Relaxation, flexibility, posture and balance are a few of the many benefits of yoga. It is a practice known for strengthening the mind, body and soul, because this type of stress-free exercise can positively impact every aspect of your wellness. There are many different types of yoga, including bikram, vinyasa and hatha. If those words sound unfamiliar to you, Yoga in the Park might be a good place to start your journey to enlightenment.
Yoga in the Park is a free summer program hosted by the Urbana Park District. Saturday mornings at 9a.m., you can stop by Meadowbrook Park for a relaxing yoga session taught by professional instructors. All ages are welcome, and no experience is necessary.
Elsie Hedgspeth, Fitness & Wellness Coordinator at the Urbana Park District, said that there are a variety of instructors that teach each week, each with their own yoga style.
“It is not the same class each time. That’s what’s so cool about it is not only does everybody just kind of have their own different teaching style, but throughout the course of the summer, participants if they are coming every time are getting exposed to practices that are more kind of like flow yoga in nature or other practices that are just really not done around here…We actually have one instructor that comes all the way from the St.Louis area, and she specializes in something called ‘laughter yoga’, and it is genuinely exactly what it sounds like. You’re focusing on laughing and breathing and really kind of the mind portion of the mind-body element of yoga in terms of keeping a happy mind,” said Hedgspeth.
Yoga in the Park started three years ago when yoga instructor Bridget Mullin brought the idea to the Urbana Park District.
“I really love teaching yoga and believe greatly in the benefits of yoga for people’s health, both physical and mental and spiritual. I wanted to get a community practice going that was going to be free and open to everyone, so that the limit of having to join a gym or sign up for very expensive classes at yoga studios or be intimidated of even going to a yoga studio, that all of those barriers would just kind of be broken down. That it could be done in public, for free, for people of all ages and levels, so that it could be really comfortable and accessible for the community,” said Mullin.
Mullin teaches yoga classes at the YMCA, The Fitness Center, and aqua yoga at Indian Acres over the summer, in addition to volunteering at Champaign Central High School and Champaign Public Library for the kids program.
Her favorite type of yoga is vinyasa flow, which focuses on linking breathing to movement.
“It’s a little bit more of a vigorous style with lots of level changes…it relies heavily on linking breath to the flow. Since you’re not going to make it if you’re huffing and puffing you have to control the breath, have things flow well” said Mullin.
While Yoga in the Park is a free program, they do ask for donations to benefit the Urbana Park District Youth Scholarship Fund. It goes back to the community by helping kids from Urbana participate in youth programming including summer camps through the Urbana Park District. Because yoga mats are provided to use at Yoga in the Park, donations of gently used mats are always welcome and can be dropped of at Meadowbrook Park during class.
According to Mullin, anyone can participate in Yoga in the Park because the positions are geared toward beginners, while more experienced people can modify the moves to match their level. Many people that try it out for the first time at Yoga in the Park are interested in continuing to practice yoga.
“[My favorite part of the program is] seeing how much the community values it. Having people ask me ‘Are we going to be doing Yoga in the Park’, or sharing experiences with me that they had at Yoga in the Park. Like when a lady in a twist watched this bumblebee go from little clover blossom to little clover blossom. Seeing how much it means to people. How joyful they feel by being able to be close to nature. Part of their community. breathing and moving freely, feeling healthy, feeling connected to themselves and the community,” said Mullin.
“There’s a certain age we quit rolling around on the ground looking at the sky, and that’s a shame. And this gets everyone to do that, and that’s awesome.”