DC Restaurant & Yoga Exploration: Yoga District & District Tea Lodge

For those of us lucky enough to have the funds, geographical access, and physical ability necessary to engage in a frequent studio yoga practice, moving to a different location can prove difficult, since doing so means bidding good-bye to a well-loved studio community and seeking out a new one in which to hopefully foster the same sort of connections and support group. Granted, cultivating a fulfilling yoga practice certainly does not require a studio membership or even a mat, necessarily—indeed, during the school year I happily practice yoga alone in my room, either guiding myself through the asanas or following along with a free podcast provided by Jivamukti teacher Jessica Sage Stickler, since I can’t easily access a studio near campus without a car.

That’s yours truly in the bright blue tank top with the short brown hair at my hometown studio.

While I find that a solo practice does minimize distractions and eliminate any tendency of judgment or one-upmanship toward other yogis, it lacks a sense of community, of “We’re-in-this-together-even though-this-advanced-arm-balance”-ness, of powerful energy only generated by a room full of individuals united in a physical manifestation of peace. Not only can yoga studios provide a supportive group of oft like-minded people, they also play an integral role in developing the base of a safe and joyful yoga practice for newcomers, as well as in offering the advanced yogic knowledge (physical, mental, and spiritual) necessary for longtime yogis to continue to find excitement in their practice.

Returning to the notion of finding a new yoga studio after moving to a different area, I’ve shifted between three studios in the past year thanks to moves from my hometown of Madison, WI to Vassar College in New York, and from Vassar to my summer home of Washington D.C. Madison offers the heated, fast-paced intensity of Inner Fire, at which my love of yoga first blossomed; New York offers the deep spirituality, advanced physicality, and vegan philosophy of Jivamukti (though I don’t visit the studio as often as I’d like since it requires a two-hour train ride from Vassar to get there); and DC offers the unpretentiousness, activist-oriented programming of Yoga District.

Boasting six brightly sunlit, immensely welcoming studio spaces around DC, Yoga District features a variety of classes from beginner to advanced, vinyasa to kundalini, and yogalates to AcroYoga. The studio strives to render the innumerable benefits of yoga financially accessible to as many individuals as possible with its yoga work/study program, sliding scale fees, and donation-based classes, providing a refreshing reminder of yoga’s humble roots—an aspect of the practice so often forgotten in an age of $20 drop-in classes and expensive yoga gear advertised as necessary for a “proper” practice ($40 for a mat towel? No thanks).

Yoga District’s vision of spreading the yogic message of peace, health, and overall wellbeing to those who may not otherwise find the practice manifests itself no better than in the studio’s Yoga Activist program. A nonprofit that partners yoga teachers with social service organizations, Yoga Activist runs on the notion that “every being deserves the  holistic benefits of yoga as a practical tool of empowerment, self-soothing, self-healing, and coping.” Yoga Activist currently partners with organizations that support cancer survivors and patients, domestic violence survivors, eating disorder patients and survivors, homeless communities, communities affected by HIV/AIDS, prisons, seniors, trauma survivors, veterans, and youth—and they’re ever willing to partner with more.

Image courtesy of Yoga Activist.

I would consider the Yoga Activist program social justice outreach at its finest, since it provides an effective method by which largely disenfranchised groups can cultivate a sense of autonomy in a society that’s toxic cultural norms previously overpowered them—this program functions as the antithesis of a Band-Aid solution. Indeed, a 1980 social study by Michael Dillbeck found that “during periods when large-scale Transcendental Meditation groups numbering more than 1% of the population were holding regular meditation sessions, researchers did find a statistically significant reduction in the rate of fatalities resulting from automobile accidents, suicides, and homicides in the United States.” The phenomenon discovered from this study, known as the Maharishi Effect, helps to prove the societal value of spreading yoga and meditation practices well beyond the affluent group to which the modern, Westernized realm of yoga primarily caters. Thankfully, programs like Yoga Activist accomplish just that.

Image courtesy of Yoga Activist.

Not only does Yoga District engage in hugely beneficial community outreach, it also succeeds where so many yoga studios fall short of fully embracing the integral yogic tenet of ahimsa (nonviolence)—it advocates veganism. Unlike Jivamukti in NYC, Yoga District does not directly incorporate discussion of a vegan lifestyle into the inspirational prose offered by its teachers, but the studio outspokenly supports a vegan lifestyle in other manners. For example, at the beginning of the summer, Yoga District students had to pay a $100 membership fee in order to participate in the studio’s unlimited monthly yoga program (to my understanding, Yoga District does not require membership anymore). However, in the spirit of offering maximally accessible yoga, the studio waived the membership fee for students, non-profit workers, and vegans. The fact that Yoga District legitimizes a vegan lifestyle in such a manner further highlights the studio’s commitment to truly fostering a just, equitable society for all.

