February 22, 2024

‘Be in the moment’: Accessible yoga classes in DC focus on overall health

For three years now, Beth Kaplan has been teaching an outdoor yoga class in Tregaron Conservancy on Sunday mornings and trying to spread the word about the affordable, inclusive classes.

Beth Kaplan, yoga instructor at Tregaron Conservancy in DC (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

WTOP/Kate Ryan

Beth Kaplan instructs participants in an outdoor yoga class Sunday morning at Tregaron in Northwest DC (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

WTOP/Kate Ryan

Beth Kaplan instructs participants in an outdoor yoga class Sunday morning at Tregaron in Northwest DC (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

WTOP/Kate Ryan

Beth Kaplan instructs participants in an outdoor yoga class Sunday morning at Tregaron in Northwest DC (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

WTOP/Kate Ryan

Beth Kaplan discusses her yoga classes at Tregaron Conservancy (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

WTOP/Kate Ryan

Susan Linder is a longtime student of Beth Kaplan and chair of the Tregaron Conservancy Board of Directors (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

WTOP/Kate Ryan

Under a canopy of leaves, accompanied by a chorus of insects, Beth Kaplan’s sweet voice casts a spell over Twin Oak Meadow, as she teaches an outdoor yoga class one Sunday morning at the Tregaron Conservancy in Northwest DC

“You can bend your knees, it might feel better on the lower back… Look at the color of the leaves. Feel the wind on your skin,” said Kaplan, as she slowly led her class through a few stretches.

Her classes can vary from more than 10 people to three dedicated yogis on a very hot morning in the woodland gardens near the Woodley Park neighborhood. What never changes is how Kaplan begins his class – by having people introduce themselves and say why they’re here today or what they want to work on.

This short, thoughtful discussion sums up the overall message of Kaplan’s classes: yoga looks different for everyone, and anyone can use the practice to improve health.

There are older women with shoulder pain, men looking to stretch between morning runs, new moms who have never tried yoga before and dedicated yogis who will outline exactly what they are looking for.

“The studios where I was teaching, I felt like there was a lot of talk about yoga for everyone and every body … and everyone is welcome,” Kaplan told WTOP. “But when it came down to it, it didn’t really feel that way.”

She is training to be a yoga therapist after the pandemic changed her perspective on the type of yoga she wants to teach.

“I started thinking more and more about how much yoga has benefited me in terms of my life,” Kaplan said. “In terms of my health, and I started thinking about how yoga could really help a lot of people who really needed the community meeting, who were feeling isolated.”

So she took more training and began teaching online classes, including classes specifically for older adults Senior Villages in DC Kaplan found that teaching this more accessible yoga—not “the athletic kind of yoga you see, or see when you look at Instagram”—had a positive impact on her students’ health.

“I also started to become very interested in the phenomenon of pain, and why it is so difficult to deal with pain. And why so many traditional forms of health care don’t work for many people. And so the idea of ​​yoga as something that could support health care was very interesting to me,” she said.

Kaplan started taking yoga classes in her 40s to help relieve back pain. Her personal emotional and physical pain also prompted her to quit her job as an academic librarian in 2018 to teach yoga.

“I was at a low level. My parents died after a long and difficult illness. When I fell, I broke my wrist, my left hand and my right elbow,” Kaplan said. “So I was kind of incapacitated by grief and pain, and I mean, I couldn’t do anything. And it made me stop and be quiet.”

After realizing that “life is short,” she took a teacher training course at a local studio and began teaching classes around DC

Before the pandemic, Kaplan taught at a few yoga studios and held lunchtime sessions at places like the National Gallery of Art. She currently hosts online Zoom classes and does personal yoga at Tregaron Conservancy from May to October.

Susan Linder, a longtime Kaplan student and chair of the Tregaron Conservancy’s board of directors, said she “started taking up yoga very skeptically” to help her chronic back pain.

“I thought, ‘I’m never going to make it,'” Linder said. “But what I’ve found is that you can’t just go to yoga for one session; you have to believe it’s worth it to keep showing up because the payoff is long-term.”

Linder emphasized that “there’s nothing magical about what’s involved,” but Kaplan taught her that it’s about how you approach each movement and listen to your body.

Kaplan agreed that it’s less about the practice or about it, and more about increasing “your ability to be aware, and to be in the moment, and to let go of expectations” during the practice.

“And to stop the chatter, which is a problem for so many of us,” Kaplan said. “And then when you get better at that, you can make better choices, and you can kind of help the nervous system to regulate in a better way so that you can handle whatever comes down the pike. And that’s the real benefit of yoga.”

Kaplan was first involved with Tregaron and met Linder as a volunteer gardener when the reclaimed woodlands became her “blessing” during the pandemic.

“And then the executive director asked if I would be interested in teaching a yoga class here. And it was in 2021. I was so happy,” said Kaplan. “And that was my first in-person class since the pandemic.”

For three years now, Kaplan has been teaching the Sunday morning yoga class and trying to spread the word about the affordable, inclusive classes. She used to have classes every weekend but now she has a week or two off a month, depending on her schedule and whether there are other events at Tregaron. She was The next class is on July 23rdand she recently uploaded two dates in August.

When WTOP asked Kaplan what she would tell people who are new to yoga but were worried about starting, she said that after taking that first class “you’ll feel good.”

She admitted that “it takes some guts” to sign up for a yoga class “you don’t know the space, you don’t know the people,” and you want a new kind of movement. But she said it’s worth the time and energy to commit to your health.

“The minute you sign up, you’re going to feel like, ‘I’m committed to trying something new, doing something for myself, for my health,'” Kaplan said.

As for exercising outside at Tregaron, it can be “a little dirty, a little dirty, a little sweaty,” but you’ll be joining a “very welcoming group” and taking the first step to improving your overall health, she said.

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