“And now, reach your hands up toward the ceiling … I mean sky,” said Ironwood Yoga instructor Jacqueline Soukup. Usually, the yoga class that I was attending would be held inside Ironwood’s heated yoga studio, but that day, and for the foreseeable future, outdoor yoga is the safest option for both participants and instructors.
In an open, green field next to the Ironwood Yoga studio in Sister Bay, yoga-mat outlines were marked in the grass and spread apart so that participants could maintain social distance. Metal bins of colorful flowers marked the “front” of the outdoor studio space.
“If I were inside, I would be worrying,” said Ironwood regular Ruthie Borushek. “This is a great way to tiptoe back into the world and focus on yoga without being concerned about safety.”
The class I attended featured a style of yoga called Vinyasa, which focuses on linking poses together to create a seamless “flow” of movement. Soukup narrated and demonstrated the poses and prompted participants to choose a mantra to focus on for the duration of the class.
Although I’m not an experienced yogi by any means (sometimes I struggle to touch my toes!), I felt entirely comfortable during the whole session. When my pose was wobbly or I made a mistake, I didn’t feel self-conscious or embarrassed because everyone was focusing on their own practice and progress. I repeated my mantra to myself as I moved through the poses, feeling both empowered and physically strengthened by the practice.
The outdoor setting provided a beautiful, soothing backdrop. The wind blew through branches overhead, and the sun was both clarifying and warming on my skin. During portions of the class when we were lying on our backs, I could reach out to feel the grass surrounding my mat. Even that small contact point with the natural world centered and grounded me.
“What we all need right now is to be outside,” said Ironwood founder and owner Marnie Massey.
For her, many aspects of the current COVID-19 crisis feel like horrible déjà vu. Massey suffered from Lyme disease and a co-infection for years before opening Ironwood and remembered having to isolate herself from others to stay safe.
“Physical touch and presence are so important, and it’s hard to not have that in the same way we’re used to, but we can still use our voices and energy to support one another,” she said.
And that’s what yoga is all about for Massey: supporting one another and creating a community. Although continuing to offer yoga classes during the pandemic was not an easy decision, it was exactly this community support that inspired her to continue Ironwood classes outside.
“Everyone is excited to exercise with other people and engage with other people,” Massey said. “That’s yoga for me. It’s more than the poses – it’s the people who gather to practice it.”
Ironwood Yoga is currently offering outdoor yoga classes seven days a week. Visit ironwoodyoga.com to see a schedule and find more information.