- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2001

It's 4,000 years old and veiled in mysticism. Founded in the East, it's a four-letter word that could cure whatever ails you.

It's yoga. So take a deep breath and focus inward.

From suburban recreation rooms to the hallowed halls of justice, folks in the Washington area are reaping the benefits of a full-body workout with yoga while calming their crowded craniums.

Even Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor asked that yoga be taught at the court.

Kamakshi Hart, founder and director of the Dancing Heart Center for Yoga & the Art of Living on Capitol Hill, got the call from Justice O'Connor last year. A certified teacher of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Mass, Ms. Hart started last March to teach one class a week for the justice and 15 others at the court among them some of Justice O'Connor's staff members, Library of Congress employees and neighborhood residents.

Indeed, there's more to yoga than meets the eye.

"There is something unique to yoga in the way it works the body it stimulates the function of the glands and helps to cleanse the internal organs," Ms. Hart says. "It's extremely healthy for the heart. It gets into the body's joints and muscle tissue and stimulates a relief that affects your nervous system and, therefore, helps to reduce stress."

• • •

Yoga postures come from nature and have names. The tree posture, the mountain posture and the dog posture are but a few.

Ms. Hart hears from people who want to check out yoga but are a little intimidated by the advanced postures, or asanas.

"I get many calls from people who say they are too stiff to do yoga. It's because the average person is stiff in one place or another. A lot of what I do is just get people more comfortable in their bodies," Ms. Hart says. "Whatever they can do, they can do, and it's OK."

Inside her Northeast studio, Ms. Hart teaches beginning yoga through more advanced levels. Her students, who can number up to 20 per class, don leggings or bike shorts and T-shirts. Beginners get an introduction to yoga that includes basic postures and simple breathing techniques. More advanced students get a more demanding practice that leads to greater strength, flexibility and concentration.

Marianna Adams takes classes at the Dancing Heart Center for Yoga three days a week. It has changed her life for the better, she says. Ms. Adams, a former dancer who lives on Capitol Hill, started practicing yoga 10 years ago. She teamed up with Ms. Hart in 1995.

"I've always been into the expression of the body. That's why I never liked aerobic classes. One of my criteria for physical activity is that it be an opportunity for personal expression and personal knowledge," Ms. Adams says.

For example, in a yoga class when she holds a pose, it's not just about how long she can hold the specific posture that determines her mastery.

"What it's about is when I'm holding that pose, can I find within myself some inner strength and lightness?" she says.

"Let's use it as a metaphor in everyday life. A lot of times when I'm doing a task at work or at home, I find myself [working] too hard and straining. It's about working smarter, not harder. How can I do this [task] without struggling, and yoga is one of the best things I've found that helps me practice that," Ms. Adams says.

The senior associate for the Institute for Learning Innovation in Annapolis credits yoga for enabling her to be calmer, more peaceful, far more efficient and happier overall.

Although Ms. Adams maintains a hectic schedule and takes pride in her work for the nonprofit educational research and development organization, she says yoga puts the job in perspective.

"I do the best I can, but I have to remember not to take myself too seriously. It's an interesting contradiction of holding on and letting go at the same time," Ms. Adams says.

Ms. Hart makes the ongoing study of yoga enjoyable for her students, Ms. Adams adds.

"Kamakshi is a relaxed teacher, and we do a lot of laughing [in class]. Laughter reduces stress… . She's genuine and a very masterful and sensitive teacher. She has helped me in so many ways," Ms. Adams says.

Yoga is a definite stress-reducer, but it also provides a place for spiritual practice, Ms. Adams says. No matter what a person's religious affiliation may be, yoga provides a wonderful space to connect to one's spiritual foundations, she explains.

"It's like getting it all done at one stop the physical, the spiritual and the emotional," she says.

• • •

There's no doubt yoga provides a good workout and peace of mind, says Yoga Journal Editor in Chief Kathryn Arnold. Ms. Arnold's nationally syndicated magazine conducted a survey of readers last summer that confirmed yoga's appeal.

"There are three top reasons people are flocking to yoga: to increase flexibility, to alleviate stress and for personal growth," Ms. Arnold says.

"What that [the survey results] told me is that people really have recognized that yoga is not just a form of exercise. Yes, it strengthens and tones the body, it increases flexibility, and it improves balance, but it's more than that. It helps calm and focus the mind, and that distinguishes it from other forms of exercise," she says.

"Yoga does not conflict with any religious practices, and it's finding its way into all corners of our culture," Ms. Arnold says.

At last count, Ms. Arnold says, 27 types of yoga were being taught in the United States.

"What's interesting, as it becomes more popular, we are adapting it to Western sensibilities and Western lifestyle," she says. "You see new kinds of yoga being developed here."

Stressed out? Breathe.

"Stress is how you receive the experience. You can either receive it with violence or from a place of calmness. Yoga teaches you how not to react from a position of stress," Ms. Arnold says.

For more information about classes at the Dancing Heart Center for Yoga & the Art of Living, call 202/544-0841 or go to www.dancingheartyoga.com.

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