Today's yoga is going places
FONTANA — Looking for a yoga class? One may be as close as your neighborhood park, local beach or even nearby farm.
Yoga instructors are seeing a surge of interest in the centuries-old practice for a variety of reasons, from reducing stress and building a body-mind connection to losing weight and strengthening balance.
“I think a lot of health care providers are recommending yoga to more of their patients because as a growing population ages, they need to switch to activities kinder on their bodies,” said Stefanie Kuerschner, owner of True Studio in Janesville. “Yoga is a great workout that keeps you flexible and doing the things you love to do.”
More yoga instructors also are moving some of their classes from the studio to scenic settings like a lakeshore or a garden.
Taking yoga outdoors not only offers a change of scenery but provides other benefits, like a healthy dose of vitamin D through sunshine, said Aislynn Schacht, a yoga instructor at Big Foot Recreation Department, who's been teaching yoga at Country Club Estates Beach in Fontana for the last four years.
“Something about moving in our body while feeling the warm sun on our skin, breathing in the fresh air and plugging our feet into the sand, with the meditative calming scenery of the lake and the sounds of nature around us ... ahhh,” Schacht wrote in an email. “The health benefits of being in nature plus all the benefits of yoga equals one super healthy treat of a class.”
ClearWater Outdoor, an apparel and outdoor gear retailer with a location in Lake Geneva, offers H20 & Body classes, which feature an hour of yoga at a local park or beach followed by a sunset trip on Geneva Lake on a paddleboard.
“People love our lake, it's so beautiful. Many people also use the lakeshore path or the beach. These are just nice perks, and holding class outdoors is a nice way to enjoy the community that you live in,” said Shannon Blay, who coordinates classes and events at ClearWater.
The retailer also offers stand-up paddleboard — or SUP — yoga, where participants practice their poses atop a paddleboard on the lake.
Adding water and a paddleboard element to yoga helps develop a sense of balance and stability, Blay said.
“Your body becomes in tune with the waves,” Blay said. “Your body absorbs that moving wake and becomes one with the energy of that water.”
If you're new to yoga or paddleboarding, the combination might sound challenging, but at ClearWater and True Studio in Janesville, which also offers SUP classes, instructors guide participants through the basics of both, so people with all experience levels are welcome to join.
Kuerschner has been practicing SUP for about five years, and she's been a yoga instructor for 19. She said many of the people who join her SUP classes have never been on a paddleboard before.
“We make sure they're completely comfortable on the water, comfortable paddling,” she said.
“Poses are only one small part of yoga,” Kuerschner said. “There's also a spiritual meditation involved, and moving yoga out on the water or in a natural environment enhances meditation.”
“Being outside just kind of calms you down,” said Anne Morgan, a True Studio instructor who teaches a class in Janesville's Lower Courthouse Park that draws everyone from 20-somethings to a 60-year-old.
Heidi Eldred, a yoga instructor at PopUp Yoga in Beloit who has held classes at Discovery Center for the last four summers, agreed.
“I enjoy practicing in a natural setting because anytime I'm surrounded by woods and water I'm quickly tuned into a more peaceful, calm state of mind, which is a great way to begin my practice. I hope the people who attend my classes experience something like this too,” Eldred wrote in an email. “I love being surrounded by the sound of frogs and birds and the view of the lake and sky when I teach and practice at the Discovery Center. Not clinging to the little annoyances of life (is) part of the practice, so the occasional mosquito is annoying but temporary!”
Outdoor yoga even can have an urban view. True Studio has YogaBrews, a class held on the studio's rooftop that ends with a social period for participants to mingle and talk.
“These kinds of classes take the veil off of yoga and make it seem less mystical,” Kuerschner said. “They let people who think they're not flexible enough for yoga see participants who look exactly like them — young, old, heavy, thin, executives, high school students.”
The classes also build community, she believes. One outdoor class drew a “super clean cut” young man with his own yoga mat that Kuerschner found out was homeless and living in a nearby men's shelter.
“He told me, 'This is the most connected I've felt,'” she said.
Another popular class at True Studio is Fetch and Stretch, which lets participants bring their dogs along.
The class includes time for animals and people to socialize. There are tents for shade and water for dogs.
“The pets get an hour of undistracted attention and people get to bond with their dogs,” Kuerschner said.
Studies ranging from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to Harvard suggest that pets can help their owners' health in ways like reducing the risk of allergies and asthma to lowering blood pressure and easing anxiety.
“We've known for years that animals have a very therapeutic benefit,” Kuerschner said.
Megan MacCarthy, owner of Bear Foot Yoga Healing in Burlington, teaches goat yoga at Oak Hollow Farm and Serenity Soapworks in Burlington.
MacCarthy, who keeps her yellow lab, Bodhi, at her studio as a “therapy dog greeter,” is used to practicing yoga with dogs, goats and even chickens wandering around her.
“Goats bring us a sense of playful presence like my dogs,” she said in an email. “We are in their territory, which in itself is therapeutic.”
MacCarthy said the animals may “taste a few braids and I have had them suck on my earlobe,” but the experience is just part of nature.
“Yes, they poop and pee because you are in their field on their farm, so if that's not your thing, goat yoga isn't for you,” she said. “But in yoga, we get comfortable with accepting bodily noises and functions. Goats open the door to get us to know and love every part of our anatomy without shame.”
For more than 30 participants at MacCarthy's initial goat yoga class in June, it was their first yoga class.
“It took goats to get these amazing people to try yoga,” MacCarthy said. “Whatever gets people to try yoga is good by me.”
Sometimes natural settings can feel more public, which is why Kristin Manjula Hilt, owner of Breathe Studio in Janesville, offers yoga classes at Rotary Gardens.
“It's a private place with no traffic, no people wandering by,” Hilt said. “It's peaceful and people don't have the feeling they're being watched.”
Linda Timpone, a registered nurse, has been taking classes at Rotary Gardens since June.
“You can be keyed up, running all day long and yoga teaches you to ground yourself, to let go,” she said. “Where else can you be better grounded to the earth than in the gardens, surrounded by nature?”
Other yogis say the distractions, like noisy beachgoers on a summer day, aren't a problem.
“You'll hear the sound of kids playing and frolicking in the water, but you're so in tune, you don't recognize them,” Blay said.