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Hill Staffers Stretch Away Their Stress With Yoga

Doug Graham/Roll Call
People perform yoga poses in the Upper Senate Park on July 22, 2010.

Laura Castagnino, center manager and head yoga instructor at Dahn Yoga, said several lawyers who take her lunch-hour yoga class have also come to rely on it: “They always say that on the days they don’t come to class, they have to stay at work late because they can’t focus to get their work finished on time.”

Yoga has many relaxing and meditative components. At Capitol Hill Yoga, instructors often begin class with an intention of the day, such as “never shy away from difficult times,” or “be comfortable with uncertainty.” Instructors try to give students a way to reflect in a healthy way on troubled areas of their lives while celebrating their accomplishments.

“As a former Hill staffer myself, I know well the high stress and long hours asked of staffers … it’s why I went to my first yoga class in 1999,” said Betsy Poos, co-owner and studio manager of Capitol Hill Yoga.

Spending more than a decade in the political sphere, Poos worked for former Rep. and current Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a lobbying firm before quitting her job to become a full-time yoga instructor.

She first started taking yoga to “remove myself from the day-to-day stresses,” she said, but classes became less of a getaway and more of a lifestyle. A few years later, she started teaching yoga after work, running from the Hill to gyms and yoga studios throughout the week.

“People actually noticed a shift in my personality after I started taking yoga,” she said. “I had always been a fast, competitive sort of person — as any Hill staffer would be — but the meditation was chilling me out.”

Poos thinks the physical aspect is what attracts newcomers to yoga. But yoga is also therapeutic.

Simone Litrenta, director of scheduling for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), started taking yoga a year ago after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The disease caused the young woman pain in her elbows, knees and ankles.

“I found that when I started going to yoga the pain subsided, and between yoga and my medication, I haven’t had much aching for over a year,” she said.

But as with most daily yoga practitioners, yoga became more than a physical exercise for her.

“When you work on the Hill, your mind is always going, and your days are not short by any means,” she said. “We can work from 8:30 a.m. to 6, 7 or 9 p.m. Work is constant, and there is always something going on in life. Yoga is the time where everything gets blocked out. No newspapers, no BlackBerrys, no TV, no cell phones — there are none of those distractions.”

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