When Kim Weeks opened Boundless Yoga in DC in 2002, local yoga studios were rare. “I would leave the studio at night and have my mat with me,” she says. “Women would stop me on the street and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, where do you go?’ ”
Today there are dozens of studios in Washington offering a range of yoga styles, from slow and spiritual to powerful and pulsing. “Now there are more yoga mats on the streets than I can count,” Weeks says.
Yoga gained widespread popularity in the 1980s and ’90s as a fitness fad endorsed by celebrities. More recently, the millennia-old discipline seems to have taken root here at a deeper level. For many, the practice has evolved from just a workout to a way of life.
Longtime practitioners credit yoga’s surge in popularity to support from the medical community. When doctors began recommending yoga to patients suffering from stress, that “gave the yoga world a huge amount of credence,” says John Schumacher, who founded Unity Woods Yoga Center in 1979, when yoga existed only on the fringe.
Washington’s high stress helped. Relief is a downward-facing-dog pose for a growing crowd of converts, from entry-level staffers to power players. “People come in with their BlackBerrys,” says Kimberly Wilson, founder of Tranquil Space Yoga, which has locations in Bethesda, Arlington, and DC. “The eight-o’clock class isn’t late enough.”
Many crave meditation’s ability to melt stress, says Suzie Hurley, founder of Willow Street Yoga Center in Takoma Park and Silver Spring. Its yoga nidra classes teach deep-relaxation techniques. “We get a lot of lawyers and government officials looking for something to take with them to their stressed-out jobs,” she says. “More and more people are learning to meditate.”
And as the economy tanks, people are flocking to yoga. “Our classes are packed,” says Kyra Anastasia Sudofsky, founder of U Street’s Inspired Yoga, which now offers a “yoga bailout” pass (three months unlimited for $300). “Our students don’t want to give up yoga, because they feel like it’s an important component in staying sane. People seem to be paying more attention to their health and maintaining a sense of balance.” Sudofsky says that her introductory class has doubled in size over the past few months.
A cohesive yoga community has started to develop. Students gather for service projects, seminars, and overnight retreats. Each spring during DC Yoga Week, about a dozen area studios offer free and discounted classes and people gather on the Mall to practice yoga.
The DC Global Mala Project (dcglobalmala.com) is the yoga community’s linchpin event. Launched in 2007, the annual one-day assembly was organized to connect local yogis. Last year, 500 people assembled just before the fall equinox to do sun salutations, chant, and raise $17,000 for environmental charities.
Boldface names have noted that Washington is becoming a yoga center. “DC has become a place that attracts the most popular, sought-after teachers in the world,” says Debra Perlson-Mishalove, founder of Flow Yoga Center in DC’s Logan Circle. Yoga stars Shiva Rea, Sharon Gannon, and David Life have added Washington to their international tours.
Thirty years after Schumacher helped plant the seeds of yoga in Washington, Unity Woods is the nation’s largest center for Iyengar, an alignment-based form of yoga. Finally, his hometown’s yoga scene has arrived. “It was a little slow to take hold, compared to more culturally progressive cities, but it has,” Schumacher says. “Per capita, my guess is that Washington rivals, if not surpasses, places like New York and LA.”
Studios We Like
Washington has lots of yoga studios, each with a distinct personality. Most offer newcomer deals, and many provide discounted or free community classes; check the studios’ Web sites for details. To search by teacher, browse the directories of the Mid-Atlantic Yoga Association (mayayoga.org) or the Yoga Alliance (yogaalliance.org).
Ashtanga Yoga Center, 4000 Albemarle St., NW; ashtangayogadc.com. Serious teachers in a welcoming, no-frills haven for students of ashtanga yoga.
Bagheera Yoga, 2801 Adams Mill Rd., NW, Suite 306; 202-265-1783; bagheerayoga.com. Intimate Adams Morgan studio with small classes taught by Bobbi Poncé-Barger, past president of the Mid-Atlantic Yoga Association, who incorporates Eastern philosophy into her practice.