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Umlauf Sculpture Garden offers outdoor yoga classes

Birds, water, sculpture all add to peaceful experience

Staff Writer
Austin 360
03-29-12 Laura Skelding/American-StatesmanYoga classes are held at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden in Austin on Wednesdays and Fridays. The classes are held outdoors in the garden. On this particular day the class took place under a pavillion because of a chance of rain. Brigitte Edery (cq) lead an Anusara class on Wednesday. Jeffrey Solomon, left, took this class.

With some chirpy encouragement from a bird on a nearby branch, I bend just a little farther, until I feel like a flexible stalk of wheat.

The water splashing in the background relaxes me. So does the misty, un-airconditioned air that's washing over my body.

Yoga in the great outdoors feels good. Here at Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, among the watchful eyes of a collection of stone, terra cotta and bronze works by Charles Umlauf, it feels even better.

The Umlauf was the first Austin museum to join the American Association of Museums' new Let's Move! Museums & Gardens initiative, which encourages active programming that promotes good health. The museum has hosted the occasional yoga class over the years, but launched a weekly class a year ago. This February, it added a second.

The hour-and-a-half anusara yoga classes, held at 10 a.m. every Wednesday and Friday, draw a dozen or so students who pay $10 per session.

Everywhere I look, I can see sculptures tucked amid the greenery. Today, I can't take my eye off a statue of an anguished-looking woman protectively embracing her child.

"We're really blessed to be here," says instructor Brigitte Edery, who has been practicing yoga since 1987 and teaching since 2003. "The weather, the sound of the birds and the water — it's just blissful."

I close my eyes and focus on nature's soundtrack. Aside from the slight buzz of cars passing on Barton Springs Road, I can almost imagine that I'm downward-dogging in a lodge deep in the Costa Rican jungle.

"What more serene place could you practice?" asks Kaydee Carey, 26, whose mat is spread near mine.

Ederly, a curtain of wavy gray hair swishing over her face, leads us through a flowing series of poses, pausing to read a poem. At one point, we pair up for some partner stretches.

Sometimes, Edery incorporates the surroundings into class, encouraging students to offer themselves as a piece of art. When she needs help illustrating a pose, she might point to the same bronze angel that's now caught my eye. It's arms are open and lifted, its chest forward and wings spread. I feel like I have wings, too.

"Especially for something like yoga, where you're trying to find inner peace and calm, this adds to it," says Corey Smith, 31, another student.

Georgeanne Freeman, 46, a family practice doctor who recommends yoga to many of her patients, arranges her schedule around this class, which helps ease her own lower back pain. "I just feel that connectedness with the whole universe, especially being outside," she says. "Doing slow, gentle yoga — it just brings it all down."

The classes take place year-round. On balmy days, students gather in a trellis area overlooking the upper pond. When it rains, they move to this covered terrace. If it's cold, there's a glass-walled learning center.

"There is this sense of beauty here," Edery says. "When we feel connected to that beauty, we feel our own beauty."

The peaceful plop of raindrops on the pavillion roof marks the end of class. We sit quietly a few moments, then roll up our mats, recharged for the day.

Contact Pam LeBlanc at 445-3994. pleblanc@statesman.com