By Phil Lindeman
Hot-room yoga has bloomed in popularity over the past decade, but Eagle residents know high-country sunshine is just as invigorating – not to mention more inviting – than a stuffy, sweaty room.
Every Sunday morning since the beginning of summer, up to 100 people have gathered at Eagle Town Park in the heart of Eagle to bend, flow and sweat through free yoga sessions led by instructors from a handful of local studios. Dubbed “Yoga in Eagle Town Park,” the weekly gatherings are now in their fourth season and follow a “pay what you want” philosophy introduced by founder Amy Baker, a yoga instructor formerly of Dogma Athletica in Edwards. Locals from as far as Avon and Vail attend, and the donation-based format attracts participants who would otherwise snub expensive studio sessions.
Although Baker no longer lives in the area, she travels to Eagle on the first Sunday of every month to teach in the park. She and her husband lived there for 13 years and still feel an intense connection to the valley.
“One of the tenets of yoga is to serve each other, and our community in a bigger way,” Baker says. “It just came to me – I wanted to introduce yoga to people who wouldn’t pay $18 for a class. I also wanted people to visit Eagle and attract more people to the town.”
The scene at the park is different than just about any indoor class: Not only is the crowd much larger, it includes everyone from beginners to experts to families. Some attendees bring colorful mats and move easily through inversions, while others lie on the grass and struggle with jean shorts. Most bike to the event, but that’s to be expected in Eagle.
“People love this thing,” says Kelly Western, one of the rotating volunteer instructors. “People just like gathering together. It’s a great way to see others in your community.”
Yoga for the masses
Western is owner of Yoga Off Broadway in Eagle and has co-sponsored the event since the beginning. She and her instructors plan to lead about five classes this summer, and even for die-hard yoga bums like themselves, the park is a welcome break from the ordinary.
“It’s cool to get out in nature,” Western says. “You feel the breeze, you see the blue sky – you’re able to connect with the earth and the ground and the grass. You don’t get that when you’re stuck inside.”
The intricacies of yoga can be intimidating, but Western focuses on accessibility when teaching in the park. She runs through the basic poses – warrior, lunges, downward-facing dog – and tries to move at a comfortable pace. Other instructors bring music or teach in pairs, but most mirror Western’s easy-going flows and educational slant. When the hour-long sessions wrap up just after 10 a.m., participants are sweaty, happy and surprisingly sore.
“You’ll see some people doing handstands and other people so stiff they can’t even bend,” Western says. “The instructors understand that variety, and there aren’t any expectations. It’s just enjoyable.”
The hills and peaks surrounding Eagle give the event an enviable vibe, but it’s far from one-of-a-kind. Large-scale outdoor yoga sessions have gained traction across the U.S. recently, particularly in young, athletic locales like college towns and major metros, from Boulder to Washington, D.C.
“These ‘yoga in the park’ events are getting kind of big,” Western says. “Every year they get more involved – there are big ones in Denver, and people are even doing them out on beaches. It’s a movement.”
In spirit, the Eagle event is free, but Western and Baker say it’s rare for participants to show up expecting a wholly complimentary session. Western recently adopted the donation format at her studio, where she suggests paying $10 to $15 per class but won’t turn anyone away if they have less. She has found people are willing to pay the minimum and, in the vein of committed yogis, often give more than is expected.
For yoga in the park, even a few bucks helps: In four years, it has raised more than $5,000 for numerous nonprofits, including groups picked by individual instructors and last year’s beneficiary Canine Companions for Independence, a California group that partners trained dogs with disabled Americans. All proceeds from this summer go to the newly renovated Roundup River Ranch, a free camp near Gypsum for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses, and Baker would like to raise $2,500 by the end of summer.
Baker isn’t alone in her push to combine yoga and philanthropy. Living Beyond Breast Cancer, a Philadelphia-based foundation for breast cancer awareness, organizes the country’s largest series of yoga fundraisers. Known as “Yoga on the Steps” – a nod to the original location in front of the famed Philadelphia Museum of Art – the event celebrated its tenth anniversary on May 20 and raised $311,000 in a single day, finishing just shy of its $320,000 goal. “Yoga on the Steps” now takes place in three cities across the country, including an inaugural visit to Denver’s Cheeseman Park on Aug. 23.
The event has quadrupled since it started, but Baker still finds numerous friendly faces in the crowd when she teaches every month. For now, “Yoga in Eagle Town Park” remains the intimate, community-oriented event she always envisioned.
“We feel like our friends up here are our family,” Baker says. “We are deeply committed to the community, and I would love to see it continue, grow and remain a part of the town.”