21st June: Summer Solstice and International Yoga Day. I was sure there would be lots of special yoga events taking place on this day and I was enthused after my wonderful sunrise yoga class in the sky a couple of weeks ago (blog post here) so I took to google an typed in “summer solstice yoga”. I was thrilled to discover that a free sun salutation class was taking place in one of my local parks; it turns out the Environment Agency organises community events like this in the many green spaces of the SW London boroughs – how brilliant. This one was organised in conjunction with English Heritage.
I didn’t even need to sign up, I simply set my alarm clock and made sure I set out my yoga mat the night before (I forget it every time I go a yoga class!).
What They Say:
Celebrate midsummer by enjoying a free yoga session with Tina from Lotus & Laurel Yoga. It’s open to everyone, so set your alarm clock early, bring along your yoga mat, and join us there.
Ah, summer; I simply love the long days! I’m an early bird, which means I’m frequently in bed before it gets dark at this time of year and I love that there are light skies above at every waking moment!
I always find it funny that the longest day of the year heralds the start of summer, when – inevitably – we’ve already experienced the best of the weather, and what a cracker it has been this week. It’s nice, though, to think of it as the start of a new season, rather than the beginning of the rapid decline to dark mornings and early nights…
As I set off for Marble Hill park in the early morning it was already 20 degrees and a beautiful start to the day. I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to find the meeting point, but spotted a lady with a rolled up mat under her arm and hot-footed it after her.
The setting was stunning: directly in front of Marble Hill House, on a large lawn running down to the Thames – aptly named the “Pleasure Gardens”. As I arrived, about 10 minutes before the class was due to start, there were four other girls there and I was pleased I wasn’t the only person to have turned up! Our instructor, Tina, suggested we stand barefoot on the grass while we waited for others to join, and she led us through a simple grounding sequence – turning our faces to the sun and focusing on our breath, the sound of the birds in the trees and the connection of our feet to the cool ground beneath. In my own little world, all of a sudden I turned around and about 30 others had silently joined the group and lined up facing east (I was in the front row – as always!). A couple of people had come with their dogs, who were warmly welcomed by Tina – I liked her immediately!
The grass felt so nice underfoot, I decided to stick right there and leave my mat to the side… ironic, the one time I remembered to bring it…
We started off slowly moving through the asanas (poses) of the sun salutation. Everyone has heard of the sun salutation, and many yogis practise it daily, but I have never actually done it until today – what a perfect time to start!
The basics: the sun salutation is a series of poses, repeated a number of times. They can be done at different speeds and are, I understand, often performed at the start of the day or as a warm up.
As we moved through each pose, Tina gave cues for correct alignment and scaling options where relevant. Each time we repeated the sequence, she’d give a little more guidance, slowly building so the poses felt like a natural progression after a few rounds. By the fifth or so round she spoke less, simply stating the name of each pose as we transitioned (I couldn’t recall them now but they had seeped into the subconscious). It was wonderful. The poses weren’t difficult, but they provided a great stretch and feeling of strength, balance and solid connection with the ground. Through the last few sequences I kept my eyes closed and it was almost meditative, feeling the sun on my face with a cool breeze gently drifting by and the sounds of birds and planes in the sky (if you live in the borough of Richmond you quickly come to find the sound of planes overhead calming!).
As Tina told us it was the last sequence I felt fully relaxed and invigorated and truly enjoyed every one of the poses. For the first time ever in yoga, I felt like I was really getting it. I’m still not flexi. I’m still the bulkiest person in class. My shoulders are tight and I can barely touch my hands behind my back… but none of that matters, I can still do yoga. You really don’t have to worry about not being able to get deep into a position – just turning up and doing whatever your body is comfortable with is all you need to do. I’m never going to dedicate my life to being good at yoga, but that doesn’t mean I can’t massively benefit from it.
We held the final pose a little longer; faces to the sun, arms stretched wide overhead. It was magical. But just when I thought it was over, we had the ultimate finisher… lying on our backs, Tina led us through a full body scan and I felt on cloud nine by the time that finished. Body stretched and awoken – yep. Connection with nature – yep. Surrounded by friendly people – yep. And dogs – yep.
What better way to start the day? I left overwhelmed with joy.
This was a trial session, but English Heritage are planning on putting on more similar events and apparently there is lots of female sport planned at the pleasure grounds too – so keep an eye out if you’re local!
Tina teaches from Teddington, but is planning more pop up sessions through the summer and information can be found on her website (deets below).
Yoga and I have finally clicked! Hooray!
I simply cannot think of a better way to welcome in the day and the new summer season. I’m going to do as much outdoor yoga as possible this summer… you may even find me on my own barefoot in the park practising sun salutations.
Where: Marble Hill Park, Richmond. Pop ups in other spots in the local area over the summer.
Cost: free! Normally £8.50 PAYG or £35 for a pack of 5
How to book: http://www.lotusandlaurelyoga.co.uk