Yoga in the Park
Fine-tuning at Koreshan, health in isolation, farmers market afterward
The whistle of wind brushes through the leaves at Koreshan State Historic Site. Soothing Eastern music plays as the yoga instructor, Geva Salerno, encourages her students to stretch their arms toward the sky and to focus on the beautiful trees towering above them. This idyllic scene can be found any Sunday morning in this park just off U.S. Highway 41 in Estero, where Salerno helps students develop flexibility and discover tranquility. Salerno specifically teaches Sampoorna yoga during these Goddess yoga classes, focusing on full functionality of the mind and senses. And for casual participants attending sessions, it’s a technique in which Salerno can apply subtle changes. But the instructor says the most important element of the Goddess class may not be the style of yoga but the atmosphere of the park. “It’s an absolutely beautiful environment to do yoga,” she says, “conducive to relaxation.” Tranquility at Koreshan, site of the former Koreshan Unity communal group that deeded the property to the state in 1961 and was listed with the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1976, is what attracted Jennifer Thompson, owner of Adimmix, an Estero advertising agency. “I’m cooped up in an office all the time,” Thompson says. “I feel like I need to be outside at least once a week. It’s why I moved here from Michigan, but now I’m never outside,” adding that by attending the class, she strengthens her physical and mental well-being. Salerno first directs students through low-intensity stretching exercises, then gradually moving through a series of poses. She encourages students during the warrior pose, for instance, to imagine a sword pointing toward the sky. She suggests that if students have trouble moving from a cobra pose to a downward dog, that they may lift their body up as high as feels comfortable. As students close their eyes and flex leg muscles, she encourages them to focus their entire mind on the stretch in their appendage, meditating on every physical sensation. Sampoorna yoga is a blending of several styles and is credited with its founding by Shri Yogi Hari, saying that health, peace and joy are within us and need only be uncovered. The practice came to the States in the 1970s.
Koreshan’s soft pine needles, the immense shade and the isolation make perfect sense and put the natural environment to its best use. “Especially with the river nearby and the pines overhead, the yoga Geva brings to the park fits perfectly,” says Brittany Petit, park services specialist at Koreshan. “It’s calm, energizing and invigorating all at the same time.” For the park, yoga also draws crowds on Sundays, many of which may visit the farmers market or tour the historic site as well, Petit says. Koreshans formed their “New Jerusalem” in 1894, peaked at some 250 residents who built living and working quarters. Most structures remain. Founder of the sect, Cyrus Teed, died in 1908. Salerno, co-founder of Creative Connection, charges $10 for yoga sessions, and the price covers park admission. The certified instructor also teaches classes at some country clubs in the Bonita-Estero area and at Studio 1084 in Naples. Creative Connection focuses on creative arts therapy and wellness programs, and the company also organizes classes in tai chi and facilitates drumming, as well as a variety of other creatively focused activities such as collage workshops and healing sound circles. Traditional yoga fits in with that selection of offerings, she says, and helps enhance the lives of people in this area. She notes that holding some classes in outdoor settings introduces them to a training environment different than any air-conditioned setting. “Nature,” she notes, “has its own vibration.”
“It’s calm, energizing and invigorating all at the same time.” —Brittany Petit, Koreshan park services specialist
Koreshan's tranquility is ideal for yoga, allowing practitioners such as Geva Salerno (below left) the peace of isolation to focus on the functionality of the mind and senses.
Koreshan Unity believed the universe was contained within earth's core. Settlement buildings at the Estero site remain intact.