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Estrella Collective Likes Being the Black Sheep of Local Yoga

Year-old Santa Cruz studio embraces hip-hop yoga, tooth gems and more

Stylists, yoga instructors and energy workers from Estrella Collective. Front row (left to right): Vaidehi Amair, Elena Kelly, Tara Murphy (owner), Sonia Bachir. Back row (left to right): Tori Underwood, Annette LeFever, Alix Cardenas, Kaelin Bovee. PHOTO: JULES HOLDSWORTH

You can love someone and be mad at them. That’s how the concept of “dialectics” was introduced recently, on a podcast about relationships, of course. Ever since, I’ve been noticing the coexistence of seemingly diametrically opposed things in all areas of life.

To clarify, Buti Yoga is not yoga, it’s a yoga-and-dance-inspired workout. This was the extent of my knowledge of the intriguingly named trend when the final day of Dance Week landed me at Estrella Collective in downtown Santa Cruz, along with several other ladies and a few gentlemen also visiting for the first time.

A smile blooms as the opening song, “B.I.A” by TroyBoi, pumps through the speakers, and I do my best to imitate the grace modeled by instructor and owner Tara Murphy, who pulls from her years of tribal fusion and belly dance (she’s trained in Middle Eastern cabaret and has been dancing since childhood). By song two, we are all beginning to sweat.

I’m not mad at Buti Yoga, but my left calf is close to having an outburst when the music shifts and we move on to a new rarely targeted muscle—a choreography of plyometrics and short intervals of intensity (think gentle burn followed by swift relief) that may appeal to those who prefer exercise that stays interesting and also doesn’t feel like exercise. We spend a lot of time on our knees—the shiny black studio floor offering just enough give under our yoga mats to make this pleasant—and return often to the transverse abdominals. “Circle clockwise!” is a common cue. By the time Full Crate and Gaidaa’s “A Storm on a Summer’s Day” bleeds into something I really wish I could Shazam, I’m in love with this workout, and considering ripping off my shirt Brandi Chastain style.

“Buti is the black sheep of yoga,” says Murphy afterward, sitting on Estrella Collective’s velvet couch. “I feel like either people love it or they don’t. And that’s cool.”

That’s also the attitude at the center of Estrella Collective, which celebrates one year in business on June 21. Murphy’s Estrella Collective is a beauty salon and a dance and yoga studio, melding the 41-year-old’s lifelong passions in a way we have honestly never seen before, anywhere. At Estrella, tooth gems, microblading and hair appointments are sandwiched between morning and evening workout classes, and “Thug China” (china plates and tea cups printed with rappers by a local artist) has found a home on a high shelf.

Murphy’s mission to fuse inner and outer beauty may not be as overtly defiant as her passion project, Wu-Tang Yoga—a Vinyasa workout done to Wu-Tang that began with an in-class joke (“tuck your chin and protect your neck just like Wu-Tang”), and that she now hopes to trademark.

After the idea was born, she collaborated with a partner yoga studio in New York. “I booked a workshop, it sold out, then I did one at Village Yoga in Santa Cruz, it sold out,” says Murphy. “People are craving something different, that’s what we keep hearing. And I think that it’s time to realize that you can have things that don’t go together. Like hip-hop and yoga.”

I nod, because dialectics, and because while I will always embrace practicing with this town’s oldest and wisest yoga masters, my quest for novelty in bodily movement has been leading me outside of my comfort zone. Oddly enough, I feel quite at home at Estrella. The aesthetic is New York City—an intentional influence that blends a checkered black-and-white floor with exposed brick and a sea of ivy wound into the ceiling.

“For years I think I always thought, ‘I’m this, so I can’t be that,’ and then I realized I’m a walking fucking contradiction—I’m everything, and everyone is like that,” Murphy says. “You can’t be a certain way all of the time.”

estrellacollective.com.

Managing Editor at Good Times Newspaper |

The managing editor at Good Times, Maria Grusauskas writes the column Wellness, and also gravitates toward stories about earth science. She won a CNPA award for environmental reporting in 2015. Her interests include photography, traveling, human consciousness, music, and gardening. Her work has also appeared in Astronomy magazine, High Times magazine, Los Gatos magazine and on shareable.net.

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