There's a natural harmony in doing a standing tree pose under a grove of California oaks, but you don't have to be a yogi to appreciate outdoor exercise.
Sonoma County has always had its year-round nature-loving cyclists, runners, hikers and surfers, but what's new under the sun, and morning fog, is organized outdoor group exercise.
Getting people to exercise alfresco is the intent of the Naturally Fit program, a collaboration of the Sonoma County Regional Parks and Sonoma County YMCA that this summer offered sports conditioning, resistance training, triathlon training for beginners, a bikini boot camp for new mothers and yoga classes at Spring Lake Park.
Anyone who prefers a dirt trail to a treadmill already recognizes the perks of getting an added endorphin rush from Mother Nature. Now studies confirm there are definite mental and physical benefits, including increased energy and decreased depression, to getting out of a stuffy, noisy gym.
Becky Ennis, group exercise coordinator for the YMCA, said the year-old program is a natural pairing with parks.
"Parks has the space and the Y has the programs," she said.
Plans are to expand the outdoor exercise schedule, which now ends in September, into the fall and winter months and into parks throughout the county. Ennis likes the idea of a family Zumba class in picnic areas.
As for weather issues, she said, "We've got parks with covered areas. Once folks get into the mode of exercising outdoors, they're usually not deterred by it being a little sloppy outside."
Instructor Nicole Martinovich, who teaches yoga at Jackrabbit Meadows at Spring Lake, said, "It's so much more expansive than four walls in a classroom. You can look up at the sky. The vibe is very different."
There are some constraints to practicing yoga outside. Holding a pose on hard, uneven ground is different than standing on a foam mat inside a studio. But that adds to the challenge, said Martinovich.