Philly’s annual summer tradition of free yoga and fitness classes on the Delaware River waterfront is back. For the next few weeks of the season — anyone, no matter their experience level — is welcome to stop by Cherry Street and Race Street Piers for a fun and free vinyasa flow.
“I love doing yoga on the river. I kind of call it like the camping of yoga because we don’t have the amenities of being in the yoga studio,” said Mariel Freeman, the founder of South Philadelphia’s Three Queens Yoga, who is leading sessions at both piers throughout the summer.
“We can get so many more people to move together — which is, especially after the last couple of years, an incredible feeling to be able to move together in a big way,” said Freeman, who has been practicing yoga for 22 years.
The piers aren’t the most conventional places for a calming yoga class, but somehow it works. The lull of the PATCO rumbling in the background, the slight breeze that comes off the river, and the heat of midsummer create a special Philly ambiance that accompanies the workouts.
“It’s just a gorgeous setting,” said Sarah Eberle, the creative director at the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, the organization behind Wellness on the Waterfront, a summerlong program that offers exercise classes on Race Street Pier from May through September. “It’s also this level of serenity that I don’t think you necessarily get within the studio space.”
The goal of Wellness on the Waterfront is to connect people with the waterfront, which is disconnected from the city by I-95, and get them to do something healthy, said Eberle. The outdoor series is presented by Independence Blue Cross and has been going strong for six years on the Race Street Pier. The classes went virtual in 2020 and restarted in person halfway through last summer. This is the first full season of the program since the pandemic — it kicked off on Memorial Day and will wrap up on Labor Day with a yoga dance party. Until then, residents and visitors can get their heart rates up on Mondays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Sunday mornings at 10 a.m.
Over on the Cherry Street Pier, yoga will be available every Wednesday in July at 5:30 p.m. as part of Philadelphia Magazine and Be Well Philly’s Summer Yoga Flow.
“The city’s always buzzing in the summer. I think people just want to be by the water and in community and just enjoy the sunshine,” said Laura Bryski, the health and wellness editor at Philadelphia Magazine.
The Summer Yoga Flow sessions include music by DJ Abby Klein and are sponsored by Gatorade, Michelob ULTRA, and Little Leaf Farms. This means that the events are free and open to anyone who wants to join and the instructors get compensated for the time. After the workout, attendees can join a happy hour at The Garden at Cherry Street Pier.
The first summer yoga flow session was on Wednesday, July 6.
The pier was full of yogis — of all ages, races, genders, and experience levels. There was even a baby and dog present. Freeman says that these free classes break down some barriers, like cost, that might get in the way of someone coming to a studio. It’s also a great way to get started if you’re new to yoga since classes are designed to accommodate all levels.
If anyone is nervous, don’t hesitate to stop by, said Freeman, the Three Queens Yoga instructor.
“If there’s an urge or a call or a push to come, just follow that and listen to your body,” she said. “The whole point of yoga is to attune to the voice of the true teacher that’s inside every one of us.”
Latifah McMullin got into outdoor yoga during the pandemic, while training to be a yoga instructor at Three Queens Yoga. She stopped by the free session because she’s been out of practice and wanted to get back into the flow of her practice and find some peace.
“During a pandemic, it was a lot easier to just sit and be still,” said the certified yoga teacher. “As things opened up and as things started trying to rev back up into that fast pace, I feel like I need yoga sometimes to just sit and be still.”
Philly’s free yoga classes can provide a lot: stillness of the mind, a fun time, community, and a good workout.
“It’s just a really beautiful 45 minutes to an hour of just calm, connectedness, and serenity,” said Eberle from the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.