Blog Post Annie Riker Jul 2, 2015

My 'Microadventure' on Frederick Douglass' Front Lawn

One night of yoga didn’t wipe away all of my stress, but it did remind me of the real reason of why I do what I do.

June 16th was one of those days that I really, really needed yoga. Like many Washingtonians, I had scheduled way too many meetings and deadlines. The hot and humid weather added another layer of exhaustion. Mentally and physically drained, my tired brain did its best to talk me out of going to class.

But, I had made a commitment to try something new, so I wearily grabbed my gear and endured the rush hour traffic. I rolled out my mat and settled in, but I wasn’t sitting on the bamboo floors of my regular yoga studio. Instead, I was on the soft grass at the top of Cedar Hill—the front door of Frederick Douglass’s house.

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The shade from the large trees and the miraculous breeze started to rejuvenate me. There were about 20 of us on the lawn, along with an instructor from District Yoga and a jazz guitarist who played throughout the practice.

Our instructor started class with some guided meditation, encouraging us to notice the sounds around us—the sirens and traffic, the gentle music played by the guitarist, and the softer sounds of the leaves blowing in the wind. “What else can you hear?” she asked. “Birds!” someone in class shouted out. (Someone else whispered, “You’re not supposed to say it out loud!”)

The slight incline from my spot on the hill gave my downward dog pose a refreshingly different feeling. I noticed how easily the weight distributed away from my shoulders and down to my legs—something I’m usually actively working to achieve. My gaze extended past my legs to the backdrop of downtown D.C., upside-down. The busy traffic looked like tiny ants, and soon my attention shifted to the slower-moving clouds.

The class was both challenging and comfortable. There was a range of newbies and more experienced yogis. The instructor kept the tone light and genuine, and the class followed her lead with occasional jokes and laughter after falling out of balancing postures.

One night of yoga in the park didn’t wipe away all of my D.C. stress, but it did remind me of the real reason of why I do what I do with NPCA. I help to protect these places for the experience I can have, and so I can share that experience with other people.

As class came to a close, Ranger Jocelyn Cole shared a brief overview of the Frederick Douglass National Historical Site and invited us to a social hour (with snacks!). I sipped some lemonade and munched on strawberries while I chatted with Julie Kutruff, eastern district manager for the National Park Service. Where did this idea come from? Why yoga? Why here?

Julie explained that the event is part of a series of “microadventures” she’s helping to arrange with the national parks in the area. The idea came from reading an article in Outside magazine. Partners at Outdoor Afro, a network of enthusiasts that celebrates African Americans in nature and inspires diverse people to enjoy the outdoors, helped to organize the event.

“We put our heads together and thought about how to inspire people to do something different after work or school,” she said. “Instead of going home and watching TV or playing video games, someone could have a park experience in their community.”

The Park Service has already hosted several other events, including an “Escape from Washington,” a three-mile urban hike tracing the escape route of John Wilkes Booth out of the city over the 11th Street Bridge. Park staff also hosted a potluck dinner and night hike at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens to listen to night frogs and observe wildlife in the evening, which was very popular. Upcoming adventures will include a hike from Frederick Douglass National Historical Site to the Hiker-Biker Trail to Fort Stanton and back, as well as overnight camping at Greenbelt Park in nearby Maryland.

And, because of the success of the Cedar Hill yoga, it will be back on July 14th! See you there? Namaste.

Learn more on the park’s website and check the events calendar for upcoming sessions. Learn more about diverse outdoor events like this around the country on Outdoor Afro’s website.

About the author

  • Annie Riker Former Creative Director

    Annie Riker is the former Creative Director for NPCA. She’s currently a freelance illustrator and designer based in Asheville, NC.