Come for the monuments, nama-stay for the yoga

By Jocie Mintz

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“It feels like the Caribbean! Why don’t we all get naked?” yoga instructor Hawah Kasat yelled into a megaphone, body deep in a lunge.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he did,” a college student said to her friend. Both were pretzelled in an upward dog position opposite the Lincoln Memorial.

Thousands of yoga-lovers gathered at the Lincoln Memorial May 19 for the Metro D.C. Community Yoga Association’s 14th annual Yoga on the Mall. The event was open to everyone—regardless of experience—so participants ranged from third graders to Vietnam veterans. Although there was no entrance fee, the DCCY encouraged attendees to donate to the 30 plus local yoga studios that helped sponsor the event.

During the first hour, over 20 local yoga studios taught their own pop-up classes around the reflecting pool. Afterward, everyone came together for an hour long group yoga class.

D.C. Flow Yoga Center instructor Debra Perlson-Mishalove, D.C. yoga educator Hawah Kasat and Virginian yoga instructor Jafar Alexander each taught a 20 minute segment of the main yoga seminar; they were chosen to represent diverse parts of the metro area.

At 11 a.m., Perlson-Mishalove strolled up the marble Lincoln Memorial stairs. At the top, she turned to the crowd and raised a megaphone to her lips.

“Namaste y’all!” she said, looking across a sea of brightly colored yoga mats soaking in the 90 degree sun. “Welcome to our all-level class. I invite you to find your feet.”

Collectively, thousands of people obliged, slowly rising to stand on their bare feet. Perlson-Mishalove centered her session on deep, personal relaxation, directing the audience to take deep breaths and focus on their balance. She encouraged participants to direct all of their focus into the yoga poses. After she warmed up the crowd, Kasat took the stage.

The music shifted from easy, low tempo Ed Sheeran to ska—reggae infused with punk. A few onlookers and participants chuckled at the abrupt change.

Unlike Person-Mishalove, Kasat worked his audience hard, encouraging the crowd to push themselves to their limit. For one of his exercises, everyone had to curl their body upwards so they were supported only by the arch of their back.

Yoga-enthusiasts twisted themselves into unknown shapes, stretching their legs and swiveling their core. When one woman lost her balance, volunteer Anne Ketter ran to her rescue, holding the woman’s foot in midair. Throughout the entire event, Ketter stood in the grass to support struggling participants.

“I help with everything: verbal cues, keeping balance, holding people up,” Ketter said. “I just finished yoga teacher training and wanted to be a part of this community event.”

After Kasat’s grueling, energizing session, he relinquished the megaphone to Alexander, whose lesson focused on unity and oneness among the group. Alexander has instructed hundreds of yoga classes at BelovedYoga International School, and this was his second year teaching at Yoga on the Mall. He considers his work a service to humanity, and he hopes the positivity from the event can spread across the community, he said

“There was just enough people for everyone to feel really connected,” Alexander said. “The event was amazing. I’m very happy with it.”

Some people attended the event to explore D.C.; others simply wanted to get out of their comfort zone. Though everyone had their own reasons for coming, they were all connected through the dynamic experience they shared.

“I just moved into the area and wanted to try something new and fun and outdoorsy,” D.C. local Edwin Cholula said. His purple yoga mat was adorned with handwritten motivational quotes telling him to stay happy and positive.

All three instructors encouraged the participants to look past the crowd and the sweltering heat to find a sense of community.

“You’re out there on the mall and everyone’s breathing together and enjoying each other’s company, enjoying the outside,” said Brittany Fleck (‘13), a yoga instructor at Flow Yoga Center. “That’s what being a human is all about.”