Ellen Pierce grew up running, hiking, playing and swimming in Acadia National Park, which was practically in her Somesville backyard.
From a young age, Pierce possessed a love of the natural world and grew to become passionate, too, about the practice of yoga.
Those two passions spurred Pierce’s Yoga in Your Park, a nonprofit network of yoga practitioners, which seeks to instill an appreciation of nature through outdoor classes of the ancient Hindu practice.
Pierce’s introduction to yoga began at age 16 with instructor Lyn Gatz at the former Cattitude studio in Bar Harbor. After experiencing a childhood trauma, yoga became her solace.
“It was really a saving grace for me,” Pierce said.
In 2009, she received her yoga teacher training from the Nosara Yoga Institute in Costa Rica. Upon her return to Mount Desert Island, she began doing yoga that summer in Acadia National Park and found the experience to be awe-inspiring.
“I started practicing in the park and I remember seeing the sky while I was in downward dog [yoga pose] and I felt an expansiveness that I had never felt before,” Pierce said.
As a new yoga instructor, Pierce wanted to share her experience with students and friends.
“I fell in love with the park in a whole new way by experiencing its different dynamics whether it was a clear, sunny day or a foggy day,” she said. “I began to see Acadia as a uniquely special place that has a lot of dynamic qualities.”
She began offering classes at the Blue Hill overlook on Cadillac Mountain and was pleasantly surprised by the number of those who turned out.
Soon, Pierce’s idea turned into a national network.
Yoga in Your Park took off after an instructor from Seattle took one of Pierce’s classes while visiting Acadia National Park. Months later, she contacted Pierce asking how to start a similar program in Washington state. Pierce then moved to Boulder, Colo., where she started teaching outdoor classes while earning her master’s degree in contemplative psychotherapy from nearby Naropa University.
“It was a seed of an idea that I was really passionate about,” she said. “I wanted all yoga teachers to be able to experience the feeling and it sort of grew organically and we began to create a network and a community.”
Now, yoga instructors from Seattle to Austin to Annapolis and even Australia are sharing their practice outside.
Couple the mental and psychological benefits of yoga with the boost of the outdoors and the experience can be “expanding,” Pierce said.
“I would say it is one of the most interesting ways to connect with the park,” she said. “Once you connect within yourself, you then pay attention to nature in a whole new way.”
Outdoor yoga combines the physical and mental benefits of exercise and experiencing nature.
“You get the benefit of reduced [stress hormone] cortisol, increased flexibility and if you do it consistently you may experience easy, organic weight loss,” Pierce said. “Once you are attuned to needs of your body you will have lowered blood pressure and increased focus.”
Studies have shown that spending just 20 minutes outdoors can improve short-term memory by up to 20 percent. It also has been suggested that spending time in nature is a tool to reduce the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactive disorder in children.
Yoga in Your Park is open to people of all ages and skill levels.
The first class at Acadia National Park was scheduled for June 6 atop Cadillac Mountain and the outdoor classes run through early September.
Vigorous vinyasa and gentle hatha and yin-style classes also are offered on Sand Beach, Beech Mountain, facing the Bubbles from Jordan Pond and along the rocky beach of Acadia’s hidden Wonderland trail on the western side of Mount Desert Island.
Edith Dubois, Chelsea Bolson and Pierce’s mother Sara Pierce and others will teach various classes throughout the season.
“Each teacher is unique in their style and each person is unique in what they like so they can find their perfect fit,” Pierce said.
No matter which class or what location one chooses, the beautiful views, mountain or salt air will do the body — and mind — some good.
“Once I made my way back to my body it totally transformed me,” Pierce said. “And my deep love of nature continued to expand.”
Tuned to nature, yourself
First, find a class near you at app.yogainyourpark.com.
The site will prompt you to select a location and it will then display the class options within Acadia National Park. Select a class to learn more about it and then hit the “Book Class” button.
After confirming your reservation, you will be prompted to either purchase a single class or a class package. One class is $17 and packages range from $45 for three classes; $130 for 10 classes or $200 for 20 classes.
For information about private lessons in your area, contact Ellen Pierce at [email protected].