- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The students in Nandini Weerasinghe’s yoga class are strapped to a wall a few feet off the ground, bending toward the floor and feeling the effects of weightlessness as they stretch.

“We’re working on decompressing the spine,” Ms. Weerasinghe tells her class. “Use your breath to move oxygen along the spine.”

There are dozens of places in the Washington area where one can do yoga on a mat, perhaps using a block to increase the stretch. However, Beloved Yoga in Great Falls (www.belovedyoga.com) is the only local spot where yogis can pose while tethered to a wall, allowing them to break the bounds of body weight and gravity and free the stiffness along their backs.

The concept is similar to more conventional inversion boots, Ms. Weerasinghe says.

“It looks like it is difficult, but it isn’t,” she says.

In fact, using the wall is good for experienced yogis, new yogis, as well as those working through injuries.

“Studies have found that most of the time, we are standing and our [spinal] disks get compressed,” Ms. Weerasinghe says. “We have found that using the wall has alleviated a lot of spinal problems if done three times a week.”

Shree Ayengar takes the spinal rejuvenation class at Beloved Yoga and also incorporates the wall in the Hatha yoga and gentle yoga classes she teaches there. Ms. Ayengar, 60, has been doing yoga for decades and credits her practice with helping overcome severe injuries from a car crash 20 years ago.

“When you use the wall as your prop, you go into a deeper stretch than you would on the floor,” she says. “When you do a twist, for instance, you are really stretching. When you release the hold, blood rushes to the area and rejuvenates it.”

In the spinal rejuvenation class, participants are doing downward-facing dog, a basic yoga pose, with their feet planted about a foot off the ground and their hands on the floor. Later, they will move the straps - similar to clipping rappelling straps to a rock-climbing wall - to different heights. With a padded strap around the waist, they will twist and bend in variations of other yoga poses.

They finish the class on the ground, lying flat on their backs with the straps wound around their ears, cradling the head like a hammock in a soothing final move.

The yoga wall was developed by students of Indian yoga innovator B.K.S. Iyengar. Iyengar yoga, a form of yoga widely practiced in the United States, traditionally uses props, such as belts and blocks, to help with body alignment during the series of “asanas” or poses.

Practicing this type of yoga can aid in developing strength, stamina and flexibility, as well as calm the nerves and relieve stress.

Taking the practice to the wall is another form of a prop, and a unique one at that.

Beloved Yoga co-owner Maryam Ovissi says the studio inherited the wall when it took over the Great Falls Yoga Institute last summer. It has given the studio, which also has a location in Reston, something different to offer its members in addition to the traditional mat yoga classes.

“It definitely adds variety,” she says. “The wall is wonderful because it is therapeutic.”

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