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Thoughts from Annie

Celebrating 15 Years!

Dear Friends,

Sydnea Lewis, Circle Yoga’s Marketing and Design Manager

This week we are very happy to be celebrating the 15th anniversary of Circle Yoga Cooperative (CYC). The very first day of teaching in the current building was March 17, 2003. Of course, it wasn’t yet the studio we all know and love. That day, I offered one Budding Yogis kids class in the space which we now know as the retail and office space. The walls were decorated with enormous paper flowers and a colorful kids chart of the chakras. I think we had two students.

I am in awe at how this community has grown and prospered over these many years, from the tiniest seed of intention to now—a community of care where I’m often not even recognized when I walk in the door. It’s a wonder to see how when something wants and needs to be born, it will be. In 2003, already the mother of four elementary age children, I heard the call of this studio/community center/healing space and in tiny baby steps, CYC was born.

Riley Hager and Eva Schulman

What I find most intriguing about the birth of Budding Yogis/Circle Yoga, is that my energy and inspiration came not from happiness and joy, but from tragedy and a longing to help change what felt like a scary situation.

The very first inklings of this space that many of us call our spiritual home arose on September 11, 2001. My husband and I returned from a day trip to Pennsylvania to retrieve our four children from at a friend’s home where they were huddled in front of the television, after having been released early from school. I had already been struggling with depression for over a year at that point, and seeing my children’s faces activated my deepest fear response.

My mom’s twin brother had recently taken his own life, which knocked a lot of the life out of my mom and subsequently our family. The year before that, I gave up all intoxicants as part of my Buddhist training. I found that facing life without any substance escape threw me into a pretty dark mind space.

So on September 12, as I reflected on all of the suffering, within and without, a small voice of love spoke up from inside me. It reminded me that I always had some ability to help. Even if it was small, I knew making an effort would benefit my mental state and possibly make a wee bit of difference in the world.

So I sent an email to Coleman McCarthy, who at that time was teaching Alternatives to Violence at Wilson High School. I had heard about his work teaching peace, and I thought perhaps I could be a part of his movement. He put me in touch with Marsha Blakeway who was leading peer mediation at Alice Deal Junior High School.

Kids at Lafayette Elementary

Right away, I met with Marsha and began assisting in her work at Deal. I also approached my son’s third grade teacher and asked if she would like me to come in once a week to teach her class about mindfulness, nonviolent communication and conflict resolution. She liked the idea, and so I began leading this class for her and another 3rd grade class at Lafayette Elementary. I loved teaching the kids and found they were most amenable to mindfulness when it involved their bodies, so I wove in some of what I knew about yoga from my own practice.

When I learned about a program in teaching yoga to kids, being offered in New York city, I jumped at the chance to have a fun solo New York weekend and learn skills I could add to my tool bag. At the Next Generation Yoga training, I met another woman from DC and we hit it off. Her name is Linda Feldman, you may know her. We exchanged numbers and agreed to stay in touch.

I began teaching kids yoga at my gym (F.I.T. in Bethesda), and then expanded to offer after school classes at Lafayette also. Linda offered yoga classes at her kids’ nursery school. The Lafayette classes filled up immediately and I held them in the music room, which unfortunately had no windows and a carpet that smelled like stinky feet, and we were often interrupted by noisy adults. At the same time, I expanded the in-class conflict resolution and mindfulness classes to include the Lafayette sixth graders. I met with all 60 sixth graders at once in the cafeteria for a weekly guided meditation and mindfulness session.

Eventually I realized I needed my classes to be in a location where I could create a beautiful, safe and welcoming space for the children. I had begun to see how stressed and anxious all my students were, and I really wanted to be a part of a solution in which kids could learn to reduce anxiety by being more present and in touch with their bodies. Yoga had helped me relax, and I wanted to share this relaxation with the kids.

Circle Yoga Building, circa 2003

The first potential space I stumbled upon that felt right was the current Circle Yoga space. I called the number on the For Lease sign and the owner told me that it was no longer for lease. I never even saw the inside. So I spent another 9-12 months looking around as I carpooled kids to sports and music lessons. I visited a couple of other spaces, but nothing seemed right. The first space I had contacted, which at the time was 5615 39th Street NW, was a former residential apartment building with a front yard surrounded by a dilapidated chain link fence. But something about it just felt right.

