Yoga can be both a physical and spiritual activity – one yogis often describe as a “transformational journey.”
The opportunity to take part in that journey is offered every Sunday morning in Merced, free of charge.
Yoga instructor Gina Nardone, in conjunction with the Merced Parks and Recreation Department, began hosting Yoga in the Park in 2012. Since then, the class has consistently grown in popularity.
The one-hour class takes place from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. near H and 28th streets, not far from Bear Creek.
Nardone came up with the idea of free community yoga after attending similar classes in Los Angeles. “I always imagined that I would start a free Yoga in the Park class when I moved back to Merced,” she said.
According to Nardone, the benefits of yoga are many. “Yoga is truly a gift in every way. It is healing to the body, mind and spirit,” she said.
Influenced by the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita, ancient Hindu scripture, Nardone practices what is known as Karma Yoga, “a selfless service in which the ego is given up to the desire to serve the divine,” she explained.
“Karma Yoga is an expression of divine love,” she added. “It means to help, heal and share.”
Lindsey Johnson, Parks and Recreation supervisor, said the program was launched after Nardone contacted the department about using city parks to teach her class.
“We partnered together and basically (Nardone) provides the free instruction and we provide the park area,” Johnson said. “It’s a really good partnership that benefits the community, and it’s really at no cost to either one of us.”
According to Nardone, attendance varies. Toward the middle of summer, the class will grow to about 30 participants. Once school starts and the weather gets cooler, attendance drops off again, she said. Despite the fluctuations, Nardone said she expects the class to keep growing.
Rhonda Batson, a Merced resident, has been participating in Yoga in the Park for almost two years. During her time in the class, Batson has seen it grow from about five participants to about 32, she explained. She and three of her children attend every Sunday.
According to her, the class has helped them physically and mentally.
“I started going because I wanted to try a different form of exercise, and I wanted my kids to try something different. It’s peaceful, it’s relaxing, and we are now able to stretch our bodies in ways we didn’t think we could,” Batson said.
“My goal is to have at least 1 percent of the population in Merced participating in free Yoga in the Park and conducting our own experiment in the effectiveness of the Maharishi effect,” Nardone said. The Maharishi effect states 1 percent of the population practicing meditation can improve the quality of life for the entire community, she said.
All that is needed to join the class is a yoga mat or towel, Nardone said. Those interested can contact Nardone through the class Facebook page: Yoga in the Park Merced.