“The purpose of life is to find your gift. The meaning of life is to give the gift away,” so says an adage attributed to American psychologist David Viscott.
For Hawaii-born instructor Tamal Dodge, that gift is yoga, and he didn’t take a lifetime to find it. In fact he asks, as if urging us, “The question is not how do we find the meaning of life, but rather, when do we start looking?” Dodge started young, ebbing and flowing through his yogi life, at times finding, then losing, and rediscovering his “life purpose” along the way. Today, as one of the nation’s youngest and most acclaimed rising stars in the yoga community, Dodge, 32, owns his studio Yoga Salt in Los Angeles, Calif. He also leads multiple teacher trainings and retreats around the world; he has given 22 trainings to date, having graduated hundreds of yoga teachers.
While most yoga teachers find their yoga beginnings in adulthood, Dodge was placed on the path at birth, right here in Hawaii. Born to an Irish-Japanese father and an Austrian-Hungarian-Japanese mother, Dodge was raised on his family’s ashram in Oahu’s North Shore. His father had spent part of his youth as a monk in India, and upon returning to Hawaii, began teaching yoga. Through word of mouth, hundreds of students gravitated to him for lessons in meditation and yoga. “People would funnel through him,” says Dodge, who recalls his childhood surrounded by at least 20-30 practitioners at a time. “My dad even fed everyone.” Dodge still keeps in touch with some of his father’s students, who remind him how deeply the senior Dodge inspired them. “When my father passed, it rocked my family and everyone kind of split and went into different directions,” says Dodge. Among his six siblings, he and his eldest brother stayed close to their yoga and mediation roots; only Dodge chose the teaching path.
But there were detours too. In his late teens, Dodge and his eldest brother signed on to L.A.’s MM records, an alternative rock label. If you ever have the pleasure of practicing with Dodge today, you’ll be treated to a shavasana serenaded by his ukulele and moody vocals. Dodge never veered far from his yoga path, however, as he sought teaching opportunities at the star-studded Equinox gym and L.A.’s Yoga Works. “I loved practicing yoga but never thought I’d teach it,” says Dodge. “So I gave it a shot and it felt good. It felt right.” It was world-renowned yoga teacher and Power Yoga creator Bryan Kest who saw Dodge’s immense potential, and added Dodge to his schedule at his Santa Monica studio. By his early-20s, Dodge had elevated his yogi profile, even co-owning The Yoga Collective, an L.A. yoga hot spot.
But in his mid-twenties Dodge took another pause: “I came at a crossroads where I didn’t know what I was going to do with my yoga career,” he explains, “I had to dig deep and see what I really needed to accomplish and set out to do.” His epiphany then arose form a place of self-discovery—of finding a voice. And not through rock music this time, but a deeper, inner voice. “Then I realized I needed to be more ‘myself’ and stop holding back.” When he realized he was teaching through imitation, he knew he could turn the tide. “I had to step up to the plate and be who I really needed to be,” explains Dodge, “I needed to teach the way I really wanted.”
When he stopped “copying everyone else’s voices” he felt a shift in his practice. In 2015 Dodge took a leap of faith and opened Yoga Salt, with the sole purpose of sharing his gift as a teacher. Dodge teaches in the vinyasa style with a zen-like calm and deep anatomical integrity. His sequences are challenging yet flawless, offering a remarkably intuitive feel for the practicing yogi. “Some of my vinyasa classes aren’t super comfy because they’re intense,” says Dodge. But leading people to test their edge—guiding students through cues with his soothing voice and intuitive dialogue—is almost like a Tamal Dodge trademark.
“My dad said, ‘If you’re comfortable, you’re not progressing.’ If you only do the poses that you’re comfortable with, you’re never going to progress.” “L.A. is hard core,” quips Dodge, referring to the city’s robust and often competitive yoga culture. Luckily for Dodge, his yoga pedigree and rich spiritual upbringing give him solid street credentials even in a crowded yoga market like L.A. He also stays keenly focused on staying authentic, as well as sticking to yoga principles. “The more we dilute, the less we gain,” he says, “so I deeply infuse the spiritual practice into [the yoga class].” “I think it’s such a missing piece, lost in translation,” continues Dodge, “Without them, we lose the spiritual dialogue.”
Dodge has remained vegetarian his whole life, adhering to certain stoic elements of the yogi lifestyle. In 2013 Dodge was featured in Time Magazine as a part of an elite panel of health experts in various industries. He attributes his yogi lifestyle—and his now vegan diet—as a reason he has experienced no more than the occasional cold his whole life. Family supports the healthy lifestyle as well; his wife Victoria is the author of plant-based food blog Nourishment Now, and his 8-year-old son fully complies with healthy eating (how many parents of 8-year-olds can say that?).
Dodge aspires to share yoga’s life gains with his students daily. “There are enormous benefits when students feel healthier and happier, and open up,” he says. “The greatest reward is to see their rewards. I see people flourish in their lives and that rubbed off on me.” “I don’t claim to be a perfect enlightened soul,” says Dodge, “I have never claimed to be a master of yoga; I’m a student.” “When you’re a student, you’re always learning. The last class I ever teach should be the best class I ever taught, because it reflects a lifetime of study.”
And in this lifetime—in fact soon—Dodge hopes to launch a non-profit outlet where people learn about meditation and yoga philosophy for free. He also aspires to open a donation-based meditation center. During his time away from the studio, Dodge still spends plenty of time on the mat; he is a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and practices yoga and meditating. Off the mat, Dodge stays true to his island roots, catching surf whenever he can.
Dodge dialed back his teaching schedule in recent years—he used to teach 20-25 classes a week—not only to share his gift through online resources, but to give the studio its wings as a collective of teachers; not a place credited strictly to his name. He stays especially conscientious of fostering unique instructors, reminding his trainees not to be a “mini Tamal Dodge” but rather to establish their own voice, character, and teaching style. In essence, this yogi sage is already imparting his hard-learned lessons to his students. “If I don’t share what I’ve learned,” says Dodge, “I’m a thief.” It’s part of his gift; his soul purpose, for which he searched, found, and now shares abundantly.
Suzanne is a freelance writer, translator, certified yoga teacher, and fascial stretch therapist. She teaches in the vinyasa style, harnessing her background in mobility training and myofascial stretching to help practitioners improve overall movement, body awareness, and reach new levels of feeling awesome. Her power yoga classes are held at Corepower Yoga, and bilingual Japanese classes at Ohana Space Yoga.