Amid the dissipating midday fog, the lawn of Golden Gate Park’s Hellman Hollow is scattered with people practicing their Frisbee skills and dogs chasing balls thrown by their human companions.
Nearby, another group is preparing for different type of practice: About a dozen yoga practitioners have gathered, unfurling their sticky mats, making light chatter, and donning "silent disco" headphones.
And just as in the studio, once the music starts, the sounds of barking dogs and city life melt away, and practice begins.
Outdoor Yoga offers a variety of mindful movement classes for all levels of practitioners. Experienced teachers lead the class through yoga moves set to soulful music. The headphones give you the ability to control the volume of the outside world and still find your own personal space. With choices from dynamic yoga flow practice to athletic yoga power sessions to playful groove classes, there are opportunities to find an outdoor class that fits everyone's style.
Yoga is offered in various sites across the city, including Baker Beach, the Ferry Building Promenade, Hellman Hollow and the Ritz-Carlton Courtyard—plus another at Lake Temescal in Oakland. Each spot gives participants options close to home in a natural, urban landscape that might feel even more comfortable and relaxed than they would in a studio.
During Nat Kendall’s Outdoor Power Yoga practice, I can’t help but giggle at the occasionally over-enthusiastic dog tearing across the grass in the distance while I follow Kendall’s voice in my ears (and his physical presence in front of our small group). The foggy breeze ruffles my hair. I forget why I’d initially thought I was too busy to take a break in my day and head to the park for class.
“Yoga practice outdoors gives you a way to reestablish your relationship with the city,” says Outdoor Yoga founder Julianne Aiello. “Nature has a magical effect of bringing you into the present moment. You’re engaged with nature, moving your body, and noticing the beauty around you. It’s almost like restarting that feeling of endless potential in a place you love.”
After the interruption of studio yoga practice during the pandemic, many people are still a little squirrelly about taking indoor classes in a studio—myself included. And while individual practice at home via a screen is certainly convenient, I realize I have missed the camaraderie of a group.
Shouldering my mat for a jaunt through the park and a 65-minute class gives me an opportunity to press pause on my day and remember the feeling of magic I first felt as a child in Golden Gate Park.
Born from a love of freedom and embracing natural beauty, Aiello started Outdoor Yoga in 2016. Her intention to create a safe place outside of studio walls for yoga practice has expanded to guiding people towards flourishing—living lives filled with meaning, growth, connection, and resilience—through classes, workshops, and retreats. She teaches some of Outdoor Yoga’s classes but has also gathered a collection of inspirational instructors from around the Bay Area to add their own voice and style to the different practice options offered.
At first, I thought that I’d have trouble keeping the “silent disco” headphones on during practice. I shouldn’t have worried. They adjust to fit well and have the effect of plugging you into the music and the energy of the group.
Buoyed by my park experience, my sister and I stride across the sand at Baker Beach on a perfect fall evening a week later, approaching a string of colorful prayer flags and a handful of people arranging their yoga mats in rows. Over the next 10 minutes, that group grows to more than 30—mats splayed out on the sand with plenty of space in between.
Before practice starts, we chat, take photos of the Golden Gate Bridge and the brilliant sun setting over the Pacific, and pat down the lumps of sand underneath our mats. And then, the music starts in our headphones.
For the next hour, Kirin Power leads an Outdoor Groove Yoga practice that lets us shake off stress and enjoy the gift of being able to move and breathe deeply on a beach still warmed by the sun. To the combined soundtrack of uplifting music and crashing waves, we flow through a rhythmic practice that pauses for occasional dance breaks.
Before coming to the class, I was worried about traffic and whether parking would be easy. During yoga, I just look around in awe at the beauty of this wondrous place I live and my luck at being able to wind down the week in this joyful way.
Outdoor Yoga’s class schedule and rates are found on its website. Rates for single classes run from $29 to $33, and class packs are available in 2-, 5-, and 10-class increments. Unlimited membership gives participants the opportunity to attend 7-plus classes each week, on a monthly basis. Additionally, a work trade exchange allows people to exchange time and energy in support of classes for free, unlimited yoga.
Questions, comments or concerns about this article may be sent to [email protected]