I’m lying flat on my back, staring at the rafters of a chapel, feeling incredibly relaxed. I can feel the stone floor through my thin rubber yoga mat, and keeping me cool despite the 90-degree day outside. I close my eyes, sinking further into the ground, listening to John Williams’s soaring music from Star Wars.
It’s Star Wars yoga night inside the chapel at Congressional Cemetery, and thus far, we’ve been divided into two camps—Sith Lords and Jedi—been instructed to flatten our bodies like the Millennium Falcon, breathed out like Darth Vader, and used our arms as light sabers. When a giant, furry black dog came bounding in (with its apologetic owner running in behind it), the instructor, Kelly Carnes, said, “Oh look, here’s Chewie!”
When I decided to attend a yoga class at Congressional Cemetery—part of Carnes’ Yoga Mortis series that she hosts in the chapel on Wednesdays at 6 PM—I expected it to turn into a funny story I could tell later. Yoga, in a cemetery; can you imagine? And while the opening of the class lived up to expectations—meditating to 90 seconds of an a cappella sing-through of the Star Wars story—as we moved into the pretty basic yoga movements, I found that I was breathing deeper, stretching muscles I never take the time to stretch, and feeling the stress leave my forever-tight shoulders. By the time I walked out of the chapel into the golden sunlight streaming through the gravestones, I felt better than I had in a long time.
I am not a yoga enthusiast. I am moderately flexible and in relative good shape, so it’s not fear of embarrassing myself that’s kept me out of yoga studios; it’s fear of boredom, or worse, wasting an hour on an exercise that burns, like, no calories. Even though I know that doctors and psychologists alike recommend yoga for protecting muscles and relieving stress and anxiety, I’ve never been one to slow down long enough to practice it.
That’s why I have to be lured into kitschy themes—Carnes also teaches yoga at the Kennedy Center and has a beer yoga class coming up this weekend. Like your typical type-A Washington millennial, if I’m going to spend an hour doing something, I want to get something out of it. That something can be an Instagram post, a beer, or even a story—but relaxing for the sake of relaxing? Yeah, right.
But even if it took a funny theme to lure me in, I quickly lost myself in the class. Carnes’ stripped-down yoga in a cemetery chapel is pretty perfect for those who feel the need to constantly be doing something. There are no mirrors to critique your form, no apps that tell you how many calories you burned (or didn’t), no bustling city street outside to break your concentration (though we were interrupted by four different dogs—which I saw as a plus). It’s a good reminder that you don’t always have to get something out of an exercise class—sometimes yoga can just be yoga, even if it’s set to Star Wars techno.