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These Excuses Can't Get You Out Of Doing Yoga

By Vicky Hallett. Published by The Washington Post.

Link to the original newspaper article.

When I first saw 40-year-old Terrence Kimbrough, he had never done yoga. But that was about to change, because he was standing on the mat next to me two weeks ago at Yoga for Misfits, a weekly class -- with a brilliant name -- at Yoga District's 14th Street studio. "It's for people who aren't into the whole yoga thing but know it will make them feel better," says founder Jasmine Chehrazi, who teaches the class.

After years of suffering from back pain, relief sounded good to Kimbrough. And that's exactly what he found after about an hour of breathing, bending, twisting and lifting. So what took him so long to take the pose plunge? "I had nobody to go with, and I didn't want to look like a fool by myself," Kimbrough says. He's the classic example of yoga's image problem. Even though studios have popped up all over the city and mats ride the Metro as much as tourists, there are still plenty of people who think yoga is for someone else.

Maybe free classes will change some minds. That's the idea behind the fifth annual D.C. Yoga Week (, which begins Saturday and runs through May 22. Fifteen studios will offer discounted or free classes, and celebrated yogi Shiva Rea headlines Yoga on the Mall, a festival of classes, demonstrations and musical performances Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m.

Organizers hope the event successfully delivers their message of openness. "You don't need to know Sanskrit or how to do a certain pose. Yoga should in no way be a secret society," says Annie Mahon, owner of Circle Yoga in the District's Chevy Chase neighborhood.

It seems the only barrier to entry is a few lame excuses. But they're nothing to get bent out of shape over. Here's why.

Excuse 1: 'I'm not flexible'

John Schumacher has been hearing that one since he founded Unity Woods, Washington's first yoga studio, in 1979. His reply? "That's the very reason you should come." The human body becomes more limber by stretching. It also becomes less prone to injury. So if you're not flexible, time to get cracking.

That doesn't mean, however, that you'll be asked to wrap your leg around your head. In a beginning yoga class, the flexibility challenge is more likely to be a pose such as forward fold, also known as touching your toes. If you can only hang over with your fingers dangling, that's fine. You're still getting the benefits of the pose, and in time you'll sink deeper.

When you're too tight to perform a pose, you won't be ridiculed. Instead, you'll get a block or a strap. "They're our arm and leg extenders," says Schumacher, who practices Iyengar yoga, a method that's known for relying on props.

For anyone who feels especially inflexible (or has a medical condition that makes a traditional practice too difficult), there are classes such as Super Gentle at Circle Yoga that incorporate chairs. They provide balance during standing poses and a way to do seated poses without getting all the way on the ground.

Doing yoga with modifications is still yoga. "It just looks different," says Mahon. And think of it this way: Inflexible folks have more to gain from yoga than contortionists do. So really, you should pity the pretzels.

Excuse 2: 'It's not a workout'

On this point, many yoga teachers agree with you, because they see yoga as more than just a workout. Sure, there are physical benefits, such as the coveted yoga butt, which often draw people to yoga in the first place.

"But what surprises people are the more subtle things, like focus and patience," says Debra Perlson-Mishalove, who owns Logan Circle's Flow Yoga Center.

While you're waiting for those things to emerge, however, you're going to sweat. Take it from Washington Nationals pitcher Brian Bruney, who started attending yoga classes during the off-season. "I felt like I was in good shape, but one workout told me that I wasn't. I was sweating bullets and just exhausted," says Bruney, who suspects that's because body weight exercises aren't so easy when you're 225 pounds.

Several poses should look familiar to anyone who has spent time in a gym. Take chaturanga, the yoga push-up that targets the triceps. Chair pose is like a squat, except your feet are together and your arms are up. Warrior poses are lunge variations. Hold any of those and you'll gain muscle. String them together and you'll really build some heat, also known as cardio.

And don't forget about the subtle benefits. A stronger body makes for a better football player or dancer. So does a stronger mind.

Excuse 3: 'I'm a guy'

If testosterone were a real hindrance to getting on a mat, then why was nearly every style of yoga practiced in the United States developed by a man? But even some men who are good at yoga can't help but be intimidated by a class full of women. That's why Tranquil Space in Dupont Circle started Yoga for Men.

The class has a strict no-women policy, says instructor Kevin Waldorf-Cruz. He calls it a safe space for men to target tight spots, such as hamstrings, quads and shoulders, without worrying about how they look.

"One of my students calls it 'Yoga for Big, Sweaty Guys,' " jokes Waldorf-Cruz. And without it, he suspects, there are several men who'd never dare come into the studio.

D.C. United forward Adam Cristman understands that. When he was in college, he wanted to try yoga. "But I didn't want to go to a class because I thought it would be all girls," he says. Instead, Cristman found a video online, and in time, his core muscles improved, as did his balance.

He eventually developed the nerve to face a room with women in it.

Excuse 4: 'It's too expensive'

When you see that a drop-in class at many D.C. studios costs nearly $20, you naturally want to hold your wallet rather than hold a pose. But there are ways around high costs.

For starters, buy class passes in bulk for steep discounts. "The more you attend, the cheaper it is," says Perlson-Mishalove of Flow, which also offers price reductions for students, seniors and nonprofit employees. And, like several other studios, Flow holds a weekly "community class" that's $10.

If that price sounds right, you'll dig the rates at Yoga District, which has three studios that charge a drop-in fee of $10. It manages to keep costs low by running on a shoestring budget, says Chehrazi, the studio's founder. While there are loads of classes on the schedule, Yoga District skimps on other things, such as phones.

The best bargain may be at Lululemon stores. The clothes at the high-end fitness apparel chain are pricey, but the weekly classes are free, which is why it's not uncommon to see 40 to 60 people crammed between the racks in triangle pose.

So what do you have to lose by joining them? Other than a few excuses, nothing.


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Disclaimer: As a Health Coach, I will never attempt to diagnose, treat, make claims, prevent or cure any disease or condition. I advise my clients that Health Coaching is not intended to substitute for the advice, treatment and/or diagnosis of a qualified licensed health care professional.