Shaler residents, visitors rise and shine for yoga in the park
The Allegheny County Health Department granted Shaler with Live Well Allegheny status in May for prioritizing residents' and employees' physical and mental health and wellness.
The township's Yoga at Kiwanis Park program shares similar goals, according to certified yoga instructor Lizzie Hanulak, who volunteers to lead the free summer yoga classes from 8 to 9 a.m. Saturdays.
“This program goes hand in hand with the goals of Live Well Allegheny. It gets the residents up and moving while promoting a healthy lifestyle,” said Susan Fisher, Shaler commissioner and parks and recreation committee chairwoman. “Having this in place was another reason to get involved with the county program.”
Five years ago, Hanulak, of Etna, approached the commissioners about offering accessible yoga classes to people of all ages. Participants need not reside in Shaler.
“It's convenient. It's in a place, where at the time, there weren't programs. If you wanted yoga in the park, you had to go into the city,” she said.
The Kiwanis Park location appeals to her because children can play while their parents or guardians participate in the lessons. Children also are welcome to participate — current students range in age from 15 to over 80.
According to Hanulak, the classes are suitable for people of all abilities. She routinely demonstrates pose modifications to vary difficulty levels.
“It is about the village moving and existing together. It is about dispelling the ideas about yoga to so many and mainly working to help them feel alive without fear for a little while,” she said.
“It's a place of solitude and quiet reflection; I can almost say meditation,” said participant Jody Rieg, of Shaler.
“It's just wonderful. It allows you to focus on parts of your body and do movement that you probably wouldn't do during the day on a normal basis, so someone in my age group, you know, upper 50s, it just seems like it's perfect.”
Hanulak thinks the sunrise yoga sessions afford a noteworthy atmosphere.
“The morning is beautiful. There's something very, I think, symbolic about seeing the sun rise because it gets really high by the time we're oming (performing a mantra) and the birds chirp and the air is sweet.”
“I love being outside because you hear the sounds of nature, and when I'm on my back, I look up at the clouds, in particular, and the tops of trees,” said participant Nadia Vargo, of Shaler. “Typically, we don't lie on our backs at all outside. There's something about being connected to the earth outside that is extremely valuable to me. It's a seasonal treat.”
Vargo attends the class with her husband, Steve.
“I think it's brought us closer together because it's another interest that we share together.”
“We focus on breath and we focus on different parts of our bodies to strengthen them. The health and strength benefits are just unrivaled. It's wonderful. And Lizzie makes it enjoyable. The hour goes before you even know it,” Rieg said.
“Yoga saved my life,” Hanulak said. She discovered the practice during a 2009 Craig's List search for affordable athletic classes while going through a difficult divorce. She started taking courses at South Hills Power Yoga, where she eventually became a certified teacher in 2012.
Hanulak owned Hampton's Lizzzrrd Lounge Studios from 2012 until 2013. Now, she works at Schoolhouse Yoga.
Prior to launching her yoga career, Hanulak worked in graphic arts and administration in Boston.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald launched Live Well Allegheny in 2014 as an initiative encompassing physical and mental health, personal and community safety, prevention and preparedness. County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker leads the effort with the Board of Health.
Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.