Unity Woods: 30 Years | iHanuman


Love, Service, Devotion, Yoga

Unity Woods: 30 Years

It's such a cliché to remark on the speedy passage of time. Nonetheless, I have to trot out the "how time flies" line to comment on the arrival this year of Unity Woods' 30th anniversary. To tell you the truth, things are tumbling by so fast and there so much going on that I might have missed noticing it altogether had I not been prompted by the ubiquitous accolades to local (and national) media star, Diane Rehm, on her 30th anniversary. That's when I said to myself, "Hey, Unity Woods has been around for 30 years, too."
30 years! Wow! Hard to know what to say. I can't say it seems like we jut got started yesterday. It doesn't. On the other hand, there is certainly nothing stale or routine about it either. Each day brings new challenges and new adventures...sort of like a yoga practice. Same poses; brand new experience. And in a way, Unity Woods has been a reflection of my yoga practice and the practice of the many wonderful people who throughout all these years have made up and continue to make up the creature known as Unity Woods.
That's a noteworthy point right there, the one about the practice of the Unity Woods' folks, because every person who has worked at Unity Woods - the teachers, obviously (or maybe not so obviously in this day and age), and the administrative staff as well - has been a yoga practitioner. I have no doubt that the great reputation we have and the steadiness that we are known for are a result of the fact that the actual practice of yoga, Iyengar Yoga specifically, is at the heart of everything we do.
Anniversaries are, of course, milestones, opportunities to take stock of where the path has led, to reflect on choices made, to reminisce about people and events, to contemplate what it all means. There have been some very significant events in our 30 year history which help to define who we are and describe the trajectory that has brought us to this point. There is no way to include them all in the space available here, but I will share a few of what are to me the most noteworthy. I'll be able to expand on the story at the discussion group on March 7.
I guess the place to start is at the beginning. Unity Woods came into being, as I said in the Channel 8 interview, as a result of my desire "to share my enthusiasm and the benefits of yoga with as many people as I can." I had already been practicing yoga for nine years and teaching for six when I decided that yoga was going to be the focus of my life. Since that meant doing what I needed to do to support myself by teaching full time, I decided to give myself a business name. The word yoga, derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, means yoke or union and reflects the basic concept of interconnectedness, or unity, that underlies yoga philosophy. Naturally, I wanted the name to relate to yoga in some way. At the time I lived on 48 acres near Thurmont, MD where I intended to open a retreat center: forty acres was wooded. I've always felt at home in the woods and feel a sense of serenity in the soft majesty of the forest. Thus, in 1979 Unity Woods Yoga Center was born.
I taught by myself - I was Unity Woods - until the summer of 1984, at which point I asked my most advanced pupil, Betty Marx (Liz was Betty in those days), to begin teaching with me. From that point on, Unity Woods was no longer just John Schumacher.
By 1985, I was longing for a space to focus my teaching energies. Our student population had grown to the point (about 200 students) that I felt that it might be financially possible to rent a space and open a fulltime yoga studio. I say "might" because at that time, as far as I know, no one in the Washington, DC area had operated a full time self-sustaining yoga studio devoted solely to yoga, so who knew if it could really be done. We opened the Bethesda, MD studio that year, offering classes in the Triangle Towers building in downtown Bethesda. Needless to say, things have worked. From a small space on the third floor, we later moved to a penthouse studio on the sixteenth floor, which gradually expanded to two studios and a suite of administrative offices.
The next significant event in our history occurred three years later. By then, running the business part of Unity Woods had become more than I could manage by myself. I had had some help before then, but in 1988, Esther Geiger took on the job of administrator. There is no history of Unity Woods without Esther. From the day she took the job, she has been an integral part of every aspect of the center.
The summer of 1990 saw a major red letter event in the history of Unity Woods. We were extremely fortunate and highly honored to have B.K.S.Iyengar visit us for several days. Very few centers have ever had the privilege of hosting Mr. Iyengar. On that trip, he came to see the Bethesda studio and found time to take in the sights of Washington. The entire yoga community had an opportunity to experience the power of his presence at a talk and a demonstration of yoga therapeutics sponsored by Unity Woods at the main auditorium of the University of the District of Columbia.