The For Lease sign continued to stay up on the building, so I finally called the owner again and asked him what was up. He said that the building sale had fallen through so the space was now available and did I want to come and see it. I sure did. I was offered the one room that is now the office and retail space. There was no door from Northampton Street, you could only enter from the hallway off of 39th Street. When I leased the space I brought in two file cabinets and an old door to make a desk, got a land line phone (!), hung a few posters and I was off and running.

Annie Mahon and Linda Feldman

I called Linda and she was happy to come and help teach, as long as we could get students. We posted signs around the neighborhood for the kids and family classes we were offering in our little room. The kids trickled in at first, and then more quickly as people found us. Daily parents would ask if we could please offer classes for them. I was already doing my adult teacher training with Suzie Hurley at Willow Street Yoga, so we decided to try some adult yoga classes. They were a success!

My husband and I decided to invest in the studio by buying the building and renovating it so we could expand and have the retail space, the office areas and three studio spaces. After that, we could start hiring more adult teachers, and offering classes for all ages. We also now had space for a front desk, which meant that students waiting before and after class could have a friendly face to talk to. This was an integral part of our healing program, and we told the front desk staff that they were our students’ first yoga teachers.

Even as we worked long hours and were never sure if we would get enough students, my despair lifted, and I felt as if I had a purpose. I believe that without my depression, without the tragedy of September 11 and the following sniper and anthrax scares in DC, the studio would not have been born. From the mud of that fear, the lotus of our studio was able to grow. Without the mud, there can be no lotus.

I remember hearing my Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, share about his motivation to begin the Plum Village community of practice, which now includes millions of practitioners all around the world. He was in deep despair over the loss of his mother and his exile from Vietnam. He knew he had to do something to heal, and that is when he decided he must take every single step in mindfulness. He recognized that his healing relied on the healing of others, and step by step he invited others to practice with him. His despair led to the healing of so many people.

So the studio continued to grow and grow. I gave up the classes I was teaching at Lafayette, and found an energetic and brilliant woman (Linda Ryden) to take over. She transformed these few classes into what is now the premier elementary school Peace Studies program in the country, The Peace of Mind. And Circle Yoga serves nearly 1000 students each week in classes, workshops and events for anyone and everyone.

As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of Circle Yoga, I would like to ask you to consider your own challenges, your own despair over the situations we face today in our world. What new practice or offerings are calling you? What are you longing to do to help yourself and in doing so help our world?

What shape waits in the seed of you to grow and spread its branches against a future sky? —David Whyte (What to Remember When Waking)

I hope you will post your callings, your dreams, your despairs, your memories and your photos on our Facebook page over the next month to inspire yourself and all of us to go ahead and step into what is calling us out of our darkness.

With love,
Annie.

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20 Comments

  1. Karen on March 21, 2018 at 7:09 am

    What a beautiful story and so inspiring. Thank you for sharing and congratulations. The studio and the community has changed my life and I am forever grateful.

    • Annie Mahon on March 21, 2018 at 9:46 am

      Thanks, Karen… so love having you in the community! xo

  2. Jill Watson on March 21, 2018 at 7:25 am

    Thank you so much, Annie, for this inspiring history of the birth of Circle Yoga. You are one of the strongest people I know, gentle-strong. I have benefited so much, since I started in your class in 2005, from the wonderful, nurturing, safe atmosphere of the Studio, and it is even more of a haven in these distressing times. What a journey you have shared with us. Thank you again, Jill

    • Annie Mahon on March 21, 2018 at 9:59 am

      Dear Jill… THANK YOU for replying to this, I am so so happy to hear from you. It’s been a long time, and you were definitely one of my first adult students, back in the day. How wonderful that you continue to be supported by our community. sending you much love, annie.

  3. Beth Cartland on March 21, 2018 at 7:59 am

    Dear Annie – thank you for your dream to help, your vision to see and your determination to carry thru so that all of us who come to Circle Yoga may find a space, a place, to practice and heal in our own ways. Congratulations to you and all the wonderful teachers at Circle Yoga.

