Kathy Donnelly discovered yoga about 12 years ago, when her three sons were 2, 3 and 5 years old.
"I really needed a way to have time for myself," she said.
So she rented yoga videos from the library and began doing the routines early in the morning, before the rest of her family woke up.
"I felt like when I did yoga I was a better mom," she said. "I felt like I was different in the world on the days I did yoga. It released the stress in my body, and I felt connected to myself."
Now, she is director of the Yoga Center of Columbia, which has 14 instructors teaching about 70 classes a week ranging from prenatal and family yoga to dynamic yoga, Pilates and ultra-gentle yoga.
She took over the center in January 2004, after the owner, Bob Glickstein, retired, she said.
Since taking charge, she has added classes, including a "Baby and Me" class for infants younger than 9 months, and she has brought meditation to the center, taught by the Stillwater Mindfulness Community and the Zen Community of Columbia.
"I had been teaching here for 6 1/2 years, so I was the logical transition person," Donnelly said of her move to director.
The center opened about 14 years ago. It has remained in the same location -- in the Parkridge Plaza Building, off Route 108 in Columbia -- but it has expanded from a single room to three yoga rooms and a wellness center offering massage, Reiki, a Japanese method of reducing stress, and other "healing modalities," Donnelly said.
Donnelly, 52, was a computer programmer before stopping to stay home with her children. She continued to make pottery, and she led retreats with Bon Secours, a health care ministry.
She decided she wanted to teach yoga to the people on the retreats. So in 1998 and 1999, she came to the Yoga Center of Columbia for the center's 10-month training program.
"And what I discovered, before it even ended, was that I wanted to teach yoga," she said.
After she graduated, Donnelly developed a yoga program at the YMCA in Westminster, and she began teaching yoga as a substitute at the Yoga Center. In 2000, she joined the center as full-time instructor.
The center offers a variety of yoga classes, but Donnelly said the focus remains on "classic yoga classes." The instructors at the Yoga Center work there full time or work in related fields.
Pilates teacher Karen Best said she has been practicing Pilates since 1985, and she has been teaching it since 1997. She teaches about 65 students in eight classes a week.
"A lot of places have college students who do it part time or moms who are hobbyists," she said. But not the Yoga Center.
"What we keep is the classical principles of yoga," said Donnelly, "which are integrating the mind, body and spirit. ... I'm very proud that we have such high quality here at the Yoga Center, with very well-trained teachers."
She also noted that the yoga classes are not just for the skinny and fit. The gentle and ultra-gentle classes are taught by a registered nurse, Debbie Jensen, who is attuned to the needs of students recovering from injuries or surgery. Those classes are limited to 10 participants.
Donnelly has introduced minisessions, which last a month instead of the usual three months. Workshops, which are one-day classes on topics such as "Couples Yoga for Valentines Day" or "Yoga for Your Type" (Sunday), have been expanded.
Not all workshops are held at the Yoga Center. Donnelly recently led a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. Twenty-nine people, including herself, attended the Pura Vida Spa, she said.
Though more women than men attend the Yoga Center, the male population is increasing. The center is holding a session of "Real Men Do Yoga" on March 11 to capitalize on this interest.
Classes have been added because people have asked for them, Donnelly said. "People have asked for the family yoga, they've asked for the baby yoga, and we listen," she said.
Diane Miller of Clarksville said she has been attending the Yoga Center with her friend Jennifer White of Ellicott City for a couple of years, usually going twice a week. On Monday, they both glowed as they left the 90-minute "Yoga 1-2" class.
"I like the stretching," said Miller. I think it really helps me stay in shape. ... I miss it when I don't make it."
Both women praised instructor Rimmi Singh, who has been teaching at the Yoga Center for about 3 1/2 years, she said. "She makes it worthwhile," said Miller.
Though White joked that "we call it torture class," she acknowledged that Singh allows class participants go at their own pace, doing only what feels comfortable.
Barbara Ely of Ellicott City said she has been taking classes at the center for about four years. The women praised the center's liberal make-up policy, which allows them to take other classes when they miss their own.
And Ely said she has started getting massages at the center, taking advantage of a relatively new offering. "It's a nice add-on to the yoga practice," she said.
The Yoga Center of Columbia is at 8950 Route 108, Suite 109, in Columbia. Information: 410-720-4340, or www.columbiayoga.com.