Outdoor programs offer health & wellness to area residents | Local News

SARATOGA SPRINGS & TROY, N.Y. — Around the Capital Region, health and fitness is happening in public parks, as area leaders aim to offer wellness programs as safely as possible.

In addition to the hiking, biking and walking opportunities local parks present for people looking to stay in shape during the pandemic, many organizations throughout the region are offering group exercise programs among the great outdoors this summer.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center and COESA recently started two new series, Tai Chi and Dharma Meditation, taking place at the Saratoga Spa State Park, while the Downtown Troy Business Improvement District brought back its annual Fitness In The Park program of weekly yoga classes.

For each of these group classes, organizers are striving for safety through social distancing, mask wearing, capacity limits and sanitizing.

In Saratoga Springs, the Tai Chi and Dharma Meditation events are limited to a maximum of 25 participants, who are required to register online in advance, then complete a health screening questionnaire before entering the SPAC grounds. The classes have socially distant marked spaces for each participant. Guests must wear a face mask at all times until the classes begin and then immediately after the classes conclude.

Likewise in Troy, before attending yoga classes attendees RSVP online and participation is limited to 47 individuals keeping with the New York state guidelines for gathering. When yogis arrive, they check in and find a spot in one of the designated circles marked in the grass, six feet apart from one another so each participant can spread out comfortably. Individuals are asked to wear a mask until they are safely located in their circle, and bring their own mat and water.

“Safety of attendees is of utmost importance,” Downtown Troy BID executive director Katie Hammon said before the start of the program, which includes eight Sunday morning yoga sessions in Troy’s William D. Chamberlain Riverfront Park, located right on the Hudson River. In previous years, this popular free fitness program has attracted hundreds of participants per event.

“We are excited to be able to offer Fitness In The Park this summer since it has been a refreshing way to start Sunday mornings downtown throughout the years,” Hammon said. “We look forward to a fun, engaging season along the beautiful Hudson River with our local instructors from Heartspace Yoga as we begin to interact with our surroundings in safe ways.”

Heartspace Yoga & Healing Arts owner Andrew Kasius led the first class of the 2020 series on Sunday. “This is definitely a little different,” he said at the beginning of the practice, commenting on the small class size.

However, after isolating for months, “It’s important to be near, around people,” Kasius said. “It’s good for you.”

Kasius and his fellow Heartspace instructors are looking forward to continuing outdoor yoga classes and reconnecting with the community this summer in Riverfront Park to help support health and wellbeing, he said in a press release.

“The last few months has been a challenging time for our community and our nation,” Ali Skinner, spokesperson for sponsor CDPHP, added in the release. “CDPHP is thrilled to partner with the Downtown Troy Business Improvement District and Heartspace Yoga & Healing Arts to safely re-introduce Fitness in the Park to our community.”

After months of exclusively leading meditation via Zoom, Pierre Zimmerman of One Roof Saratoga, who guides the weekly practices on the SPAC grounds, was glad to get back to in-person group meditation with the start of the new health and wellness series earlier this month.

“It’s been proven that when people sit together, there’s more effectiveness in terms of calming the mind and body,” Zimmerman said on the benefits of meditating in close proximity to others. “When people do it individually, it’s fine too, but there is a difference.”

Another difference between a typical meditation practice and the new program is that participants are surrounded by the nature and beauty of the state park.

On a weekend when SPAC was originally scheduled to host Dave Matthews and thousands of his fans, the venue’s biggest event involved about two dozen individuals quietly seated and spaced apart while meditating on a Sunday morning.

Nevertheless, those in attendance enjoyed the silence, and appreciated the distancing measures that kept them safe.

In addition to meditation at 9 a.m. on Sundays through the end of August, SPAC and COESA also present Beginner Introduction To Tai Chi classes at 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays through the end of July at the Saratoga Spa State Park in Saratoga Springs.

Fitness In The Park, which also takes place at 9 a.m. on Sundays, will continue through Sept. 6 at Riverfront Park in downtown Troy.

Pre-registration is required for all programs.

For those who aren’t quite ready to resume their health and wellness practices in a group setting, there are still plenty of options online. Zimmerman is continuing to lead weekly Zoom meditations, and Heartspace Yoga offers online classes on a daily basis.