    • Annie Mahon on March 21, 2018 at 10:02 am

      Thank you, Beth. Circle Yoga was my fifth child (possibly the easiest to raise) and so happy that CYC is a vibrant part of the community and can support so many people. xo

  4. Jura Koncius on March 21, 2018 at 8:33 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey and the journey of Circle Yoga. It is so helpful to know the history of this healing place and makes it all the more welcoming and meaningful. Jura

    • Annie Mahon on March 21, 2018 at 10:03 am

      Hi Jura! Glad you enjoyed the story — it really has been quite a journey and demonstrates true community healing — run by the community for the community. xo annie.

  5. Nancy on March 21, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Dear Annie, You are an inspiration. Watching you and the growth of Circle Yoga and reading your book, Things I Did When I was Hangry demonstrates that vulnerability and being REAL isn’t easy but required to heal and blossom. Your lead by example and I so appreciate that.

    • Annie Mahon on March 21, 2018 at 10:05 am

      Dear Nancy, thank you for your note and your many years of holding the mindfulness community at Circle Yoga. You are an integral part of what makes this all come together in the beautiful way that it does. Hope you’re snowed in somewhere cozy today. xo

  6. Joan Meier on March 21, 2018 at 9:17 am

    Dear Annie, what a wonderful story – so inspiring and heart-warming. And it resonates even more deeply with me, as DV LEAP is also 15 years old!! We will be having our 15th anniversary celebration this Fall. I love the idea that our two projects to bring hope and joy to the world were born the same year! Much love.

    • Annie Mahon on March 21, 2018 at 10:06 am

      Oh wow, Joan! That’s so cool that we birthed healing organizations the same year. Like Irish twins 🙂 I hope you and DV LEAP are well… hope to see you one of these days. xo annie.

  7. Barbara on March 21, 2018 at 9:23 am

    Dear Annie,
    Thank you for creating this beautiful, safe and peaceful space for your community! I remember that small space where it all began and even though it took me a few more years to become a more regular student, once I started there was no turning back! I love Circle Yoga. I love your story. I love how welcoming it feels to walk through the front door. I love you and all the teachers dedicated to helping all of us who walk through that door. I am forever grateful. Congratulations!!

    • Annie Mahon on March 21, 2018 at 10:08 am

      Dear Barbara, thank you for sharing your experience with Circle Yoga. We are so glad you did walk through that door, and of course it doesn’t matter when, just that you did. I know CYC will have many more years of welcoming presence thanks to the amazing men and women who make it happen these days – Anne Kennedy, Linda Feldman, Gayle Hager, Sarah Brown, Penny Bell, Jen Pape, and so many others !! xo

  8. Penny on March 21, 2018 at 11:15 am

    I thought I already knew the story of how Budding Yogis and Circle Yoga got started, Annie, but I learned so many new things from your piece! Amazing to hear how the peace studies program at Lafayette Elementary has grown, as well as our studio, and inspiring to think about ways our own struggles might be able to lead to healing for others in turn. xo

    • Annie Mahon on March 22, 2018 at 10:42 am

      Thanks Penny! So glad you have been a part of CYC for so long- nearly the very beginning! Xo

  9. Mary Kate Cranston on March 21, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    Dear Annie: Congratulations on 15 years of Circle Yoga! I had no idea how Circle Yoga started. I only know how much I and so many others love it as a place of centering and healing. Your story is inspirational and you have grown something very special here in DC; something that is near and dear to everyone who comes in contact with it. Thank you so much for sharing how Circle Yoga came to be and may you have many, many more years of success in helping others.

    • Annie Mahon on March 22, 2018 at 10:44 am

      Thank you so much, Mary Kate, for sharing how the studio has impacted your life. I am just grateful to everyone who shows up to take class or work the desk or teach every day so this community can continue to thrive and grow. Xo Annie

  10. Gayle on March 21, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    Annie- thank you for sharing the history of Circle Yoga. It certainly brings back memories! Thank you also for including the photo of (much younger) Riley and Eva.

    I really miss seeing you around the studio!

    • Annie Mahon on March 22, 2018 at 10:46 am

      Hi Gayle! I miss seeing you too – how did we ever get work done in addition to our support group we had for each other? Y’all carried me along through so many challenges and celebrated together so many joys. Thank you for being there and being such an important part of CYC for so long. Love

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