Call it guerrilla yoga. Call it pop-up yoga. Or tone it down and call it yoga in the park.
In Kansas City, many yogis are stretching outside their studios and proving that the ancient Indian practice can be done anywhere, at any time, by anyone.
Yoga in the Park, a free gathering that takes place at 11 a.m. Sundays on the front lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, is one of the largest and longest-running outdoor yoga events in Kansas City. Its Facebook page has nearly 6,000 members.
Yoga in the Park started in 2009 and has stretched and bent and twisted until …
“You know how when a cell gets too big it splits and you have two cells? That’s what’s happened with the outdoor yoga scene,” says 36-year-old yoga instructor Tom Kessler, who lives in Kansas City.
Kessler helps organize Yoga in the Park, which, on a good-weather day, draws as many as 200 people. The sessions, which are accessible to beginners, have inspired other local yogis to try Downward-Facing Dog in parks and unexpected places such as distilleries, juice shops, golf courses, breweries and bars.
“A lot of these other things came up because people saw we were able to get 100 to 200 people out on the lawn (of the Nelson),” Kessler says, “and that made people say: ‘I bet we can get 20 to 30 a week.’ ”
The unconventional sessions often attract casual yogis who might not be ready to commit to a studio membership.
Ina Montgomery, 52, has arrived 20 minutes early to a recent session from her home. Montgomery, who lives in Kansas City, says she has practiced yoga sporadically for two years but doesn’t belong to a studio. Dropping in at the Nelson, she adds, was just her speed.
“I thought that having the opportunity to take a couple of classes for free would be good,” Montgomery says. “If I really get into it for the fall, I’ll probably find a studio and then be more consistent.”
On a day when it is too bright to spread their vividly colored yoga mats under the iconic Shuttlecocks, 100 or so fledgling yogis gather in four long lines between terraced shady hedges. Several people lean bikes against nearby trees. Families, young and old couples, and many single people vie for space to stretch out.
Kessler and fellow Yoga in the Park organizers Annamarie Weddle and Nici Krehbiel schedule instructors from studios all over the city so that students are exposed to a wide variety of styles, such as Yin, Mysore, Vinyasa and Hatha.
Kessler remembers how it was to be a beginner nearly 10 years ago.
He says that at that time, his office job was “breaking” him. He needed to find a way to deal with the stress and the constant back pain caused by sitting all day.
“The first time I did yoga I felt like I’d been run over by a steamroller,” Kessler says. “I was like, ‘That felt good.’
“When you find something that really works you hard, that’s a good sign.”
He found a teacher he clicked with and eventually began to instruct.
Weddle trained at KC Fitness Link in Kansas City, Kan., and Yoga School of Therapeutics in Overland Park. The 25-year-old has been teaching full time for three years at Hagoyah, a hair and yoga studio at 515 W. 75th St. in Waldo.
“Teacher training was definitely a pivotal point in my life,” Weddle says. “I was letting go of a lot of old things, things that weren’t benefiting me anymore, and trying to move into things that I thought would make me happier in life.”
She liked the Yoga in the Park model and wanted to launch a similar program near her studio to raise the visibility of yoga and to help other people the way yoga helped her.
She partnered with Kansas City Bier Co. in Waldo a year and a half ago for Yoga in the Biergarten. Every third Saturday, Weddle and between 30 and 120 students gather in the brewery’s backyard. When the weather is bad, they move the class down the street to her studio.
For Weddle, it’s all about building a health-oriented community.
She says that many people, especially those in their early 20s, look for connections while out drinking at bars. Yoga in the Biergarten provides a slightly healthier alternative.
“It’s nice to do something that’s good for your mind and good for your body,” Weddle says, “and to make lifelong friendships because of it.”
And yes, once they’re done with yoga, participants usually stick around the brewery for a beer and a brat. But yoga teaches balance in all things, right?
Lauren Leduc, owner of the donation-based studio Karma Tribe Yoga at 3545 Broadway, found yoga as a teenager, when she desperately needed both balance and a community.
She tears up recalling a tough time in her late teens and early 20s when she knew she needed the calming discipline of yoga but couldn’t afford the classes.
“It helped me so much and now I’m in this place where I can offer that to other people,” Leduc says. “It’s extremely rewarding. I try to really cultivate a space where people feel comfortable and they’re not sitting next to a stranger.”
Karma Tribe Yoga was born from an experiment Leduc conducted in March 2015. She announced on Facebook that she would be leading yoga at the Nelson — a couple of months before Kessler’s program had kicked off for the season — and 50 people showed up.
