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D.C. Yoga Week: It's worth going to the mat

A roundup of famous men who like to bend and stretch for their workout.
By Vicky Hallett
Thursday, May 13, 2010

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," he says.

Kimbrough is the classic example of yoga's image problem. Even though studios have popped up across the area 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 (http://www.dcyogaweek.com), which begins Saturday and runs through May 22. Fourteen 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 to deliver a 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.

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.

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