“Relax your head … relax your head … your head is relaxed.”
I breathe in deeply, trying to compete with the deep exhales of the man beside me. I feel like I’m hyperventilating more than achieving tranquility. The room at D.C. Yoga is warm and dark and smells faintly of incense. Madonna chants in the background.
This my first class at D.C. Yoga, a yoga studio located in Dupont Circle that provides a serene environment for those wishing to practice. Because it is strictly a yoga facility, instructors here are knowledgeable on many different types of yoga, including bikram, performed in an excessively hot room; ashtanga, which is more of a workout with repetitions of various positions and sivanda, which is more about relaxing and meditation.
“Yoga is not the physical practice that many Westerners think it is,” said Mike Shapiro, a GW alum and instructor at D.C. Yoga. “Yoga is more a mindset desiring spiritual growth.”
The studios at D.C. Yoga are different from yoga classes at many gyms that often focus on perfecting each position to achieve flexibility and strength. Instead, classes at D.C. Yoga place emphasis on the entire experience rather than focus on weight-loss and toning.
Shapiro said yoga is more a mindset than a physical exercise; it is based on interpretation rather than a specific methodology. Although yoga has been around for generations, it has become an increasingly popular workout since celebrities such as Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow have been practicing yoga to stay fit.
“Yoga is passed down from one teacher to the next, and each teacher best interprets it and utilizes it to benefit their students and mankind in general,” said Shaprio.
Shapiro’s yoga classes are composed of meditation and repetitious positions. As the founder of ashtanga yoga, K. Pattabhi said “yoga is 99 percent practice and 1 percent theory”, which means to reap the benefits one must practice as often as possible. For Shapiro, this means anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours a day, but he also said that even several classes a week could nearly perfect the practice.
Shapiro tells his students there are many reasons why they should practice yoga. Not only does yoga release stress and aid in relaxation, but it is also a healthier way to stay energized than say, filling the body with caffeinated beverages. Yoga promotes good health and is ideal for getting rid of daily aches and pains due to stress, such as “typing tension” caused by too many hours spent in front of a computer.
Shapiro also emphasized the mental benefits of yoga. He said yoga theory improves social skills by giving people better ways to relate to different people in different situations. Breathing meditation also helps to promote clarity and memorization skills by channeling oxygen to the brain. Because yoga is all about introspection, it furthers spiritual growth.
Junior Alex Shepherd, a GW cheerleader, said she can testify to the effects yoga can have on one’s lifestyle. She began doing yoga a little less than two years ago when her mother and brother began to do it. She said she also began yoga because she stopped dancing and was looking for another physical exercise to take its place.
“Yoga makes you strong and flexible in your body, but it does it in your mind as well,” said Shepard.
Since beginning yoga, Shepherd not only feels more flexible in her cheerleading practices, but also attributes her success in school to practicing yoga.
“In the end, it starts to affect your mind and your day-to-day life,” she said. This also includes the ability to focus on anything else that is important, whether it’s doing a sport, acing a test or even being a better friend.
Whether it’s for a more toned body or for a break from the stress and drama of college life, with yoga you can have your cake and eat it too by achieving all of these things. D.C. Yoga offers a place to go for something less commercialized and more centered on meditation and yoga theory.
Yoga sessions are also offered at the Health and Wellness Center as part of the overall $60 gym membership, which includes various other classes like cardio boxing and even belly dancing. While classes there may concentrate more on the physical benefits of yoga, they still provide a good opportunity for relaxation as well.
“Many people say that they wish they had started yoga earlier,” Shapiro said. “It makes life smoother.”