September-October 2008 | Health

Yoga’s Many Faces

A guide to some of the top yoga studios in the Bethesda area and the types of instruction they offer.

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Down Dog Yoga

4733 Elm Street, 4th floor, Bethesda
301-654-9644
downdogyoga.com

Founded by former marathon runner and cyclist Patty Ivey, Down Dog is the only studio in the Washington, D.C., area affiliated with Baptiste Power Vinyasa, one of the most widely known and respected educational methods and yoga practices. This physically demanding, strong and flowing style of yoga uses vigorous movement to transition from one position to another, and is popular among athletes. Some classes are labeled for beginners, but most can accommodate all levels of expertise. It’s not a competition, as most yoga teachers will tell you. Everyone pushes to their own degree.

Be prepared to sweat at Down Dog. Those familiar with “hot yoga” know to bring a towel and come hydrated (water and towels are available behind the check-in desk). The studio, a spacious, light-filled, fourth-floor room overlooking Elm Street, is heated to 95 degrees, and the heat—plus the occasional manual push from an instructor—helps you stretch further than you might expect. Branka Sekis, who practices hot yoga three times a week, likes it so much she took a 45-minute bus trip from her home in Silver Spring to the studio when her car was out of commission.

Student Scott Cody of Bethesda used to run and bike as much as possible for exercise. When he turned to yoga to relax, he found the classes at Down Dog “the best cardio workout I’ve ever had…at the same time, when you’re done you feel great about yourself,” he says. “I was addicted within a couple of times.”

Bethesda is the second location for Down Dog, which originated in its still-popular Georgetown studio.

Unity Woods Yoga Center

4853 Cordell Ave., Suite PH9, Bethesda
301-656-8992
unitywoods.com

“This is not an exercise class,” Unity Woods owner John Schumacher tells new students. “This is a yoga class.” Specifically, Schumacher’s Unity Woods studio offers Iyengar yoga, founded by B.K.S. Iyengar in India. Sometimes described as yoga for serious, thinking people, Iyengar emphasizes proper alignment and precision as well as a balance of strength and flexibility, endurance and self-awareness. Props like blocks, straps and cushions frequently are used to help yogis reach the fullest expression of an asana, or pose. Classes are divided into levels, from introductory to level VI; some focus on specific areas like lower back or abdominal strength and special sessions zero in on backbends, full-arm balance (handstand) or pranayama (a breathing technique).

Many of the 18 teachers at Unity Woods have been on staff for years and most have trained with Iyengar. All but two apprenticed with Schumacher, 62,who could be considered the granddaddy of yoga in the Washington area. Schumacher, who has taught yoga in Bethesda since 1974, opened Unity Woods in 1985.

The Bethesda studio, perched on the 16th floor of the Triangle building on Cordell Avenue, has a view of the sunset and was voted “best yoga studio” by Bethesda Magazine readers in 2007. The main practice room is spacious, with soothing lavender-colored walls. A small lobby includes the “Beyondananda Boutique,” with yoga tapes and DVDs, CDs, books, props (for home practice) and clothing.

Sacred Space Yoga

5624 Randolph Road, Rockville
301-231-0022
sacredspacerockville.com

Kim Groark has created a soothing environment for her yoga practice at Sacred Space in Rockville.You might think you’re in owner Kim Groark’s native Hawaii when you arrive at Sacred Space, where even the exterior, set among a row of industrial storefronts, has a soothing green landscape. Inside, Groark has decorated the studio with countless plants and hanging vines, a clear-flowing fountain, faux stone walls and sculptures—all custom-designed and flown in from the Philippines. If the lush and natural decor looks a little familiar, that’s because Groark was a partner at Thrive Yoga in Rockville before she went out on her own and opened Sacred Space in October 2007. The bonus here is the high, clerestory windows that reveal a slice of sky, making you think you are far from Rockville Pike.

Yoga at Sacred Space is primarily Vinyasa flow-style, with temperatures warm (around 78 degrees) but “not crazy warm,” says Groark. Teachers give a lot of individual attention, and because many are also body workers (physical therapists, therapeutic masseuses and acupuncturists, for example), they bring an added dimension to their understanding of yoga postures. “They have a variety of wonderful teachers,” says Roger Blond of Rockville, who goes to Sacred Space five to six times a week. “It’s just got a good karma, a good feel to it,” he says.

It’s also easy to just drop into a class— there is no need to register.

“I love how I feel when I come here,” says Marci McCalley of Gaithersburg, who attends classes twice a week. “Kim’s so fabulous. She combines the strength part and the flexibility part, and balancing your everyday life. I get energized and relaxed at the same time.”

Try Yoga

4609 Willow Lane, Chevy Chase
240-888-9642
hotyogausa.com

There are plenty of classes to choose from at Try Yoga, and most accommodate yogis of all levels. Vinyasa is a staple at Try Yoga; founder Bentley Storm trained with power yoga leader Baron Baptiste and at the Bikram College of India, home of the ultra-hot yoga technique. But Try Yoga’s approach is gentle, with an emphasis on safety and alignment. Studio temperatures are set around 90 degrees to allow for maximum stretching and flexibility, without the total immersion into “hot” yoga, during which temperatures can soar to 105 degrees.

Students set their own challenges. Before the teacher arrived at a midday, all-level class, for example, one ambitious yogi warmed up with a full-arm balance (handstand), a pose usually reserved for the end of a session, while others stretched gently on the floor.

Try Yoga has lots of sessions to choose from, and many students like the studio because the drop-in style classes fit easily into their schedules. Also, the place is warm and welcoming. “The people are all very outgoing and it just has a neighborhood feel,” says Kensington resident Lynn Bailets, 61, a student since the studio opened in February 2007.