D.C. yoga lovers train to become teachers

(Astrid Riecken/ FOR THE WASHINGTON POST ) - After a nearly five-hour-long examination and a graduation ceremony, the new generation of yoga teachers start celebration at Studio DC Yoga where they received their training.

(Astrid Riecken/ FOR THE WASHINGTON POST ) - After a nearly five-hour-long examination and a graduation ceremony, the new generation of yoga teachers start celebration at Studio DC Yoga where they received their training.

Gale Koritansky works as a librarian in Silver Spring. It was her dream job. But somehow, her heart began leaning in a different direction.

Six months ago, she began training to become a registered yoga teacher. When she closes her eyes and meditates, the 32-year-old redhead with a bob breathes in a call to a new life.

“Ommm,” Koritansky exhaled last week at a yoga studio in Dupont Circle. Sixteen yogis-in-training were there, all women, all under 35. They meditated together, on the cusp of competing their final, 200th hour of training.

Training with her were PhD candidates and investment bankers, teachers and sales managers, a White House staffer and a lobbyist. Several declined to talk to a reporter, not wanting to tip off their employers about their new passion, or their potential next career.

Five years ago, yoga was becoming so popular among the District’s young professionals that studios emerged as telltale status signs of gentrifying neighborhoods. Now, some of those professionals, in the throes of long, stressful work hours, are repositioning themselves in yoga studios, metamorphosing from yoga student to teacher.

At Studio DC, the number of students in teacher-training classes doubled in 2011 to 80. After 200 hours of training, the yogis-to-be can register with the Yoga Alliance, which has seen its count of registered yoga teachers climb nationally from 20,000 to 35,000 over the past five years. The registration adds legitimacy to a profession that has no formal licensing requirements.

Even considering the growth of yoga across the country, few places are as consumed with yoga as the Washington region. The North American Studio Alliance, a trade group of sorts that is better known as NAMASTA, estimates that the number of yoga professionals has grown by more than 200 percent here in the past five years.

Koritansky was among the thousands who tried yoga because it was the cool thing to do. Five years later, it’s much more. She and her classmates spent six weekends training at Studio DC. That’s in addition to the three regular yoga classes she took weekly. She learned the intricacies of the spine. She was instructed on yoga ethics (flirting is a no-no).

Because it’s yoga, the students kept a meditation journal to help them connect with the harmony of the world. Because it is yoga in the District, the students discussed “branding” their personal styles.

One student has quit her job; many of them hope to transition over time. Some took the class in stealth, hoping their employers wouldn’t find out. Many were there for the same reason the owner, Katja Brandis, started the studio.

Brandis, now 42, decided in 2001 that she’d had enough of her 70-hours-a-week World Bank job. “All my problems were related to stress,” she said. “So I started a business plan and decided to try and change the world, person to person.”

She founded Studio Serenity, now called Studio DC. When she started in Adams Morgan, Brandis said, hers was the only yoga place on the block. Now there are five.

The growing market requires more yoga teachers. She charges $2,500 for the 200-hour class, which focuses on the flowing vinyasa form of the ancient Indian discipline.

Near the end of their course, the students are tested on assisting, the art of helping yogis to achieve proper form. Half the students leaned forward to touch their toes as a partner helped them straighten their back or outstretch their arms.

“I was shaking during downward dog for the first time in my life,” a trainee said after Brandis left the room, and the other women agreed. The tension was palpable as Brandis returned.

“You all passed!” she announced. Koritansky clapped.

But the big test was yet to come. The next week, Brandis handed Koritansky a 30-page exam that Brandis had written. The group lay on their yoga mats and began to write. They had to name 150 poses, in English and the traditional Sanskrit. They wrote the instruction cues of a yoga class. They named leg muscles.

Brandis thought the test would take two hours. She brought in brownies to keep everyone serene.

More than four hours later, Koritansky was among the first to hand in her exam.

“Whew!” she exhaled. “That was longer than the GRE!”

Over the months, the students had gathered at Meridian Hill Park to practice yoga poses in their free time. They shopped together and bought matching white blouses and yoga pants, a uniform of sorts for their graduation ceremony.

“I’m happy it’s over,” Koritansky said. “But it’s really bittersweet. . . . It’s like a community.”

She hopes to have a baby soon, and she thinks that teaching yoga could play a role.

“I see mothers coming into the library all the time completely stressed because they have so much to do,’’ Koritansky said. “I want to have time for my family. Yoga can help me do that.”

Brandis and her husband, Ryan Arnoldy, a co-owner of the studio, prepared for the graduation ceremony by scattering rose petals on the floor. The room was mostly illuminated by small candles.

One by one, the students walked along the rose-petal path as their fellow yogis were asked to whisper to them two adjectives they embodied.

Koritansky walked down the path. Funny, strong. Energetic, confident. Supportive, inspiring. By the end of the path, she was near tears. They all were.

“I know it seems a little new-agey,” Koritansky said. “But sometimes, I feel this city needs a little bit of that.”

 
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