Let’s namaste together: In honor of D.C. Yoga Week, meet some local teachers

There’s no one right way to do yoga. And there’s no one kind of person who does it. In honor of DC Yoga Week (through Sunday, dccy.org) — which celebrates this diversity of practices with free and reduced-price classes at more than 30 studios in D.C., Maryland and Virginia — here’s a look at five local instructors. Each took an individual path but they all ended up at the same place: on a yoga mat.


Derek Waddy shows off his side crow in Georgetown. (Teddy Wolff/For Express)

Derek Waddy, 25
Down Dog Yoga (Locations in Georgetown, Bethesda and Herndon, Va.; downdogpoweryoga.com)

Waddy, a former wide receiver on the Towson University football team, seems like he’d tackle anything. But when one of his teammates suggested he try yoga as a way to stay in shape after graduation, he shied away. It took months of prodding to get him to take a class. It took only a single session, however, for him to realize this was a touchdown. “I could get strength, flexibility and sweat in one workout,” he says. “I thought I’d be touching toes and planting flowers, but this was tough.”

As he practiced, he discovered benefits that went way beyond the physical. He learned to handle discomfort on the mat, and then relied on those techniques when he felt the same sensations arise in the rest of his life. Within another few months, he completed teacher training and turned yoga into his career. “I’m an example that anything is possible,” Waddy says.

His athletic background helps with certain postures, but it’s been a liability in other respects. That competition mentality is hard to shake, Waddy admits.

One of his biggest challenges? Learning to go into child’s pose. “It also takes strength to know when you need rest or restoration,” he says. That’s a lesson he’s eager to teach his students — or, as he likes to think of them, his “team.”


Don’t try this technique if you bike to a class with Amy Rizzotto. (Teddy Wolff/For Express)

Amy Rizzotto, 27
Yoga Heights (3506 Georgia Ave. NW; yogaheightsdc.com)

“You might think there are too many yoga studios, but there are never too many yoga studios,” says Rizzotto, who has a certain stake in the matter: She’s co-founder of Yoga Heights, which opens today near the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro station.

With her business partner and fellow instructor, Jess Pierno, Rizzotto hopes to “build a community that makes yoga approachable for every body, every level and every budget.” To reach out to those self-declared non-yogis, the studio is offering a wide range of classes and subsidizing costs for folks who are strapped for cash. (And all new students can take advantage of a “$30 for 30 days” deal.)

In this Type A city, yoga is especially important, says Rizzotto, who’s been practicing since she was a freshman at George Washington University. It’s easy for people here — Rizzotto included — to fall into a grind. Juggling her day job at a nonprofit, her nutrition and fitness blog (moar-fit.com) and her teaching gets stressful.

“Yoga is the only thing that keeps me in balance,” she says. “I’m pulled in so many directions. It’s the one time I can tune out all the rest of the stuff in my life.”


Stacy Brooks proves she can find calm even in the middle of H Street. (Teddy Wolff/For Express)

Stacy Brooks, 36
Yoga District (Six locations in Washington; yogadistrict.com)

How powerful is yoga? “It changed me before I ever stepped foot in a studio,” Brooks says. That’s not entirely a good thing. She started out by following videos in her living room because she couldn’t find classes near her home in Lanham, Md. When she entered teacher training in 2011, it was with the goal of bringing more yoga to Prince George’s County.

“I feel like yoga is something people in P.G. miss out on. It’s not like, ‘I saw that neighborhood studio and I’ll drop by.’ If you make it so there’s a big obstacle, that raises the stakes,” Brooks says.

While waiting for the right teaching opportunity in her neighborhood to come along, she’s been teaching “Yoga with Soul Music” every Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Yoga District studio on H Street.

Setting a practice to a playlist enhances the experience, says Brooks, who selects familiar, mellow tunes to create an easy-going mood. Her favorite yoga song: “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding.

Newcomers feel extra welcome, she says, because she doesn’t fit the yoga teacher stereotype: “I’m not size 2. I’m a regular woman.”


Stair Calhoun, 62
Little River Yoga (6025 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, and 6399 Little River Turnpike, Alexandria; littleriveryoga.com)

What first attracted Calhoun to yoga was the coffee. She’d dabbled for decades but never committed to a practice until the early 1990s, when a friend suggested they go to class once a week and then grab java. The ritual was more stimulating than she ever imagined it could be.

Calhoun started studying at other studios, including Unity Woods (owned by renowned Iyengar teacher John Schumacher) and the now-defunct Ashtanga Yoga Center. She soon needed a yoga fix every morning — and was teaching classes herself.

At her pair of studios, Calhoun now specializes in leading Mysore, a class that asks students to do a series of poses at their own pace with one-on-one guidance. It’s a style that’s suited to a mature instructor. “I can help with things maybe I can’t do,” she says.

But usually, she forgets she’s at least 20 years older than most of the other people in the room. Maybe that’s because Calhoun is still deepening her practice. She’s recently become fascinated with chanting, and now leads a free weekly class at 8:30 a.m. Sundays.

“I needed more experience before I could appreciate that part,” adds Calhoun, who plans to keep doing yoga as long as she can breathe.


Rick Fiori, 46
Willow Street Yoga (Locations in Takoma Park, Md., and Silver Spring; willowstreetyoga.com)

When Fiori fractured his back in three places in 2000, his physician predicted he’d hurt for the rest of his life. Seeking relief, Fiori signed up at Willow Street Yoga. Six months of sessions with teachers talking him through proper posture and alignment, and he went off of his medication.

Now there’s only one prescription he needs: “I can go seven to 10 days without yoga before I go back to that place of pain.”

Fiori enrolled in teacher training to learn more therapeutic techniques, and wound up in front of the classroom. New students often look him up and down, not believing such a big guy could be an instructor, he says. That’s when he shows off what he can do. His favorite poses? Back bends.

“They’re emotional for me because I used to be so afraid of doing them,” he says. “I thought I’d snap in two.” Fiori’s instructors, however, made sure the only thing he ever cracked was a smile.

That’s how Fiori developed this teaching philosophy: “When doing something hard, tell an amusing story.”

Event Horizon

The main draw during DC Yoga Week is Saturday’s Yoga on the Mall. The free event starts at 10 a.m. at Constitution Gardens with 30 minutes of kid yoga and beginner yoga. Then celebrity instructor Shiva Rea — with assistance from local teachers — will lead an all-levels practice until noon. Want more outdoor yoga? Amy Rizzotto will teach in Dupont Circle at 6 p.m. Wednesday. It’s the kickoff for Lululemon’s summerlong Yoga in the Park series.

 

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Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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