Additionally, the I Street location of Yoga District features an all-vegan, high-raw café known as District Tea Lodge on the studio’s lower level. The wood-paneled, warmly lit dining space features a long communal table; a bar with kombucha on tap, behind which the cafe’s friendly chefs prepare fresh, seasonal, organic, and hugely nourishing fare; and a case displaying a daily selection of raw desserts. While the café certainly lives up to its namesake, boasting a wide selection of handcrafted tea blends, District Tea Lodge also knows a thing or two about handcrafting wholesome vegan noms. A creamy, optionally green smoothie; a fruity chia pudding; a “big daily bowl” with whole grains, plant-based protein, greens, veggies, and dressing; and raw cookies and puddings always grace the District Tea Lodge menu, though the specifics of these dishes varies according to produce seasonality and availability.

Tea Lodge communal table.

Tea Lodge communal table.

My experience at District Tea Lodge happened to fall on the same weekend during which my parents visited me in DC, so I had the pleasure of enjoying the humble café with my dear mother. The “big daily bowl” that day featured quinoa, steamed tempeh, lightly cooked kale, sliced cucumber, and julienned beets and kohlrabi in a choice of dressing (my mother and I both chose the creamy tahini dressing, but they also offer Asian amino and apple cider vinegar & oil). While I’ve long adored the blissful simplicity of the vegan bowl, this one erred on the side of ersatz rather than pleasantly uncomplicated. The bowl certainly showcased the fresh crispness and bold flavor of each individual veggie, but with its unseasoned tempeh, a fairly scant drizzling of tahini dressing, and an oddly disproportionate amount of quinoa to veggies (one can only eat so much plain quinoa without becoming bored, after all), I found myself quite underwhelmed with the dish.

Big Daily Bowl

Big Daily Bowl

Other offerings that day included a raw almond hummus with sliced cucumbers, a raw tomato-basil bisque, and a kohlrabi slaw in a creamy sunflower seed-basil dressing—my mother and I opted to split the latter. The kohlrabi slaw proved much more dynamic and enjoyable than the bowl, highlighting the earthy brightness of the kohlrabi and beet batons, yet harboring enough dressing to provide interest and textural contrast.

Almond hummus with cucumbers.

Almond hummus with cucumbers.

Kohlrabi slaw.

Kohlrabi slaw.

Though perhaps the newly opened District Tea Lodge’s savory offerings require a bit of improvement, its selection of nourishing, wholesome raw sweets has already reached top quality. Equally as simple as the cafe’s savory fare yet much more satisfying and gastronomically captivating, District Tea Lodge’s daily dessert variety includes artfully prepared raw cookies, brownies, tarts, mousses, and chia puddings in dynamic yet familiar flavors. On the night of our visit, the café featured a mango pudding tart, a chocolate avocado mousse, a pecan brownie, and almond cookies with either cashew-chocolate or raspberry frosting. My mother and I partook in the first two options, reveling in the creamy, healthful decadence of our strawberry-topped dessert selections. While I harbor absolutely no qualms with the impeccable pudding-y portions of our desserts, the very small criticism that I must make regards the somewhat dry, crumbly texture of the mango tart’s crust—an issue easily remedied by a more thorough blending of nuts and dates in the food processor.

Raw dessert case.

Raw dessert case.

Mango tart.

Mango tart.

district tea lodge (1)

Chocolate mousse.

Relatively in keeping with Yoga District’s mission of affordability, District Tea Lodge’s fare proves quite inexpensive ($8 for a generously sized daily bowl, $3-5 for a side such as the almond hummus, and $4 for a dessert), especially when compared to most all other high-raw restaurants I’ve visited, as well as to other DC-area restaurants of the cafe’s caliber—the daily bowl closely parallels the cost of a Chipotle entrée, for goodness’ sake! District Tea Lodge’s teas, however, cost a much prettier penny: $5 for a single mug of tea. I do understand the expense, though, seeing as the café ethically sources the teas, herbs, and spices featured in its blends.

Needless to say, I’ve developed a close kinship with the Yoga District community, both with its yoga classes and teachers as well as its support of a vegan lifestyle. I’ll fondly remember my immensely positive experiences with the studio after returning to Vassar this upcoming weekend, and intend to return for a drop-in class if I ever find myself in the DC area again.

Until next time, Ali.

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