Yoga in the Park

Outdoor yoga classes held at Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C.

Outdoor yoga classes in Meridian Hill Park attract all ages and skill levels. The classes are offered every Sunday from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Outdoor yoga classes in Meridian Hill Park attract all ages and skill levels. The classes are offered every Sunday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. (Katherine Frey/the Washington Post)
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Friday, June 18, 2010

If yoga positions such as Up Dog and Cobra intrigue but intimidate you, this may be a good weekend to try Yoga in the Park.

Meridian Hill Park on a Sunday may not seem like an ideal spot for the thoughtful and serene practice of yoga, and as you try to become aware of your body and breath, you might also become aware of the distinct smell of an illegal substance wafting above you, or the sound of the deep thumping in front of you from the popular drum circle, or the lascivious look of the man eyeing you from a park bench as he sips something from a paper bag. Throw in a few couples playing catch, a small yappy dog and the dozens of cars zooming up 16th Street and the park is not exactly Zen.

But in a way, that's the point.

At a recent class, teacher Derek Riley, 38, advised the yogis to bring themselves "into harmony with the things around us." His goal was for the class to achieve a "sense of awareness and equanimity," as he walked among the blue mats, at times helping a yogi with a pose. Being outside is different than being in the studio, Riley said, and he encourages his class to hear the city sounds around them.

Carolan Sudol, owner of Bikram Yoga Dupont, started offering the class six years ago. "I like the idea of people in the community doing something together," she said.

The class is open to anyone of any age or skill level, from moms with their toddlers to loyal yoga practitioners.

A different instructor from one of eight studios in the Washington area teaches each week. The summer-long session draws at least 20 people, and Riley says that number will grow as the summer goes on. (That sounds good for a newbie who may want to hide in the back.)

Gretchen Gates, 25, attended a recent class. A runner, she only practices yoga in the summertime in the park. Ana Sastra, 27, living in Washington for the summer, heard about the class from a friend. "I always wanted to try yoga," she said.

Bring a yoga mat so you're not laying in dirt and grass. Wear something comfortable. Don't feel bad if you don't have yoga pants, but keep in mind that you will be twisting and turning your body in a park full of people, so clothes that hug are advised. You can bring water and a bag to keep next to you.

As the class goes on, the distractions will disappear and the fresh air, blue sky and lush, green trees will help you become aware of your body and breath so you'll walk away feeling in harmony with the city around you.

"It's nice to have an easygoing atmosphere in the park," Sudol said.

-- Moira E. McLaughlin

Where is it? Meridian Hill Park lawn, between 15th and 16th streets and Euclid and W streets NW. Every Sunday until Aug. 29, 5-6:30 p.m. The class is held closer to 16th and Euclid streets NW and is canceled if it rains.

How much is it? Free.

If you're hungry after all that strengthening: Hit Pete's A Pizza at 1400 Irving St. NW for a beer and delicious slice of pie outside.

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