A bond with nature at Laurel Acres Park

Every now and again, Mt. Laurel resident Liz Monaghan grabs her yoga mat and heads outdoors.

The desire to engage area “yogis” in an open-air setting brought her and about a dozen other women to the top of the hill at Laurel Acres Park in Mt. Laurel as dusk approached on Wednesday, June 27.

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“Yoga for the most part is a community spirited way of life,” said Monaghan, who is the director at Zenplicity, a yoga studio in Marlton. “Most people identify it with postures, exercise, stretching, which are all good things, which are all part of yoga.”

But there is more to yoga than just movements, she explained. It’s an entire community brought together.

“Most instructors just have a natural community relationship. They want to give; they want to share; they want to teach; they want to yield results,” she said.

“Being outside is a natural incorporation of that spirited part of yoga,” she added.

The idea to practice yoga outside presented itself while walking around the lake at the park two years ago with her daughter.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to do yoga up on top of the hill?” she casually asked her daughter.

“Well, why don’t you?” her daughter responded.

For beginners especially, the outdoor forum is a way to help relieve jitters, and, since the class was hosted for free, it’s also a way to see if yoga is a good fit.

Michele Leconey, who has been friends with Monaghan since grade school, decided to give yoga another chance after a run through the park. The night was her second encounter and she was looking forward to becoming “one with nature.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing so we’ll see what happens,” the Marlton resident said. “I’m really looking forward to being outside on this beautiful, perfect day.”

“It’s so perfect out here,” she added.

Monaghan taught a hatha yoga class at the park.

“Hatha yoga is traditionally matching the breath with body movement,” she said.

The breath is used to calm the body.

A three-tier breath begins in the belly, moves into the chest and escapes through the throat, she explained.

“Most people traditionally breathe shallow and miss the whole bottom part of their body.”

Through the class, she sought to teach deeper, more fluid breathing.

“We use our mind to maintain that,” she said.

From hatha yoga stems a plethora of other yoga types from aerobic to cardiovascular to relaxing and restorative practices.

“There’s something for everybody,” said Monaghan.

Yoga is also a great way to relieve aches and pains that are caused by stressors, she said.

Many people are referred to yoga by their doctors and chiropractors due to a loss of flexibility or joint issues.

Athletes use yoga to avoid injury and to stay flexible.

“I do work in health care and it has great benefits for the body and stretching,” said Zenplicity co-owner Patrick Ferguson, who was on hand to take some photographs of the class.

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, back pain is common and affects eight out of 10 people at some point during their lifetimes.

“A wonderful way to release back pain is to start with the traditional relaxing breath,” said Monaghan.

Sufferers should sit in a supportive position to release tension, she said, such as blankets under their seat.

“We have to find the source of the energy that’s disturbing the back,” she said.

Stretching mechanics can help to reenergize the spine and lengthening techniques, such as laying flat on the ground or against a wall can help to identify how it feels to sit tall and straight.

Many people are used to sitting in unnatural positions during the day, she explained, from driving with one leg and extended and one hand on the steering wheel to sitting on one side while lifting a buttock.

“You can imagine after years of years of repetitive habits that alter our natural state, it’s going to end up causing some aches and pains,” she said.

Yoga, she said, is a way to keep people in line.

Monaghan herself began the practice at the advice of her doctor.

When she was pregnant with her second child 12 years ago, despite only being in her early 30s, her body wasn’t reacting well.

“Even after the pregnancy, I was having lower back, hip pain,” she said. “It got a little worrisome.”

She found a beginner’s class to join, which she found to be intimidating at first.

Still, she trucked through and became invested.

The results were almost immediate, between the peace of mind she felt and physical healing.

Soon, she integrated what was done on the mat into her everyday life.

“That was the transformation,” she said, and she wanted to share the benefits with the community.

Monaghan has now been in practice for three years.

“You can take it to whatever level you want to,” she said. “That’s the beautiful of it.”

Atop the hill in the park as women climbed with eager spirits and colorful mats, Monaghan was just content to interact outdoors in pleasant weather.

“I was so worried about the heat,” she admitted.

The energy felt after a session is what makes the yoga ultimately worth it to her.

“One thing you discover with people who do yoga,” she said. “At the very end, everyone has a big smile on their face.”

Zenplicity is based at 230 North Maple Ave., Marlton. Learn more at www.zenplicity.co or call (856) 334–8047.

Laurel Acres Park in Mt. Laurel is located at 1045 South Church St. Visit www.mountlaurel.com/recreation/laurel_acres.php for more information.

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