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Yoga events move from studios to sunny spaces in Sewickley

| Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 5:04 p.m.

Yoga is more widely practiced and hailed these days for its stress-relieving and body-strengthening benefits, and lately it's become more common to find the activity out in the summer sun.

Hundreds of people participate in Yoga in the Square at 10 a.m. Sundays from June to September in Market Square, Downtown. The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and retailer lululemon present the free events.

In the Sewickley area, the Fern Hollow Nature Center in Sewickley Heights also is offering outdoor yoga, even sessions for very young children. Frequent rain has kept the classes from filling up, but organizers still are trying.

Explore Sewickley postponed its Balance on Broad event, originally scheduled for the end of June, because of rainy weather, but organizers say a new date soon will be announced. The idea is to bring yoga to the business district, along with other wellness initiatives.

The agency has planned a Yoga Block Party for Saturday on Hegner Way in Sewickley. Also, Laughlin Children's Center in Sewickley has infused yoga into its therapeutic work with children.

Interest in yoga has increased significantly. About 21 million adults and 1.7 million children practiced yoga in 2012, nearly double the number from 2002, according to survey results compiled by the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I believe that yoga — when practiced in nature — brings everything full circle,” said Heather Forsythe, 42, of Sewickley, one of the instructors at Fern Hollow. “For many people, outdoors is a place that brings a connection we have with everything.”

Forsythe began yoga 17 years ago when she was pregnant with her first child, and started teaching children the discipline in Richmond, Va., where she lived before moving to the Pittsburgh area in 2013.

At Fern Hollow, she teaches a class for children ages 3 to 9, a family class for those ages 5 and older and a story-time class for children. She said yoga gives children an awareness of their bodies and self-confidence in a fun way.

“Classes for children and for adults are completely different. I sometimes tell the adults who bring their children to try with us, to let their inner child come out again,” she said.

Forsythe also teaches at Yoga in Sewickley, at Yoga Edge in Ambridge and chair yoga to residents of Villa St. Joseph in Baden.

She explained the types of yoga: Vinyasa is based on flowing movement of the body and rhythmic breath through a series of postures. Hatha — “ha” meaning sun and “tha” meaning moon — is an ancient system of yoga encompassing postures.

Hatha encompasses most yoga styles, she said, so those who join a class identified as Hatha yoga most likely will partake in a fusion of different styles of yoga.

Alex Lancianese of Explore Sewickley said her hope for the agency's yoga gatherings is that people will enjoy a “fun and relaxing morning of stretching and sun salutations.”

Dana Malcolm, 47, owner and instructor at Yoga on Walnut in Sewickley, said outdoor gatherings introduce more people to yoga.

“Even if they're just walking by, they can see it's accessible to them,” Malcolm said.

Malcolm said outdoor yoga is becoming more popular because it gives participants more room to move, a lot of the classes are free, and people can show up without planning in advance.

She said yoga can benefit people of all ages. Children become engaged in the activity, “then once the relaxation comes, how quiet and content they feel,” she said.

For senior citizens, the practice can add flexibility and ease pain, she said.

“When you step off your yoga mat, you always feel better than when you step onto it,” Malcolm said.

Mya Koch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at mkoch@tribweb.com or 412-324-1403.

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