Orange gave way to the deep blue of late evening sky as the cloudy edge of that afternoon’s rainstorm receded above people arranging their yoga mats into street-grid rows in a field at Liberty’s Stocksdale Park.
The dim light could outline only silhouettes by the time the hill hosting Moonlight Yoga fully embraced the colored rectangles and bending, bowing bodies.
Over the small public-address system that instructor Patti Stark brought to make herself heard over the prattle of cicadas and grasshoppers, Stark took most of the credit for the rain’s sudden departure.
“God and the weather angels and I, we had a talk early this morning,” Stark, 46, told her students.
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So what’s a meteorological miracle going for these days?
“It turns out I’m giving up chocolate for a while,” the instructor said to laughter.
As Soul2Soul, a three-part harmony and guitar ensemble, tuned and started setting the mood, 50 or so yogis warmed up their bodies and kept their eyes toward the brilliant cosmic rarity concealed by the remaining clouds above.
“It’s a, uh, what’s it called? A supermoon, right?” Kristi Soligo Fleshman said, hugging a knee.
She was referring to the moon’s unusually large appearance that August evening as it hit its closest point to Earth in orbit — the perigee. The closeness gives the “perigean moon” a noticeably larger profile.
“Everyone’s making a really big deal about this,” Soligo Fleshman said.
“But for me, it seems more spiritual being out in nature and the universe and the moon — even though there’s clouds, and they need to go away,” Soligo Fleshman said, waving her hand at the misty sky. “There’s something surreal about it.”
Stark is open to the notion that moonlight adds elegance — and a cachet — to the practice of yoga, but any claims beyond that are pure speculation.
Still, these nighttime yoga sessions have always been freighted with deep fascination coming from a place within Stark that refuses to grow up.
“I mean, who as a kid didn’t love being outside under the light of a full moon?” she said. “It’s just that whole coolness of, hey, let’s hang out under the moonlight.”
By night, when the weather is warm enough and the moon is full, you’ll find Stark leading Moonlight Yoga, doing sun salutations under the stars. By day, she’s an instructor at Serenity on the Square, her yoga studio in downtown Liberty.
Stark’s monthly summer ritual does more than just lift spirits, though. It’s a fundraiser for Stocksdale Park’s off-leash dog park, which was constructed in the fall of 2011.
Moonlight Yoga has pulled in just shy of $1,500 since the tradition began in 2012.
Growing community interest led to the creation of the dog park, and it has been funded mostly by private donations to the Liberty Parks and Recreation Department Charitable Fund.
Former Mayor Greg Canuteson said the recession restrained the city’s ability to launch new projects, but the $9,500 in donated funds covered about 90 percent of the cost of building the off-leash area.
Before long, Canuteson recruited Stark for the fund’s leadership, specifically to see that the dog park flourished.
He credited numerous individuals, including Eagle Scouts and Friends of the Dog Park as well as Stark, for contributing to the citizen-led effort to enhance the park.
Stark approached the fund’s board members with the idea that became Moonlight Yoga, and she quickly got the green light.
Canuteson said Moonlight Yoga and other benefactors have fostered a culture of private investment in the dog park, which continues to enjoy a consistent stream of charitable donations because of it.
“People like Patti Stark have made that possible,” the former mayor said.
Stark just wanted to show her support in the best way she knew how.
“I thought, ‘What a cool thing for me to raise money doing what I’m passionate about,’” Stark said.
And to do it for someone she’s passionate about.
That would be Stark’s 2-year-old border collie, Sushi, an avid dog park enthusiast. Around Sushi’s house, “dog park” is a term that has to be spelled out letter by letter unless you’re prepared to follow through with an actual visit.
On the surface, yoga would seem to have little to do with dogs, but Stark said they’re more alike than not.
In their own niches, both dog owners and yoga practitioners become members of a fraternity formed by a shared interest.
“People who love dogs ... have that sense of community, that sense of we’re all in this together,” she said.
The first Moonlight Yoga sessions were spare affairs with 10 to 15 people moving into poses sound-tracked by an iPod.
