Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
- Rachel Carson
As I prepare to lead the 11th Annual Yoga on the Steps for Living Beyond Breast Cancer this Sunday, I’m reflecting on my grandmother, Kathleen Converse, as inspiration, not only for YOTS, but as one the reasons I love to practice yoga outdoors.
Yoga on the Steps for Living Beyond Breast Cancer was created after my friend and student, Courtney Kapp overcame breast cancer in 2001 and we decided to collaborate. I had a wild vision of leading a giant yoga class on the Philadelphia Art Museum Steps and she proposed my vision to LBBC President, Jean Sacks.
Now, in its 11th year, the event is the largest outdoor yoga class in Philadelphia/Tri-State Area and raises close to $400,000. a year and will be expanding to Washington DC, Kansas City and Denver.
Why do participants come year after year from NYC, Washington, North Carolina, Louisiana, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Delaware to experience the inspiration of Yoga On The Steps?
The event is held on what I call “a power center” or the “Rocky – Hey, Adrian, I love you!” steps feeling.
The Philadelphia Art Museum plateau is an epic view of one of most stunning major cities in the world: Philadelphia. And it’s where I grew up, digging our authentic “have a good-one” accent, food, art, people, schools, and business.
Yoga On The Steps cultivates a meditative, self-reflective extravaganza of movement/balance/strength/alignment and live music of Yvette Pecararo, which in my experience, has been life-giving beyond my wildest dreams. There are so many great women and men who attend. It’s the outdoors, the view and mostly the community wrapped together that makes it intimate and spectacular.
My grandmother, Kathleen Converse, died of complications with breast cancer – as did many fabulous women in my family including my great aunt, and my father’s mother. In dedication to them, I lift up their legacy and say, You mattered! I love you! I miss you!
My grandmother loved to garden and spent hours outside tending to geraniums, picking hydrangea or telling the tree guy how to prune her cherry trees.
The adoration I have for spending time with flowers, plants and trees began with my grandmother.
When I do Yoga outdoors, it’s like climbing back into the child I was and still am – that inner child inside of all of us – that wants to return to innocence, to summers off, to running after fire flies, wearing no shirt, or climbing trees and pretending to live up near the leaves.
Would the physical support, energy of yoga and community have helped my grandmother and friends with their journey with cancer? Would it have given them a few more breathes? A few more support buddies? A few more moments feeling beautiful and surrounded by loved ones?
Scientific studies indicate yoga’s strengthening and stretching exercises; specific breathing and relaxation techniques reduce stress, and blood pressure, while improving flexibility, stability of movement and heart function. As well, there are studies that indicate mentally, emotionally and physiologically we are healed and returned to our self through nature.
In his book Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children form Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv writes, “Natural–deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses…By weighting the consequences of the disorder, we also can become more aware of how blessed our children can be biologically, cognitively and spiritually – through positive physical connection to nature.”
What is gained in the presence of the natural world?
I love the smell of the grass, stretching over the uneven ground, balancing while watching the leaves, bunnies, weather patterns and sitting breathing “doing nothing but hanging out” in the hands of Mother Nature.
The sun sets bright radiant orange over Erdenheim Farm and I imagine it’s the African Serengeti or Tuscany. I get returned to wonder, less Ego, a space of the unknown, freshness.
To me, Thoreau was an outdoor mindfulness educator (and yoga teacher with out the moves). Whether we walk, swim, do yoga, meditate, write in a journal, canoe down the Delaware, or bird watch, Mother Nature reminds us to remember and reconnect to how temporary, how light, how dark, how fierce, how futile, how stunningly brilliant time here is.
John Burrough’s writes, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more”.
Philadelphia has over 75,000 acres of green space and is the largest city park in the world.
How lucky are we?! We all have access to the benefits.
Mind you, swimming, writing, painting or Yoga outdoors isn’t about perfection (sometimes you need good old bug spray or a big old hat). It’s been my experience, that you can’t get much closer to the greatest change agent or educator (or yoga teacher) that ever was than Mother Nature.
I think of her as the female version of the Sistine Ceiling in my own back yard.
She is my WHY.
What is yours?
I look forward to seeing you and sharing the beauty.