Yoga at the Park

   In working towards completing my student teaching hours, one of my friends, who is donating herself to receive free yoga sessions, suggested that since it was such a lovely day in late spring in Phoenix, Arizona, that we should go to the park and do yoga there. I admit I was a little skeptical, but she had four dogs that either walked among our feet and laid on our mats, and often had one or more of the people who lived in her house come home while we were in the middle of Warrior I, so I figured that the park couldn’t be filled with much more distraction.

   The city park was a mile from her house, and with a bit of organization on her part, she and her daughter picked up her daughter’s friend, and I followed them to the somewhat green area. She picked a spot that was mostly level and a fair distance from the parking lot and the two roads that bordered the park. The sun was out and there was a breeze. A family had set up a make-shift baseball diamond and were taking batting practice not too far away. Beyond them, an organized game of Little League Baseball was taking place. I unrolled my mat, tossed my blanket half on the grass (or what passes for grass in Phoenix parks), and placed my sequence, written out on a 5×7 index card, underneath my water bottle. We settled into Sukasana, and I began my instruction.

   First, I had to use my ‘outside’ voice. Between the distant cheers from the baseball game, the sound of traffic, and the breeze, it offered an obstacle that I wasn’t used to. I set the intention, introduced what we would be focusing on (I think at that time it was Ahimsa), and then we began to move. I had to change some of my vocabulary, such as ‘floor’ and ‘ceiling’ to ‘grass/ground’ and ‘sky’. As I led them from one posture to another, I found myself focusing on what I was saying, keeping an eye out for passers-by, and generally having to shift my attention from that of the alignment and energetics of the poses, to one of more . . . vigilance and concentration. During Savasana, instead of partaking in a mini-mediation as I typically do, I found myself being watchful for stray baseballs, loose dogs, and curious carriage pushers.

   Throughout the next several weeks, we met at the park to take advantage of the beautiful weather. I decided that this was an experience that perhaps not many other yoga teachers-in-training had the opportunity to do, so I took full advantage. The postures I chose and my intentions were based on the slightly uneven ground, which made using blocks a bit precarious. Balancing poses, as well, became more challenging. The words I used to lead them from pose to pose changed to reflect the outside environment. Overall, it was a great experience. Now that the temperatures have climbed, we’re relegated to the indoors, dogs and all.

   The list I’ve given here are some basic things to consider should you decide to lead a yoga class outside:

   1) If there is a breeze, consider using shoes, blocks, or water bottles to hold down the corners of the mats.

   2) Make sure to bring plenty of water, and talk loudly.

   3) Have a simple explanation for what you’re doing (you might be asked by people strolling by), and a gentle reason why others can’t join your ‘exercise class’.

   4) Consider using a large beach towel instead of your usual blanket (mine collected grass, leaves, and a few burrs from the ground).

   5) Choose an area that is level (or as level as you can find), far enough away from most of the traffic (both vehicular and pedestrian) to limit distraction, and consider the temperature and whether finding a spot near a large tree might not be beneficial.

   6) Remain vigilant for anything that might add an extra challenge to your class, as your students will, to the best of their ability, be inside their own experience.

   I enjoyed our time outside. It offered me a chance to practice in a different space and to contend with unexpected interruptions and distractions. I true test to my own practice! To read some other tips on yoga, visit my web site Let me know where else you have practiced some asana and feel free to share your suggestions.