This summer’s events are accompanied by Soul2Soul, which Stark formed with friends Mary Jilka and Sophie Falcon-Cordero.
In the time between the iPod and consistent appearances by Soul2Soul, Stark recruited various musical acts to play at the lunar sessions.
One of the acts at last summer’s practice was the son of Stark’s longtime friend and mentor Marti Lee.
Lee was there for that evening’s Moonlight Yoga session and remembers the sensory magic — strong blue light from the cosmos, fireflies, crickets — an experience mediated by someone she described as an especially sensitive, caring and intuitive teacher.
The two met 10 years ago. Stark had been teaching meditation for six years when she walked into the yoga class that Lee was teaching at Gold’s Gym in Gladstone. It was Stark’s first yoga session ever.
The highlight for Stark was how the instructor not only moved everyone through the poses but created an experience. It reminded her a lot of the more familiar sensory territory inside her meditation practices. Stark said Lee suddenly helped the universe make a lot of sense all at once.
“You know where you have that moment where you’re like, ‘Huh, OK, it’s all coming together’? It was that moment,” Stark said.
She approached Lee after class, and the rapport was immediate.
A decade ago, Lee’s class was one the few places in Northland to practice yoga, but Stark said Lee has created a following north of the Missouri River — and more than a few teachers.
“Not to mention I opened my business,” Stark said.
She acquired Serenity on the Square, 14 E. Franklin St., in June 2008 and turned what was a massage and reflexology center into a yoga studio.
Lee followed suit in 2012 and opened InBliss Yoga at 5106 N.W. Waukomis Drive in Kansas City.
As a business owner, Stark sees herself as someone with, metaphorically speaking, a bouquet of flowers she’d like to share with as many people possible.
“For me, anything I can do to have a more enjoyable life is good. Yoga and meditation — these are the things I do in my own life, and it brings me joy,” Stark said. “And if I can share it with others, why not?”
As Jilka walked around the yoga mats, picking a gentle transition from a G to an A minor, Stark stood before the class and meditated on the meaning of the supermoon.
“It’s about trust,” she said establishing the thesis. “It’s a reminder of how full our lives are and that we’re already full. Not only are our lives full, but we are full as well.”
The first poses put the yoga enthusiasts flat on their backs. With an indoor practice, eyes are usually closed to imagine a something more interesting than a ceiling. But on this night, eyes remained wide open as the breaking clouds revealed stars dusted with traces of lunar glow.
“Let’s just let go of the weekend,” Stark said.
“That’s it: in and out,” she said marking a cadence for the students’ breathing while Soul2Soul began marking out the first verses of the Coldplay song “Yellow.”
After a series of easier, ground-based poses, Stark moved the students through sun salutations, a movement cycle that takes one from standing to bent over to all fours — the famed “down dog” — to prone with the chest up, what’s known as “cobra.”
Stark narrated the session, not just with instructions for poses, but with a stream-of-consciousness meditation on self and meaning. She spoke in soft tones, pausing every now and then to participate in the practice.
“Ask what’s inside you. What could you affirm to the world?” she said as the bodies silently locked themselves in to the upside-down V’s of down dog — simultaneous movements paled by diffuse light. “What if you could shoot to the moon, right?”
Incoming Kearney High School seniors Julia Tucholski and Mary Gravis — both new to the practice — were happy to leave planet for the moment.
“It’s just so peaceful out here being in nature,” Tucholski said. “Like all the stress and tension is gone.”
Though this was Gravis’ first time as a yogi, she seemed pretty sure she’d be returning to yoga as her senior year wore on.
It wouldn’t be until after the mats had been rolled up, after cars chasing light took everyone back to their respective lives, that the supermoon was fully revealed, washing the grassy field in its brilliant light.
More Moonlight Yoga
The next session of Moonlight Yoga will be at 9 p.m. Sept. 9 at Stocksdale Park, 901 S. La Frenz Road in Liberty. There is no admission fee, but donations to the off-leash dog park are welcome.
An October date will be announced later, provided the warm weather lasts.