Rachel Natland finds serenity & inclusion with her son at I Heart Yoga in the Park
On a cool but clear Saturday morning I loaded my toddler into the car and made my way down the 74 freeway to Lantern Park in Dana Point. I had never been to Lantern Park before but was immediately struck by the peaceful atmosphere of the location. Despite wide open meadows of grass, lined with towering pine trees and sweeping ocean vistas, the park feels cozy, comfortable and neighborly. It was quiet. Serene. Tucked away from the busy downtown area but still convenient to locals, Lantern Park provides the perfect venue for yoga.
On my way over to the space I was greeted with authentic warmth and enthusiasm from Elsa, the yoga teacher of I Heart Yoga in the Park. She couldn’t seem more pleased that I had brought my toddler along for the class. I however, knowing my toddler to be a bit of a menace and not one to sit still for any length of time, had a differing opinion on the topic. I felt sure that I would be forced to vacate the premises before the class barely got started.
We stood around and chatted for a while as her students began filtering in with their mats and setting up around the open, grassed area facing the ocean. She began talking with a student about their week so I grabbed my kid and my mat and headed to the back in order to make a quick getaway in case he became disruptive. As we sat there waiting for the class to start more, and more students began arriving. Intermingled with what one might consider the “typical” yoga practitioners were whole families set up on blankets with all age ranges of children, some elderly folks and quite a few more men than I am used to seeing at any given class. There was a teenage boy there with his mom, a pair of adolescent girls giggling and helping each other with Warrior 2, and a small baby crawling around on the same blanket that her mother and father were busy downward dogging on.
The atmosphere is relaxed and open. It almost feels more like a family picnic than a yoga class. There is laughter, chatting, greetings and a real sense of community among the students. Elsa calls the class to attention and requests everyone bring their mats in closer to make more room. The large area is now teeming with people. There are at least 100 students in attendance all poised to begin, facing the beautiful blues of sky and ocean with a gentle breeze coursing its way in between all the warm bodies.
Elsa begins taking the class through their poses. Things proceed just as any other class might with the exception of a child or two rolling about on the grass. Elsa walks through the crowd of mats and bodies while suggesting modifications to each pose and spots me with my son. He was milling about on the mat and gave her a big smile. She ran over to give him a double high-five, never missing a beat of instruction.
The feeling of inclusion for this single mother and her toddler created by the atmosphere at I Heart is so incredibly rare and special. Nowhere else can I get in a few yoga poses, with my kid in tow, for whatever I can afford and not once feel as if we were disrupting the experience of the other practitioners.