A cool breeze flows through the air and brings a salty scent to my nose. The wind gently kisses my ears and then waves goodbye. My hands and feet press the mat beneath me, a little uneven because it’s on soft grass. I’m in downward dog, and with my eyes closed, I breathe in … 2 … 3… and out … 2… 3… I forget the instructor’s even there, until the command comes to hop on my feet and rise to greet the morning sun.
The ocean is here, the sun is here, and so are the grass and the sand. I’m outside experiencing yoga within the expanse of the beautiful parks of Pacific Beach.
The community’s love for yoga is spreading to the beach, the bluffs and the bay as creative instructors offer classes that take advantage of PB’s picturesque spaces. Of course, the walls in yoga studios offer us the benefit of convenience and make it easier to sweat, but when the walls are eliminated, the possibilities are boundless.
“There’s something about seeing the serene water of the bay while you’re holding a balance pose like dancer’s pose (Natarajasana),” said Natasha Ahmed of Flow Republic. “It helps you relax into it and stay calm.”
The natural environment seems to fit the message of Vinyasa Yoga instructors very well: stay calm and control your breathing when the going gets tough. Holding those poses, poses so much less of a challenge when the quiet count in nature provides the rhythm to see it through.
“The ocean itself and large bodies of water give off negative ions that make you feel really good and grounded,” explained Steve Hubbard, aka NamaSteve, who instructs Yoga on the Bluff. “Outdoor yoga provides fresh air, sunlight, and you’re actually more connected with the Earth’s electromagnetic field being barefoot on the grass.”
The benefits are obvious — taking such a composed practice into such a tranquil environment. But it comes with challenges that most (indoor) yoga instructors don’t have to overcome.
NamaSteve started Yoga on the Bluff a decade ago. He said it took time to build it into what it is today. He lives right across the street, so that affords him special access to the bluff where Law Street meets the beach. His Sunday classes at 10 a.m. and are packed. It’s difficult to find a space on the grass. But his weekday classes, which began in 2016, launched with just two to four people, and continues to grow at an incremental rate.
When speaking with Natasha, she tells me how hard it was to build her “tribe.” Coming from a marketing background, she is well-suited to start a business teaching yoga. The Facebook ads she posted brought people to her class, but eventually, her “tribe” grew by more organic means.
“People were making friends on that big hill and I <FZ,1,0,21>was seeing more familiar faces every week,” she laughed.
“That big hill” sits by the basketball courts in Crown Point Park. A gradual bluff rises there to provide great views of the City, while the soft waves from the bay wash ashore on the sand below.
With unlimited possibilities provided by the outdoors, those of us who take these classes are often reminded that it is indeed an uncontrolled environment — dogs bark, get away from their masters, and sometimes run through the yoga ranks, but rarely do people mind. The occasional passerby sings their music too loud, causing laughter among the yogis. At times, even small children cause a bit of a ruckus.
“Sometimes, the kids join us to practice for a few poses,” Natasha relates. “It lightens up the mood and makes us all giggle a little bit.”
Other challenges include the weather, but living in San Diego certainly makes that easier. NamaSteve has been running his outdoor yoga class uninterrupted for all 10 years, and will continue to hold classes all winter long.
Paths to Enlightenment
NamaSteve and Natasha have overcome a lot of challenges to build their following in Pacific Beach, and yet they both arrived at the same place coming from different paths. NamaSteve was a bartender and manager at the PB Ale House for eight years. That’s where he got the name “NamaSteve,” thanks to some cute, flirty patrons, he said.
Natasha comes from Boston, and when the corporate gig that brought her west fell through, she turned to yoga to make a living. Now she’s thriving, and anyone can join her classes.
While these two creative instructors found a niche in the same place, they each have different ideas for the future. NamaSteve preaches connectivity, and streams his weekend classes on his website namasteveyoga.com He wants you to be able to connect to the peaceful beach environment, even if you’re stuck inside. That’s why he invested in a six-foot crane for his video camera, and has a person manning it while he sings his instructions to his loyal following.
“I use to stream it live back in 2012 and 2013,” Namasteve explained, citing his proximity to the beach and having Internet access from there. “Unfortunately, it was a lot of money and no one was really watching. I’m hoping to go back live by the end of next year.” His “class” looks forward to that.
Natasha takes a different approach and focuses her energy elsewhere. She’ll do yoga basically anywhere — in the office for her onsite corporate yoga clients, in the studio, and of course, in the park. While in her class you’ll hear more than the relaxing sounds of the ocean, as the rhythm of hip-hop music guides your body’s movements.
“A lot of beginners get turned off from yoga when they walk into a class and feel like they’re immediately expected to look and feel like the Buddha in meditation,” she said. I catch her drift, being new to yoga myself. “I call hip-hop yoga, ‘gateway yoga,’ ” she explained, “because it’s the way a lot of beginners discover they can do yoga, too.”
Beginners and experts alike have discovered this neighborhood gem and classes now get into the hundreds on weekends. It’s an amazing way to connect to yourself and the surroundings you live in. That Vinyasa style of yoga echoes harmoniously with the swaying leaves of grass between the mats, up from the crashing waves.
“It’s an amazing way to meditate for people who are naturally very active in body and mind,” Natasha concluded.
NamaSteve reminds all that it’s “a dynamic practice that anybody can do — from professional athletes to your grandma.”
“And let’s not forget above gazing up into the sky while you’re on your back in a restorative pose,” added Natasha. “Sometimes when we are that relaxed, we are receptive to the messages that nature delivers us through little things like shapes in the clouds. That may sound hippie-dippie, but I bet a lot of people know what I mean.”
I know what she means. It feels good to stare up into the clouds and let your mind wander.
BEACH YOGA CONNECTIONS
• Web: namasteveyoga.com
• E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Instagram: @namasteveyoga
• Facebook: facebook.com/Namasteveyoga
• Web: flowrepublicyoga.com
• E-mail: email@example.com
• Instagram: @flowrepublicyoga
• Facebook: facebook.com/flowrepublicyoga
BELMONT PARK SUNSET YOGA
Yoga, beats and a brew on the Coaster Terrace in Belmont Park is offered April-September; buy the ticket, take the ride with a live DJ, and enjoy a beer to cap it off. Savasana at sunset. belmontpark.com/rhythmandmoves