Photo: Nick Donner
Photo: Nick Donner

Yoga with a View

Beer, brunch and even baby goats can be part of your yoga experience these days. If you’re new to the practice, or need a way to relax and play, these options are a great way to spend an hour. This summer, rooftops, parks and outdoor spaces all over town are hosting yoga classes (many of them free), and what could be more energizing than doing sun salutations by a sparkling pool overlooking our beautiful city?  

For that poolside experience, Epic Yoga holds morning classes on the roof of the Embassy Row Hotel in Dupont Circle. Start the morning with vinyasa flow high above the bustle of one of the most famous neighborhoods in DC. Purchase a pool pass at the front desk and you can make a day of it, swimming in the refreshing turquoise water and sunning before heading off to lunch, seeing an exhibition at the Phillips Collection or browsing the recently expanded stacks at Kramerbooks.

Live on the Hill? Rooftop yoga classes are held daily at East Side Yoga, where you’re invited to “feel the sunshine on your face as you practice amidst a lush, fragrant garden full of herbs and flowers.” It’s the first yoga business in DC to build an outdoor studio on its rooftop, and it’s become a warm, welcoming gathering place for neighborhood yoga enthusiasts. Soothing playlists mingle with the sound of birdsong from the trees, giving city dwellers a much-needed taste of nature. After evening classes, stick around for BYOB happy hour amongst the greenery.

Alexandra Martone leads classes at the Farm at 55 M Street, one of Up Top Acres’ urban farms growing on rooftops throughout the city.

“It’s right next to Nationals [Park], and has a gorgeous view of the city and the National Monument,” she says.

Her goal is to help “DC Type A people relax.” There are plenty of studios with a competitive edge, which is a natural impulse for the young, driven professionals who flock to the District. Instead, Martone wants to create a vibe that is welcoming to all body types and abilities.

“For me, yoga has been more of a personal practice,” she says. “I actually injured myself last summer. I kind of lost sight of what yoga is about.”

Martone has been practicing yoga for 10 years, since she was 15. As she became more flexible, the yogi started posting photos on social media in increasingly difficult and impressive poses.

“It’s fun to show people what you’re doing, but I probably got too caught up in it and pushed myself too hard.”

The instructor of three years is still recovering from her injury, taking it slow and bringing this experience to her students.

“I stepped back and reevaluated what I was doing,” she explains, after realizing, “everyone’s body is different. Don’t worry about what the person next to you is doing. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, just how it makes you feel.”

Kathleen O’Keefe, one of Up Top Acres’ three cofounders, says, “I often find yoga a bit intimidating, and studios a little too stuffy for my taste. I love being able to practice yoga outside, and think being able to take in the city skyline from a rooftop farm is a great respite from city life.”

This sentiment is echoed by Kelly Carnes, who has managed yoga classes on the Kennedy Center’s rooftop terrace and started the yoga program on the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden plaza in 2015.

“I like to have a lot of fun with my practice,” Carnes says. “I like to play, and I like to create accessibility points to yoga. There’s a stereotype that you have to be a fit, skinny, blond woman in expensive Lululemon pants. But yoga is beautiful because it’s diverse. It’s customizable, and it should be.”

Certified as a yoga instructor in India, she recently left a career in public relations to explore other aspects of life. She discovered Congressional Cemetery while walking her dog in the neighborhood. The 35-acre green space is an off-leash dog park. Now she teaches a weekly all-levels class, Yoga Mortis, at the cemetery, just up the street from the Stadium-Armory Metro stop.

“Cemeteries back in the 19th century, in the Victorian era, functioned as city parks,” she says, “because we didn’t have separate spaces for recreational activity.”

Families came to picnic and enjoy the warm weather and cool grass. After World War II, city parks were established, and cemeteries were neglected. Because it’s located next to Capitol Hill, people recognized the cemetery as a green space celebrated by dog walkers who got together to rehabilitate it.

She developed a communications plan for the cemetery, also a nonprofit organization, for her capstone project as a master’s degree candidate at Georgetown University. She recommended programming, including yoga, to revitalize the nearly forgotten park-like locale in the heart of the city.

She was excited about “the idea of being able to bring new people into the space who might not otherwise have an opportunity or even know about it. People can have a really fulfilling experience in the space that brings them joy.”

Her teaching style combines vinyasa poses and a lighthearted touch, usually based on a theme.