Leduc decided that if she could draw that kind of crowd at the last minute, she’d be able to sustain a studio.
Leduc, who trained at Frog Lotus Yoga International in Costa Rica, organizes what she calls “pop-up yoga” events all over the city. Her largest at Union Station in January drew a crowd of nearly 500. She bought a clip-on mic after that one.
“It’s almost like guerrilla-style yoga classes, but we always have permission,” she says.
But not everyone agrees that a large crowd is conducive to yoga.
Shanell Petersen, a transplant from the U.S. Virgin Islands, owns Nella Yoga at 5504 Troost Ave. She believes that smaller groups make for a more comfortable yoga experience, so she started Neighborhood Yoga in May.
Petersen uses Facebook and her website to announce the ever-changing locations of her donation-based Saturday sessions and targets a different neighborhood every week. Her goal is to keep people close to their comfort zone because she thinks they are more likely to try something new if they’re near the familiar.
Petersen, who previously worked in sales and marketing, discovered yoga 10 years ago through P90X, an extreme home fitness program that includes weekly yoga. The program’s 90-minute strength and stretch session was one of the toughest workouts Petersen had ever done — and it left her wanting more. After training at Joy Yoga University in Houston, she quit her job and devoted her life to yoga.
On July 16, Petersen held a special Neighborhood Yoga event called Yoga + Juice at Ruby Jean’s Juicery, 4001 Broadway in Westport. About 15 people showed up to strike powerful Warrior poses under a blue sky as cars whizzed by on Broadway.
Petersen plans to take Yoga + Juice mobile as soon as Ruby Jean’s rolls out its juice truck.
“We plan to do more Yoga + Juice events at the park and at my studio,” she says. “We’ve already outgrown the space.”
The ultimate goal, Petersen says, is to get yoga out of the studio and into public spaces so more people will be willing to try it.
Many first-timers are intimidated, she says, but “when they finally come they’re like, ‘Oh, this is for everybody. This is for all humans.’
“That’s been, honestly, a humbling experience to witness.”
Contact Anne Kniggendorf at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strike a pose
Want to try Pigeon pose in a park? How about Half Moon in a distillery? Here’s a roundup of upcoming unconventional yoga classes in the Kansas City area.
Yoga in the Park: 11 a.m.-noon on Sundays in March through October on the front lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak St. The event is free, but donations are accepted. More info on Facebook.
Urban Lights Yoga: Kerry Steuart also organizes yoga sessions at the Nelson. A “Sunset Yoga” session is set for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 6; “Hope House Yoga” is planned for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 14. Participants are asked to donate money or dry goods, which will be given to a local domestic violence shelter. More info on Facebook.
Pop-Up Yoga Kansas City: 6-7 p.m. Tuesdays at Gillham Park, on Gillham Road between 39th Street and Brush Creek Boulevard. Lauren Leduc will also lead a special “Yoga in the Pool” session from 10 a.m. to noon on Sunday, Aug. 7 at Swinney Recreation Center, 5030 Holmes St. The suggested donation is $5-$15, or $20 for “Yoga in the Pool.” For more info, go to pop-upyogakansascity.com.
Neighborhood Yoga: 8-9 a.m. Aug. 27 at Seven Oaks Park, 3700 Kensington Ave. Nella Yoga owner Shanell Petersen leads free classes at various outdoor locations on the last Saturday of every month. Donations are accepted. For more info, go to missnellayoga.com.
Yoga and Bier: 11 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month at Kansas City Bier Co., 310 W. 79th St. Annamarie Weddle of Hagoyah Hair Studio and Yoga Den in Waldo leads free yoga sessions in the brewery’s backyard. For more info, go to hagoyah.com.
Hiking Yoga Thursdays: 9:15-10:45 a.m. Aug. 4, 11, 18 and 25 at Oakwood Country Club, 9800 Grandview Road. Nici Krehbiel leads participants on a brisk walk around the golf course with pauses for yoga. $15. More info on Facebook.
Yoga in the Park at the Kansas City River Market: 10-11 a.m. Sundays through Oct. 2 at 301 Main St. The free event is led by KC Yoga Center instructors. See the market events calendar for more information.
403rd Sundays — Patio Yoga & Pinball: 2:30 p.m. every third Sunday of the month through October at The 403 Club, 614 Reynolds Ave. in Kansas City, Kan. (The next 403rd Sundays event is scheduled for Aug. 21). The class is led by Megan Hettich; donations are accepted. More info on Facebook.