Photo by Edgar Artiga

Slide open the door to the practice room at PureFire Yoga in Bethesda and you’re hit with a wall of heat. The temperature hovers around 95 degrees in the softly lit gray space. A fan whirs in the back. Students set out their mats, water bottles and towels to get ready for the hour ahead.

This is hot power yoga. The heat and humidity help warm the body and make for an intense workout, says Marcus Lee, a college football player turned yoga enthusiast who opened PureFire in September 2018. The 33-year-old played football as a kid in Bethesda’s Maplewood league and was a standout player and co-captain at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C. He was a record-setting wide receiver at Towson University, where he earned a degree in exercise science in 2009. Soon after graduation, Lee tried out for the NFL’s Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers, and two teams in the Canadian Football League. He didn’t get any offers and was considering his next steps when a college teammate invited him to a hot yoga class.

“In the first five minutes, I literally thought I was going to die. Understand, I was in the best shape of my life, but I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t hold a pose,” says Lee, who lives in Garrett Park. “The next day, my body—legit—felt like it was dipped in the fountain of youth. I thought, ‘Wait, I’m now discovering this?’ I felt freed up.”

Yoga has become an “anchor” in Lee’s life. “It keeps me centered both physically and mentally,” he says. Lee taught at local studios for nine years before opening PureFire with Bethesda resident Michael Brodsky, a yoga student of his who became his business partner. The studio offers about 30 classes a week, and they’re looking for additional space to accommodate the demand. The majority of classes are hot yoga; some are “warm” (85 degrees). “Some people just don’t like the heat,” Lee says.

When he’s teaching, Lee weaves among the mats, providing individual feedback, adjusting and demonstrating as needed. “I see how my words are landing in people’s bodies and hearts,” he says. In class, he tries to create a sense of connection. “People say when they walk in the studio, the vibe feels good here,” says Lee, who organizes happy hours for students at nearby bars and restaurants. “Like Cheers—everybody knows your name.”

Lee believes everyone should carve out time for yoga to cope with stress, despite how busy life gets. “We can be nicer people to one another and be kinder to ourselves,” he says. “We often operate in a reaction mode. How often do you see people lay on the horn in traffic, or belt out in Starbucks when the barista messes up the order? Yoga can give people the tools to give them that pause. The pause can make the difference.”