Photo: Lindsay Galatro
Photo: Lindsay Galatro

A Day in the Life: East Side Yoga Founder Alia J. Khan

On a breezy summer evening, you can find East Side Yoga’s owner, Alia J. Khan, up on her studio’s gorgeous rooftop leading a yoga class to a carefully curated musical selection or live band performance.

The “recovering attorney turned social entrepreneur” worked long hours at a big international firm where she was glued to her BlackBerry before a series of events led her to seek refuge in yoga, which eventually transformed her outlook on life.

Now, Khan has made it her life mission to help more Type A corporate professionals like the old her escape from their busy daily lives and take better care of themselves. You don’t need to be a vegan or green juice lover to come to her classes – all are welcome – and she even offers complimentary chocolates at the check-in counter. We met up with Khan at East Side Yoga to check out her studio space and hear more of the yogi’s story.

On Tap: How did you go from being an attorney to a yoga studio owner?
Alia J. Khan: My father passed away in 2011, and it was very sudden and tragic for a number of reasons. It really woke me up to the fact that we just don’t know how much time we have in this life, and that I didn’t love what I did. I stumbled on this listing. There were no photos and the description just said, “1,600 square feet in the middle of a residential block in Capitol Hill.” The only photo was the front of an auto body shop. I walked in and immediately knew I had to open a yoga studio in this space.

OT: What is it about being outside on your studio’s rooftop that takes a yoga class to another level?
AJK: I am somebody who really thrives on fresh air and being outdoors, so any opportunity I get to take an activity outside, I’ll do it. Fresh air tastes and smells better, and we do so much deep breathing in yoga, so obviously the quality of the air you’re breathing makes it better. In the city, you have a different feel to the air and then the city noise, but you also hear the birds and crickets and feel the breeze. It’s a mini-retreat that you can take every day if you want to. I definitely find that my body moves better and yoga itself works better in the sunshine or fresh air with a little bit of humidity. You actually move more easily and can go deeper into the practice when your body is a little bit warmer, and that’s an easier state to achieve naturally.

OT: What rooftop classes do you offer, and when do they occur during the week?
AJK: We offer at least one rooftop class every day, weather permitting, and they are the same price as our regular class offerings. We mix up the class types that we do outside, so everyone can find something that works for their schedule and ability. We offer our sunrise class twice a week, which we’ll do outdoors if weather allows. On weekend mornings, our 10 a.m. class is outside, and we have our Sunday evening sunset class on the rooftop as well.

OT: What sets your rooftop classes apart from other studios or outdoor yoga experiences?
AJK: We are still the only studio in DC proper with our own dedicated rooftop space, as most studios tend to borrow from other spaces. There is a novelty to doing yoga in a place that is not designed for it, and that is super fun in its own way. But there’s also something really great about doing a rooftop class. Our rooftop was designed for yoga to be practiced, and we offer it every day so it can be your daily practice. There are rubber tiles on our roof so it’s not too hard, but also level. We have all of our props available for people to use – blankets, straps and blocks – to help customize your practice, and we have our sound system outdoors to help incorporate our music.

OT: How would you describe East Side Yoga’s culture?
AJK: We really try to make everybody feel welcome here. [Other studios] are either super hippy-dippy, or the opposite that turn it into a workout and skip the mental or spiritual aspect of it altogether. And our goal is to find a happy medium. I think what makes yoga truly powerful is that connection between the mind and the body, but it has to be taught in a way that makes sense to people and resonates with their daily lives.

OT: Any fun summertime activities planned for the rooftop?
AJK: On the first Friday of each month starting in June, we have a BYOB happy hour after evening classes. People are welcome to invite friends who don’t do yoga to come for happy hour after class with us. We also do a rooftop concert series on select Saturday evenings during the summer from 8-10 p.m. We bring in a live musician for an hour-long practice and then afterwards, we offer dessert and drinks, and they’ll play another set and everyone can enjoy the music. Basically, I’m finding as many ways as possible to work all the things I love into the studio.

CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
Coffee
Butter
Sunshine
Bodies of water
Music

ALL-TIME FAVES
Going out on the boat
at home in Texas
Cooking for people she loves
Enjoying a wonderful meal
Live music in small venues
Traveling and getting to
know the heart of the place

EAST SIDE MUST-HAVES
Rooftop yoga classes
Infused water
Yummy chocolates
Resting under the starry
indoor studio sky
Handmade self care items

East Side Yoga: 518 10th St. NE, DC; 202-600-9860; www.eastsideyogadc.com

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Alex Thompson

Alex is a fan of all things food and sports, as well as a writer. By day she is a nonprofit communications manager, and by night she is searching the District for the best cocktails, whiskey selection and cuisine. Check out her blog at hellofoodgirl.com and follow her on twitter at @sportsfoodalex.