Hey! That's Suzy Over There...
It is hard to smile with clenched teeth, and harder still to hold hate in a belly doubled over in laughter. This is the principle that guides the path of Suzy Nece, a Southern California-based yogi, comedian and activist. Nece is a “force of brazen good nature,” and the owner of Yoga Loft, a Manhattan Beach ocean front yoga studio, where she infuses classes with the same lack of self-seriousness that characterizes her stand-up comedy. Whether she is preparing professional athletes for the season, or aiding military personnel as a USO ambassador, Nece believes that many of the struggles of modern life can be helped with a light hearted approach and a belly laugh.
Nece was born in Virginia and, after graduating with a degree in dance and choreography from Virginia Commonwealth University, she "left the trailer behind" for New York City. There she became a professional dancer and choreographer, and staged performances at PS122, St Mark's Church, City Center and Carnegie Hall. A dance-related injury led her to a variety of movement therapies, including Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, and Pilates, before she discovered yoga.
She eventually resettled in Southern California's South Bay region, where she became a certified yoga instructor, and has now taught yoga for nearly two decades. She served as the Group Fitness Manager of Equinox Fitness Club in Palos Verdes, where mentored a staff of over 30 teachers and created signature class programming for all styles and levels of yoga.
Nece deploys her signature playfully humorous style at the Yoga Loft, home to Yoga Mittra Teacher Training. Recognizing how many people were missing out on yoga's deep benefits because of perceptions about its pretensions, Nece seeks to make yoga accessible to people of all abilities. This has made the Loft a tent big enough to include just about everyone: NBA and professional soccer players, working moms and dads, and those brand new to yoga. She describes the studio's ethos as "no mud, no lotus" meaning this is yoga delivered without an iota of pretension.
Nece demystifies yoga for people, teaching students how to practice “their yoga.” She empowers individuals with the tools to be creative and develop a practice that meets their unique needs, using injuries or blocks as creative outlets and honors their path. “I love teaching people to laugh. Sometimes it’s while they are standing on their heads…sometimes, it’s when they’re in fetal position and didn’t think they could ever laugh again…To truly be in the moment, and to be able to laugh at yourself is such a gift to take out of this room into reality.”
“I just think that life is serious enough, and when someone finally finds a bridge to walk through those doors — people don’t walk in here because, ‘Oh, everything is perfect and my life is fantastic,’” Nece says. “You know, they usually walk in because they are jacked up, or life is so busy, or somebody begged them to finally do it. The culture of this studio — the yoga culture, really — is one of inclusion and acceptance. There is that quote: the shortest distance between two people is laughter. Yoga is union; yoga is about connection. That to me is laughter.”
Laughter is a tool that Nece uses to help her students get more out of their practice, and it is no accident that classes can occasionally feel like a visit to comedy club. Nece has performed at venues including the Hollywood Improv, the Friar's Club and the Comedy Store, and has also appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." She trained at Second City, wrote for National Lampoon, and was the writer and producer of the original short films "Women with Beards" and “Cartoon Heroine.”
Having seen the effect that her teaching and performing had on others, Nece has expanded her offering beyond the studio and the stage. She created and taught a specially designed yoga class for soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, then entertained troops from a bunker as member of the Armed With Laughter comedy tour. The trip was a vivid demonstration of Nece's belief in the healing power of a light-hearted approach.
“We figured the soldiers are under such stress every day, they live in a state of fight or flight and it’s a lot of pressure on all the systems in your body,” said Debbie Praver, comedian and organizer of the Armed With Laughter Tour. “We know they all enjoy the high-intensity and strength [training], then the relaxation with yoga. So everybody is happy and we make them laugh while we are doing it.
Nece continues to channel her performance and teaching abilities into making the world a better place by opening her studios doors to charitable events throughout the year. She volunteers with the Wounded Warriors Project and the Manhattan Beach-based Jimmy Miller Foundation, which uses surfing and yoga to help veterans and trauma survivors help coping skills. Last month marked Yoga Loft’s second annual Love Is Love Meditation Flash Mob. Inspired last year by the spirit of the Woman’s March, Nece organizes the gathering, in which hundreds of residents and elected officials assemble on the Manhattan Beach Pier in a display of sanity and serenity.
Stressing calm and joviality in times of strife and worry does not mean that Nece is blind to the world’s problems. Her approach is instead a deeply felt expression of how best to approach them — a sense, as she often says, of the shape that healing can take in your body, on your mat and out in the world.
Nece encourages yogis to change the world “one down dog at a time.”
Practice with purpose - Put compassion into action - Practice social consciousness -
“Yoga isn’t about standing on your head. It’s about standing together. Wake up and make a difference.”
The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief,
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief
- Othello, Act I, Scene 3