On a cloudless summer day at Bluff Park, more than 100 Long Beach residents moved in unison, strewn across a lush patch of grass along Ocean Boulevard. It’s a familiar scene in Long Beach, with brightly colored yoga mats scattered across the bluff. It’s not until the participants in the popular Yogalution on the Bluff class began to disperse that reminders of the global pandemic return. After rolling up their mats, participants donned their facemasks again and headed home, back to isolation, and uncertainty.
“Just to be outside feels good,” said George Bravo, who has been attending yoga classes on the bluff almost daily since its reopening. “To get some sunlight and soothe some of the anxiety and stress of what’s been going on. From being at home and unemployed, it’s just nice to get out and be active and not be idle.”
Yogalution Movement’s popular Yoga at the Bluff classes were shut down earlier this year as the statewide stay-at-home order made the city’s parks off limits. While classes were still offered online by the studio, the community connection (along with the fresh air and sunshine) was lost when in-person classes were canceled.
But for a little more than a month, classes have been able to start back up, allowing residents the chance to get outside, enjoy some sun, and take in an hour of normalcy.
“It’s great to see students that I’ve had for years and to see that renewed appreciation for it,” said Erin Grissom, who has been teaching yoga on the bluff for over four years and was one of the instructors during the first weekend back. “There’s people who come weekly and almost daily. Obviously they appreciate it enough to keep coming, but there’s that thing where when you lose something, you realize how much you appreciate it. And seeing everyone’s gratitude for being back out here is beautiful.”
For students like Bravo, the opportunity to start his day with yoga has improved several aspects of his life. During such an uncertain and stressful period, the in-person yoga classes have become a key component of his routine.
“I enjoy it, it’s a good relief. I get to breathe, I get to relax. This is how I start my day. Without yoga, I wouldn’t get into my daily routine,” Bravo explained. “I feel great, my body feels good, I’m more flexible. And my mood is better. I’m more calm, relaxed, and it helps me think before I act. I’m in a good mood.”
Bravo said that from his perspective, the participants have all been maintaining social distance and have been respectful of one another. That sentiment is echoed by Grissom, who notes that the classes were already spread out, even before COVID-19.
“It’s funny, we ask people to be six feet apart, and obviously everybody kind of knows that by now, but that’s what people were doing out here anyway,” Grissom explained. “If you’re in a studio, three inches between mats feels appropriate because you want to fill the space and make room for everybody. But when you have sort of endless space, everybody defaults to that (six feet) being a personal bubble anyway.”
Even though the park offers a solid amount of space, not everyone has felt comfortable returning to the class. Grissom said the current class sizes are comparable to what she saw pre-COVID, but the numbers are lower than what would be expected during the summertime. For those who do feel comfortable enough to be around their classmates at the park, it’s been a rewarding experience that goes far beyond watching through a screen at home.
“Being able to come out and gather again has been complicated for a lot of people who are trying to decide what levels of precaution feel the most respectful and considerate,” Grissom admitted. “It hasn’t been an easy choice for both the practitioners and our collective of teachers, but I truly prefer to teach out here. It’s so much more potent and sacred and so important I think for people’s mental, emotional and physical health. And those aspects can’t be forgotten when we talk about social distancing for health reasons.”