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With a license plate on her car that reads “Yoga2Go” and an “Om” tattoo written in Sanskrit on her arm, you could say Vienna resident Dawn Curtis is pretty committed to yoga.

“In 1989 I was an executive assistant to a CEO, and I was always very stressed,” she says of how her passion for eastern fitness began. “I was in a grocery store in Great Falls and I saw a flier on the wall for yoga classes. They were very informal and in a woman’s home, so I gave it a shot.”

From there, Curtis began attending classes regularly and eventually became a yoga teacher herself.

“I was a traveling yogi, teaching part-time, primarily in Reston,” she said.

In 2004, she made a fateful decision. “After my second teaching certification, I decided to quit my corporate job altogether and made a vow that I would open my own studio in five years,” Curtis said.

She did it in two. In 2006, her studio, the East Meets West Yoga Center, opened on Vienna’s Church Street in a 1,300-square-foot facility. Two years later, it moved to a larger, 6,000-square-foot Vienna location on Old Courthouse Road. Today, the facility is open every day, employs 20 instructors and serves about 1,000 clients a week.

Curtis attributes the local popularity of yoga to what she says are its proven therapeutic benefits.

“Stress and anxiety relief, the lowering of both blood pressure and cholesterol, the increase of both flexibility and mobility, and aiding with insomnia,” she said. “Many people in the DC area are under constant stress, like I once was, and it just feels good to decompress with yoga.”

Last year, Curtis approached the management of the new Mosaic shopping district in Merrifield and asked if she could teach a free class, open to anyone, in the small park area in front of the Angelika Film Center and its large outdoor video screen.

“They liked the idea and even said they would let us show serene images of nature on the big screen during the class,” she said. “They even approached some local businesses who now provide coupons for free coffee and other things to participants.” The free outdoor class--taught Sunday mornings from 9-10 a.m., April through October--is open to anyone who cares to attend. On Aug. 11, it set a new attendance record with 72 participants, according to Curtis.

“Participants range in age from eight to 68,” she said. “Most people bring their own yoga mats, but I keep a few extras in case people who just walk by want to participate. You’d be surprised how often that happens.”

Gina Mickane, 54, said she has been attending the free class since April. “I live right across the street from the Dunn Loring Metro station, so it is very easy for me to get here, and I love being able to exercise outdoors.”

Inna Cook, 33, of Vienna also said she loves exercising outside. “I’ve been doing this for only a few weeks but I love it. Outside time for me is very valuable. I used to exercise more before I had kids, but I sort of stopped, so when this free opportunity came up, I grabbed it.”

Of the record 72 participants last Sunday, seven-- or about 10 percent--were men. “That’s about average,” said Curtis, adding that ironically, when yoga began approximately 5,000 years ago in India, it was a predominantly male activity. “I’m always looking for the guys who come out,” said Dan Nelson, 29, one of the free outdoor class instructors. Sometimes I’m the only one out here, and sometimes we get a few more.”

Worldwide, Curtis says both men and women are becoming better acquainted with yoga practices, which incorporates moves representing the spectrum of life, from the “Happy Baby” pose to the “Corpse” pose.

“In 2008, it was estimated that about 8 million people practiced regularly,” Curtis said. This year that number is estimated at 20 million. Anyone who wants to try it out for free can come to the Mosaic on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. through October, and we will be happy to accommodate them. ”

gmadonald@fairfaxtimes.com