We were doubly blessed to have Guruji return to Washington in fall of 2005 as the last stop on his tour to celebrate the release of his wonderful book, Light On Life. He capped off his tour with a program we sponsored at Lisner Auditorium at The George Washington University. He is now 91 years old, so this was probably his last trip to visit his North American Iyengar Yoga community. Nothing in Unity Woods' history can top these two visits by B.K.S. Iyengar, the source and inspiration for the yoga we practice and teach at Unity Woods.
In 1991, one year after Guruji's first visit to Washington, Iyengar Yoga came to Washington, DC proper when we opened the Woodley Park studio.
Five years after that, we opened the Ballston studio, which gave us a presence in each of the three major jurisdictions in the area. By 2002, we were the largest studio in the area, and with nearly three thousand students weekly, one of the largest yoga centers in the country. We were and still are the largest Iyengar Yoga center in North America.
When contemplating the numbers, we estimate that we have taught yoga to more than 40,000 different students in our 30 year history. That means that yoga has become a part of a lot of people's lives as a result of the efforts of all the folks who have made up Unity Woods - teachers and staff alike.
Our influence has not been limited to only our own students. Many of the more senior yoga teachers in the Washington area - Suzie Hurley, owner of Willow Street Yoga Center; SusanVan Nuys, owner of Health Advantage Yoga Center; JJ Gormley. Founder of Sun and Moon Yoga Center - were long time Unity Woods students, and members of the next generation of teachers and studio owners are coming to classes and workshops to refine their practice and teaching and see how we do things.
Since we were the first yoga center in town, we also published the first yoga center newsletter in the area. "Publish" is a rather grand term for what actually took place. In the beginning, I typed the newsletter at home on an old electric typewriter, copied it at the local copy center, hand addressed the copies, and carried them to the post office. There were maybe a couple of hundred newsletters. Later, when it became too overwhelming to do them all myself, I used to have a newsletter day at which I taught a free class, served a brunch of bagels, cheese, fruit, and juice, and whoever came to the class stayed and helped paste pre-printed address labels on the newsletters and sorted them for bulk mailing. Although it has changed in a lot of ways over the years, the newsletter has always had the Namaste column. The photo was added early on. Some of you may remember that, for a while, it was underlined by a corny pun that related to the pose pictured on the cover (e.g., for Kapotasana [Pigeon Pose] the caption read, "Unity Woods is bending over backwards to bring you the finest yoga instruction"). Now the newsletter is as you see it. We print 10,000 of them and mail about 6,000 to nearly every state in the union and every continent except the Arctic and Antarctic. If you look at the newsletters of the centers that publish them, you will see they look remarkably like Unity Woods' newsletter. And our business model, particularly structuring classes in a session format rather than the ongoing drop-in class card method favored by gyms, fitness clubs, and some of the newer studios, has provided a template for most of Washington's largest centers.
Even so, we cannot rest on our laurels. The one constant in the universe (which includes yoga centers) is change. Word of mouth has always been and will continue to be the most important and productive way for people find out about Unity Woods. We used to rely on the Yellow Pages and newspaper advertising as the next line of support for marketing ourselves. Not anymore. Now our online presence has become the way to reach out to let folks know that we're here and what we're about. With that in mind we are getting ready to redesign our website to be even clearer and more user friendlier. And check out our fan page on Facebook as well.
That's just one example of the dynamic quality and creative vitality that has marked the 30 years of Unity Woods' existence. We have changed and grown in so many ways over that time, but I'm proud to say that we have done so without sacrificing our principles.
In an age where everything is instantaneous and superficiality abounds, we have continued to stress excellence and commitment as the means to fulfilling our mission as stated in our newsletter and online: "to offer uncompromising, quality yoga instruction to as extensive an audience as possible." That is the reason for Unity Woods' existence, and it's why we will continue to do our utmost to serve our students and our community.
One more thing: anniversaries are also opportunities for expressing appreciation and gratitude - sorrow and regrets, if that's the way it is - for what has happened over the years. For us at Unity Woods, it's appreciation and gratitude for the unswerving support that you, our students, have given over these three decades. Without you, we wouldn't have been here at all. You have provided us the opportunity to take the yoga we love and cherish so deeply and share it with you in the hopes of making your life healthier and more serene and with the intention of awakening the awareness that will make the world a better place for us all.
Thank you so much.


Receive a Heartfelt, Inspired Newsletter with Special Features, Seasonal Updates, and Coupon Codes for Use with Our Yoga Downloads.