On any Saturday morning in summer, dozens of people gather at Henne Field to participate in free yoga classes and their number is growing. Last week over 50 people showed up and the goal of Saline Parks and Recreation Department is to reach 100.
“The idea is, number one, that we are bringing fitness to the community,” said Carla Scruggs, Director of Parks and Recreation. “We’re providing it for free so there’s no excuses.”
“We also wanted it early in the morning so you get your fitness in and can also enjoy the rest of your day. And our hope, like we did last year, is to encourage people to walk downtown afterward to visit the farmers market to visit our local coffee shops and businesses.”
Scruggs also said that they want to shine a spotlight on Henne Field, a large and often overlooked greenspace close to the heart of downtown. In recent years many improvements have been made there and it is now providing a venue for activities like Relay for Life, the start of end of parades and, of course, outdoor yoga.
Of course someone has to pay for the free lessons. When “Yoga in the Park” started last year it was funded by the Judy Ivan Healthy Communities Endowment Fund, but that was a one-year grant.
This year a new sponsor was needed. Saint Joseph Mercy Health Systems and Evangelical Homes of Michigan offered to team up and cosponsor it to bring it to the community again.
Saline Parks and Recreation hired two area yoga instructors, Elizabeth Knight and Anna Deevers, to lead the classes. The sponsorship provides for their pay, for equipment expenses and for advertising.
“Our approach here is to make it accessible for anyone that comes - and to have fun,” Knight said. “We have people of all backgrounds, ability levels and body types. People come for all different reasons.”
The two instructors have distinctive styles but they are complementary, Knight said. They take turns leading the class and while one is leading, the other is watching the participants to offer assistance and to help them avoid injury.
While the classes are structured, those present are encouraged to “listen to their own body” and either challenge themselves or back off depending on how they are feeling that day.
Classes start with a time of stillness and meditation; they end with more time for relaxation and reflection. Exercise is good for your brain as well as your body and a recent study suggests that combining it with meditation may be even better.
Of course getting up early to exercise takes self-discipline and it can be scary to try something new like yoga. It’s easy to find excuses.
“You know the most common reason people don’t do yoga is because they think they are not flexible,” Knight said. “And I think most yoga teachers would tell you that’s why you should do yoga.”
Saline Parks & Recreation is offering free yoga classes, 8 – 9 a.m. every Saturday this summer. The outdoor program at Henne Field, 198 E. Bennett St., in downtown Saline. It runs through August 27.