At Mount Vernon Canyon Club in Golden, Colo., a snow day means something other than skiing or sledding. “I had to stop classes indoors, because of cautions over how many people we could have together,” says Lili Bell Shelton, Wellness and Fitness Director. She started researching the possibilities for outdoor “snow-ga” and discussed the concept with the club’s yoga instructor.
For many people, a snow day is the perfect reason to pull out their skis or snowboards or sleds. At Mount Vernon Canyon Club in Golden, Colo., a snow day means something else – namely, “Snow-ga Yoga.”
Like many activities developed at club properties across the country in the past year, Snow-ga Yoga was born out of necessity, to combat the limitations imposed by COVID-19 guidelines.
“I had to stop classes indoors, because of cautions over how many people we could have together,” says Lili Bell Shelton, Wellness and Fitness Director.
She started researching the possibilities for outdoor “snow-ga” and discussed the concept with the club’s yoga instructor. Naturally, the instructor was game—with a few modifications, of course.
“She knew that she would have to allow her class to do more standing movements—and more movement in general—instead of holding still in the snow,” Shelton says.
After all, because Mount Vernon had already had outdoor yoga with goats in the summertime, along with sunset and moonlight yoga, a few snowflakes weren’t about to stop it from carrying on with classes in the winter. In fact, the white stuff just added to the fun.
Shelton scheduled six Snow-ga Yoga classes this winter, starting in January, even when sometimes the snow (or lack thereof) was a technicality. The second class was on a nice day with no snow, and the third class was actually the first one that took place in the snow, on the last Sunday in February.
Snow or no snow, the temperature was in the 20s for a couple of the classes, but at least they were on sunny days.
The classes lasted 50 minutes and were held between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. on the last Saturday or Sunday of the month.
With more than 100 acres, Mount Vernon’s property has plenty of room for socially distanced yoga. The participants bring their own mats and have to be at least six feet apart. Masks are optional. The classes are held on a flat area near the tennis courts, where ample parking is available.
In addition, Shelton says, “We can access the tennis house for the restroom and to serve hot tea afterward.”
The classes can accommodate up to 20 people, but have averaged 15. Participants have to sign up in advance, and the class is open only to club members. Unfortunately, COVID restrictions prohibit drop-ins or guests from being able to join the fun. Mount Vernon does not charge for the classes, and most of the class members are between 35 and 60 years old.
“If the snow is deep, the yogis have a challenge to stay balanced, or they will fall over in the snow,” says Shelton. “Standing poses are the best. One class ended with the ‘corpse pose,’ and then everyone made snow angels.”
Of course, she adds, there have been times when some people have just liked to fall down in the snow.
The instructor uses the vinyasa method, which has more body movement, in the classes. Vinyasa yoga is sometimes referred to as flow yoga, because students flow quickly from pose to pose. Each movement also corresponds to an inhalation or exhalation.
Vinyasa classes can be challenging because participants have to keep up the pace to match the breath and to move gracefully between the poses. The transitions are just as important as the poses themselves, and people can easily work up a sweat in these classes.
The poses in the Snow-ga Yoga classes are geared toward the muscle groups that are used for skiing: think warrior pose or chair pose.
“Those are all great for winter sports,” says Shelton. “A lot of people want to be in shape for skiing or snowshoeing or hiking. I think people that do sports outside appreciate stretching outside, too.”
The yogis dress for the snow-ga classes as if they’re going skiing.
“If you’re dressed well with good layers, it can be really fun and healthy to get outside in the winter,” Shelton says. “When you’re moving and exercising, it can get warm. That’s a nice feeling. I think people need to get outside in the cold and in the winter.”
Mount Vernon will continue to hold all of its yoga and fitness classes outside until COVID guidelines are lifted, she notes. Another bonus of the outdoor classes is that the participants can see animals such as horses, elk and deer.
“People ask for the class. They love being outside,” Shelton says. “After the isolation that we have experienced with COVID, it’s been so nice to see people—even if they’re 10 feet away from you.
“We have also been doing some classes on Zoom three times a week, but some people don’t like it,” she adds. “They really want to have that connection with their yoga friends.”