Breathing room for Loudoun

By Caitlin Gibson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2010; T01

Sixteen women knelt on the bamboo floor inside the warm studio at Inner Power Yoga in Sterling, their faces down and arms stretched. Morning sun streamed through the windows into the large room, which filled with the sounds of deep breathing and the melodic voice of Ursula Cox, the petite instructor, who circled slowly among her students. She placed her hands gently on arms and knees, correcting posture and softly offering encouragement.

"Breathe very deeply," she said to the group, "especially if you feel your life is too hectic and you are looking for stillness."

Cox, 42, opened the studio a year ago, but her impact on the community has already been recognized: On Nov. 28, several teachers at Cox's studio presented her with a 2010 Community Leadership Award from the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, an annual award given to those who improve the lives of people in their community through sports, physical activity, fitness or nutrition. Cox is one of 28 recipients of the national award this year.

She was nominated for the award by Jessica Howard, 42, one of the teachers at the studio. She took her first yoga classes with Cox several years ago.

"She has created this amazing place, and with a lot of effortlessness and grace, she has established it in the community," Howard said.

The studio offers classes for all levels of students, from beginners to experienced practitioners, and goes a step beyond in an effort to reach all parts of the community, Cox said.

"We also have a special class and a discounted rate for teachers," she said, adding that her sons - ages 10 and 12 - are in the Loudoun County public school system. "That class is at 4 p.m., so it's convenient for them, and it focuses on stress release."

Cox also offers children's yoga, yoga teacher training sessions and donation-based community classes for people who can't afford regular classes, she said.

Cox is especially good with beginners, Howard said.

"She sees in you that you have the ability and she just keeps nudging. She's like the best teacher you had in elementary school, with that gift to gently push you to do more, and you always leave feeling better about yourself," she said.

Cox, a native of Budapest, moved to Potomac Falls in 2001 with her husband and sons. She taught yoga in Tysons Corner for two years, developing a loyal following of students, before her husband's U.S. Foreign Service job moved the family to Frankfurt, Germany.

"It was so hard to tell my students that I had to go," Cox said.

But she returned with her family to Potomac Falls in 2008 and opened Inner Power Yoga in December 2009. Her return did not go unnoticed among her former followers.

As her students began trickling in before a morning class, Cox greeted each by name. Many pass numerous other yoga studios on their way to Inner Power Yoga, choosing to make the trip to Sterling from Annandale, Alexandria, the District and even Potomac, Md.

Christa Maurer, 41, of Arlington County said Cox is more than worth the drive.

"There are studios all over Arlington and D.C. that are closer," she said, "but none of them have Ursula."

Cox's students point to her particularly loving and patient teaching style, as well as the results they are able to achieve.

"I can do a back-bend now," said Jean Komendera, 48, of Falls Church. "I'm in better shape now than I was 20 years ago. And it's such a safe, wonderful environment."

That sentiment is shared by Judy Laufman, a student who first took yoga with Cox in Tysons Corner and was delighted to see her teacher return to the area after three years in Germany. The timing was fortuitus: Laufman, 49, was diagnosed with Stage 3 metastatic breast cancer this year and underwent surgery in June.

"The yoga has been a huge part of my recovery, not only building the strength and the tone and the range of motion again but also the spiritual part and the relaxation," Laufman said. "Being able to see Ursula every Saturday once I was well enough to do so has just been a joy and a huge part of my recovery."

Laufman, still undergoing cancer treatment, said she was both comforted and inspired by Cox's gentle approach to teaching and understands the sense of loyalty that inspires Cox's students to travel long distances to see her.

"I live in Wolf Trap," Laufman said, "so it's not too far, but I would travel twice the distance to be able to take classes with her. I just think she's an enormously special person."

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