Bethesda is home to more than a dozen yoga studios where you can practice your standing-tree and full-locust poses. But it can be hard to know which are worth a $20 drop-in fee or a pricey monthly pass. To come up with this list of favorites, we asked yoga insiders where they would spend their own money. We also visited studios and dropped in for classes. Here are their picks for the best places in Bethesda to lay down your mat.
FOR A CRASH COURSE
Unity Woods Yoga Center
4853 Cordell Ave.; 301-656-8992
When John Schumacher founded Unity Woods in 1979 in Bethesda, it was Washington’s first studio. With outposts in Ballston and DC’s Woodley Park and Tenleytown, it’s now one of the country’s largest yoga centers, and many insiders say it’s the best studio in Bethesda. Unity Woods teaches only Iyengar yoga, a form that relies on blocks, blankets, and other props. Many of the instructors are disciples of Schumacher and have been practicing for years. Classes run on a semester-like schedule so that each lesson in a two-month cycle builds on teachings from previous classes. (You can attend on a drop-in basis but will get more out of a full series.) In between sessions, there are free introductory classes.
FOR AN EXTRA-HARD WORKOUT
Down Dog Yoga
4733 Elm St.; 301-654-9644
Patty Ivey’s trio of Down Dog studios (also in Georgetown and Herndon) follows the “power vinyasa” teachings of Baron Baptiste. The thermostat is cranked up to 92 degrees—and that’s before everyone starts moving. The demanding workouts, which run an hour or longer, combine cardiovascular fitness, strength, and balance. Except for a Wednesday-night basics class, every session is for all levels, which can mean that newcomers who aren’t used to the power poses may feel a little behind in the beginning.
IF YOU WANT TO SWEAT—A LOT
Bikram Yoga Bethesda
7832 Wisconsin Ave.; 301-215-7820
Open since January, this industrial-looking space includes a light-filled, 1,700-square-foot studio, spacious locker rooms, and a sunken lounge area where manager Adam Pearlstein sometimes breaks out his guitar. The practice room is set to 105 degrees with 40-percent humidity—conditions that make the Bikram practice a popular weight-loss exercise. Although every class—except for one Monday-night advanced session—is open to all levels, it’s a good idea for uninitiated students to attend the Sunday yoga orientation or look at the 26-posture Bikram primer on the studio’s Web site.
IF YOU LIKE IT HOT BUT NOT TOO HOT
The Yoga Fusion Studio
4609 Willow La., Chevy Chase; 301-656-8937
Former Washington Ballet dancer Laura Urgelles took her first class at a small local studio for hot yoga eight years ago. This year she bought its Chevy Chase location, now called Yoga Fusion. The bright and friendly studio offers about 30 classes a week, most of them vinyasa, or “flow,” yoga in a room heated to about 90 degrees. It’s hot enough to come out drenched but not as hot as Bikram. The fragrant ice-cold washcloths and herb teas are welcome after-class touches. The fast-moving flow classes are open to all levels, but if you don’t know your chaturanga from your savasana, you’ll struggle because instructors often call out the moves without demonstrations. Fusion’s introductory offer is a good way to try different classes—there’s one non-heated gentle-yoga class a week and several other options such as Pilates—and is hard to beat: $10 for ten consecutive days of unlimited classes.
This article appears in the September 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.
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