Yoga instructor Christine Rose of Hashtag Balance leads an outdoor yoga session at the River Park Shopping Center in Fresno. Image contributed by Hashtag Balance
Written by Edward Smith
After ranking last among 86 cities for outdoor yoga, Fresno instructors say they are thriving, and even through the pandemic, students couldn’t get enough balance in their lives.
It wasn’t just the heat and poor air quality that gave Fresno its low ranking. Fresno ranked at-or-near the bottom in three different metrics, according to website Lawn Love.
It ranked No. 84 — out of 86 — for number of instructors per 100,000 people as well as how many Google searches there were for “yoga.” Fresno ranked last for instructor quality as well. Fresno received a 61 for outdoor friendliness and 59 for cost.
Yoga instructor Christine Rose of Hashtag Balance said despite Fresno’s ranking, she has kept busy.
“Air quality and heat isn’t stopping people,” Rose said.
When Blue Moon Studio in Fresno shut down in response to the pandemic, students still reached out for private lesson. While she taught virtually — even hosting an online class as large as 500 people — people wanted in-person sessions, Rose said. But practicing in a confined space made some people nervous. That’s where outdoor yoga came in.
“When people were stressed out during the pandemic, they really needed their practice,” Rose said. “That’s where yoga teachers came in handy.”
Rose recently finished a tour of Fresno with classes at Chukchansi Park, Chaffee Zoo, Forestiere Underground Gardens, Fresno City Hall and more. She said she likes to go to different places as they provide a change of scenery for veterans. The Underground Gardens felt peaceful and serene for students while the zoo gave others a chance to practice in front of animals. Her session at City Hall even got Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer out on the mat for the first time.
“I am a strong believer in daily exercise and have practiced that my entire life,” Dyer said. “Fresno offers many opportunities for people to exercise outdoors and will be providing even more through the ongoing use of Measure P funding.”
Instructor Koren Stewart, who owns Yoga of Koren, said Fresno needs to work on access to green space. She said Fresno has a lot of beautiful parks with adequate shade, but they’re mostly concentrated in Clovis and north Fresno. The Shinzen Friendship Garden in Woodward Park has great space where people can practice without distractions, but it is very limited in terms of hours of operation.
In addition to outdoor yoga, Stewart says the reality is the Central Valley is hot and the cty could provide more indoor recreational spaces for rent where not only yoga instructors could practice, but also anyone who can’t afford expensive gym membership fees.
Stewart said her classes have been slow and steady. She has been a guest speaker and panelist about how yoga helps with health and wellness. She recently held sessions with football players because in addition to mobility, breathing techniques can help manage stress and studies have shown it can help reduce injuries.
Rose said while she understands why the top city [Greensboro, North Carolina] was chosen, she still rolls her eyes at Fresno’s ranking. Air quality and heat haven’t stopped people from wanting to get out. She also sees more yoga instructors holding pop-ups around town. Accessibility is also increasing. She has partnered with River Park to provide free yoga sessions at Barrelhouse Brewing on the second and fourth Sunday of every month. She is also partnering with Ampersand Ice Cream with a special release at their location near Fresno High.
“When you practice, it’s not just about moving and getting a good workout,” Rose said. “It’s about marking time for yourself.”