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Outdoor Yoga brings a breath of fresh air to Valley Stream residents


During the spring and summer months, Hendrickson Park provides a tranquil outdoor setting for people who are looking to relieve the stress of the past year with yoga. On Sunday mornings, yoga students gather beneath a tented area by the pool to practice the ancient art while listening to gentle music and the sounds of nature.      

SallyAnn Esposito, manager of Valley Stream’s Community Center, noted that the yoga classes sponsored by the village have been very popular this season, especially after Covid-19. “… With all the stress from Covid, people are now coming in [for] the yoga classes to get rid of that feeling of stress. . . .” she said.   

Covid-related precautions are still being taken at the classes, however. The village requires participants to fill out a release form before the beginning of each session to confirm that they don’t have any symptoms of the virus.

The Sunday classes, which are held from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., accommodate yoga students of all levels of ability, whether they are new to yoga or experienced. The Community Center also organizes chair yoga classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m.

“If you can breathe, you can do yoga,” Meredith Heine, who is a fitness instructor at the Community Center, encourages her students. While reminding them to “breathe” throughout her class, she guides her students through a series of classic yoga poses that each come with various health benefits.

Heine, who has a background in strength training, has been teaching group fitness classes for 18 years. She is also an instructor for the cardio kickboxing and chair Zumba classes held at the Community Center. She believes that after the stress and isolation felt by so many during the last year, people are ready to get back to their normal fitness routines. Heine said she notices that people are also trying to get away from the sedentary habits they may have fallen into because of the Covid-19 quarantine and restrictions.

“They want to move. They want to breathe. They want to exercise,” Heine said about her students.

Heine concludes her classes with “shavasana,” a traditional yoga pose, and leads her students in what she calls a “happiness mediation.” As she guides her students through the meditation, she tells them to focus on a memory that brings them joy while allowing the challenges of the last year to fade away.

In addition to the physical health benefits of the yoga classes, there is a social aspect to the classes held at Hendrickson. According to Lisa-Marie Ruggiero, who is a hatha yoga instructor at the Community Center, the students appreciate the sense of community they feel when they attend her classes.

“Yoga actually translates to union,” Ruggiero said. “. . . people love just meeting at the Community Center and getting together and being able to look forward to seeing each other each week . . . then taking on a practice where they can cultivate strength and flexibility, and inner peace.”

Ruggiero explained that hatha yoga is the oldest type of yoga focusing on breath and alignment. She also teaches “candelight yoga” at the Community Center in a room solely lit by about 50 battery-operated candles. Ruggiero said she begins each of these classes with a centering to give everyone a chance to settle in and let go of whatever they’re holding onto. During her candlelight classes, she also includes a 15-minute guided mediation, which she said can help to induce a good night’s sleep.

“I love it,” Saisawatt Srivilasa, said about the yoga classes. “It’s so relaxing and it also gets us in good shape.” She said she enjoys attending the yoga program at Hendrickson because the exercise is beneficial and can help with movement.

Esposito organizes a variety of other fitness classes at the Community Center, based on demand. In addition to the yoga programs, other outdoor fitness programs this summer include cardio kickboxing, Zumba, pilates, and restorative exercise classes. Esposito said she’s also looking forward to the fall schedule, which will include a “Mommy and Me” gymnastics program, and theatre classes for children. 

The Community Center classes are open to both village residents and non-residents with discounts available for veterans and those who are over 55. For more information about the Community Center’s classes, contact vscomcenter@vsvny.org or call 516-825-8571.