose, savasana.
I moved to San Francisco in 1985 and sought out Yoga wherever I could find it—classes at San Francisco State University, San Jose State University, the local park, and a Buddhist temple. Yoga studios weren’t as prolific back then, so my friends and I would gather in a circle and share our Yoga knowledge and practices.
These “circles” inspired the name Yoga Circle.
In 1989, I relocated to Los Angeles as an actor, dancer, and performance artist. My Yoga teaching career evolved out of leading fellow performers through poses to warm up. I continued to learn as much as I could about Yoga and teaching, holding apprenticeships under Steven Earth and Peter “Hutch” Hutchinson. In Hutch, I found a true mentor and kindred spirit. He passed away in 1998—Yoga Circle Downtown is dedicated to his memory.
I accepted my first official Yoga class in 1997. I was blessed to teach a group of women aged 55 to 84, twice a week, at Northridge Athletic Club. Over the next few years, I added classes at various Los Angeles-area locations.
One of these was a class I taught out of a friend’s loft in what is now called the Arts District. The class gained traction and eventually grew into a full-fledged Yoga studio, Yoga Circle Downtown. We moved to Downtown LA’s Historic Core District in 2002, and have been there ever since.
What keeps you dedicated and passionate about what you do?
I’m a Yoga Therapist, and I see myself as a conveyor of the ancient wisdom that is Yoga. Humanity was given this gift that can save lives. Every day, I come to work, and every time I see a student come in feeling better… I know from the bottom of my heart it’s the Yoga. And it’s not just the poses that helped, although they’re fun. It’s the breath.
Scientific studies have shown that Yoga works. I know Yoga’s saved my life. And I know I’ve used it to save lives by teaching it. Breathing, keeping in the moment, and keeping the body supple and moving… this is big stuff.
I’d like to see a world where one’s Yoga practice becomes as essential to routine self care as brushing one’s teeth. It likely won’t happen in my lifetime, but that’s my mission: to make sure the word gets out about Yoga and to start a dialogue that could save lives. This is why I do what I do. I feel so lucky.
Which aspects of Yoga Circle Downtown make it unique? What separates you from other Yoga studios?
At Yoga Circle, we adhere to tradition to the fullest extent possible while celebrating ever-evolving Yoga culture in the west. What we’re here to do is bigger than physical fitness—Yoga is a practice for the body, mind, and soul. The workout happens, but it’s a side effect.
I want everyone to feel comfortable practicing here. Keeping with tradition, all of our classes are designed to be inclusive and accessible to mixed levels (with the exception of our Power Flow class, where we recommend students come with some prerequisite knowledge and conditioning). Our teachers teach from the heart and prioritize the breath. We build from the breath to find the poses, and in the poses, we find the moment.
Tradition states that a student should never have to pay to be instructed, but the student should never ask to be instructed without first offering a gift. We are a donation-based studio at heart: Those with limited financial means are always welcome and encouraged to give back with time, services, or energy. No one should ever feel like they don’t have enough money to practice yoga.
I want Yoga Circle to feel like an undisturbed oasis in the middle of all the hustle-and-bustle … a place where people can truly disconnect from the outside world, find community, and go within. To keep the energy in the studio clean, I’ve kept the presence of technology in our studio down to the bare minimum. With the exception of a phone and equipment needed to process payments, I keep all technology needed for administrative work outside of the studio.
What makes any space special is the community that evolves around it. Each individual has their own special path that led them to us at Yoga Circle. The combined energies of this eclectic crew gathering to teach, learn, and explore Yoga embody our studio’s heart and soul. I feel their sincerity and see their realness.
Where would you like to go from here?
One thing we teach in Yoga is that poses never end. Each asana or pose is an energy tool that continuously evolves along with the practitioner. In that vein, I want to see Yoga Circle evolve into a healing center. I’ve always viewed Yoga as energy work, rather than an extension of the fitness industry. I became a certified Yoga Therapist in 2017, and I want to spread the word that Yoga doesn’t just prevent illness—it heals, too. And, I’m very excited to train the next generation of Yoga teachers who will help spread this message.