She’s particularly fond of epic movie soundtracks, using them as an inspiration for sequencing poses to tell a story with the body, keeping it safe, of course. She created a Batman class that incorporates wing shapes into the session, while her Star Wars program transforms the Warrior II pose into a Jedi vs. Sith battle. Students face each other across their mats, and “as we extend and come back down, we’ll bring our light sabers with us,” she says, making “zsoom” sounds mimicking a saber in action.

“When we squat down, we’ll be in our Yoda pose,” she adds.

Carnes wants to “put a smile on people’s faces so they don’t take it or themselves too seriously, and allow themselves to try something new.”

She doesn’t hesitate to play with the setting. On April 30 (the halfway point in the year to Halloween, and the peak of cherry blossom season), she led a zombie-themed class.

“It’s the best place outside of the tourist-ridden Tidal Basin to see the blossoms,” she explains. “It’s gorgeous, it’s magical.”

Clearly, they all had a lot of fun.

“We all dressed up in our zombie gear. I had a Halloween playlist, and we got spooky.”

If all this sounds too much for you, and you just want to relax in a pretty setting, Carnes sums it up best.

“There are plenty of studios, teachers and styles to try. Everyone is on their own personal journey, with their own body, goals and needs.”


Up Top Acres

Our cover story was shot on location at the Farm at 55 M Street, one of the best spots in DC to experience rooftop yoga and home to one of Up Top Acres’ urban farm spaces. Up Top was founded in 2014 by three friends: Kristof Grina, Kathleen O’Keefe and Jeff Prost-Greene. The DC natives met while attending Wilson High School, and after graduating from college, they regrouped with a bold idea to make “eat local” closer to home. They established a series of rooftop farms on high rises in DC and Maryland.

“I studied urban planning and have always been interested in how we can create more sustainable, holistic cities,” O’Keefe says. “I loved that rooftop farming intersects a lot of issues facing our cities today, from local food systems, to storm water management, to access to green space. Kristof, Jeff and I have strong ties to DC and our community, and wanted to start something that improves our hometown and the lives of the people that live here.”

They run five farms in all and host events at the M Street location. They offer yoga, farm tours, pop-up dinners with local chefs, tastings and cocktail hours.

“We want to open up our farms to as many people as possible,” O’Keefe says, “so we also host workshops about growing food and offer educational programming to local schools.”

For a list of Up Top Acres farms and events, visit www.uptopacres.com.


Outdoor Classes

East Side Yoga holds rooftop classes daily (times vary) in a lush garden of herbs, trees and flowers. After evening class, stick around for BYOB happy hour and watch the sun set over Capitol Hill. 518 10th St. NE, DC; www.eastsideyogadc.com

Epic Yoga on the roof of the Embassy Row Hotel in Dupont Circle invites preregistered yogis to Sunday morning vinyasa flow class by the pool at 8 a.m. 2015 Massachusetts Ave. NW, DC; www.epicyogadc.com

Free Outdoor Yoga at CityCenterDC is on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. through June 27. The huge space surrounded by swanky shops has room for dozens of yoga lovers. 10th & H Streets in NW, DC; www.citycenterdc.com

Monday Evening Yoga at 6 p.m. Up Top Acres urban farm means vinyasa among the vegetables. Breathe in the smell of fresh earth and tasty greens after a long day at work. The Farm at 55 M Street, 55 M St. SE; www.uptopacres.com

Spark Yoga in the Park features free yoga classes in Strawberry Park in Fairfax’s Mosaic District on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. and Thursday evenings at 6:30 p.m. All levels are welcome and no preregistration is necessary. Strawberry Park in Mosaic District, Fairfax, VA;
www.sparkyoga.com

Yoga Mortis is a drop-in class offered every Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Congressional Cemetery, either outdoors or in the picturesque chapel located at the heart of the 35-acre green space. The cemetery also serves as an off-leash dog park, so a friendly dog or two might join you. 1801 E St. SE, DC; www.congressionalcemetery.org

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Vanessa Mallory Kotz

Vanessa Mallory Kotz has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. She covers visual arts, fashion, food and anything that advocates for better treatment of humans and animals. Her work has appeared in Popular Photography, American Photo, The Writer's Guide, Hirshhorn Magazine, First Person Plural, Goucher Quarterly, AmericanStyle, Niche, Reflections: Ultra Short Personal Narratives and art catalogs for museums across the country.