The sound of rushing water was smoothing out the dulcet tones of relaxation music as a recent yoga class launched at Generations Dance Studio on North St. Asaph Street. Many of the class participants had never done yoga before, and the laid-back atmosphere was a decidedly nonthreatening introduction to the ancient Indian art of meditation. As the hour-long class proceeded, participants engaged in poses named after everything from a cobra to a mountain.
This yoga class, given every Friday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. is free.
Organizers suggest that participants make a $5 to $15 donation to help the Global Giving Foundation, which sponsors health care projects, the environmental sustainability and educational initiatives around the world. To accomplish the philanthropy, the instructor of the class is not paid, and the dance studio on St. Asaph Street has agreed to donate space for the fundraising yoga classes.
It all works on the power of giving.
"Yoga is relaxing, and it relieves stress because of the breathing that’s involved," said Sara Schwartz, a Gaithersburg, Md., resident who commutes to Alexandria once a week to teach the class. "I began doing yoga seven years ago when my chiropractor suggested it would help me."
DURING THE CLASS, a handful of students centered their minds and flexed their thighs. They twisted their bodies like pretzels to stretch, bend, balance and bow. Poses took the shape and name of natural elements, rising like a sunflower in the light or craning their backs upward like a camel might as he makes his way across the desert. Deep breaths regulated the heart rate and steadied muscles straining to stretch past inflexibility.
"Don’t think about anything from outside," Schwartz said, inhaling into a cobra pose. "As you do yoga, your body will become more flexible."
The students laid flat on their backs and rested their knees into their stomachs, then gently raised their backs. Then they stretched out their legs as if their toes were being yanked by some invisible force. Ultimately they stood back up, returning to a recurring default position known as the "mountain pose."
Schwartz made small talk about the weather as she maneuvered her body into a downward-facing dog pose. After the class was over, several of the participants said they would be back for more.
"I’ve never done yoga before, but I really liked this and I’ll probably be back next week," said Melanie Clatanoff, a Mount Vernon resident. "As Woody Allen said, ‘I don’t exercise; I prefer to atrophy.’ So this was good for me."
THE GLOBAL GIVING Foundation was founded by two former World Bank executives who wanted to use the Internet’s power to harness new ways of charitable giving. The organization’s Web site allows potential donors at all levels can browse through projects by geography or themes. The Hurricane Katrina Rebuilding Fund, for example, is one of the organization’s projects that hopes to engage in a long-term effort to rebuild of housing, small businesses and infrastructure of residents who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina.
"I have an injury in my back, so I can’t do much twisting," said Maria Pradilla, owner of Generations Dance Studio, after the class. "But this class didn’t do much twisting. So it was OK."
Generations manager Chrishawn Wagoner also participated in last week’s class, the first to be held at the north Old Town studio. She said that she had never done yoga before, and she was impressed by how effectively it cleared away the day’s stress. Although she was new to the art of yoga, she said that she had definitely formed an interest after Schwartz’s Friday afternoon class.
"This gets you to a point where you can clear your mind and be focused," she said. "I could definitely see myself doing this on a regular basis."