On a warm, breezy morning, a group of 300 people assembled at Berkley Riverfront Park on the south bank of the Missouri River. They arrived in cars and on bikes, alone and in groups, accompanied by dogs and by children. They represented a wide demographic, ranging from five to 75 years old, male and female—a rainbow of race and religion. All came with a singular purpose: to roll out their mats in the grass and practice yoga.
The event on July 4, hosted by yoga instructor Lauren Leduc of Karma Tribe Yoga, was just one of many free, public yoga classes that you can find around the Kansas City area. The format of donation-based, outdoor, “guerrilla-style” yoga—sometimes popping up where you’d least expect it—has grown in popularity over the last three years. You can find people doing yoga on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, at the Kansas City Bier Company, in Independence Center, and at Gillham Park.
For some, the concept of free yoga in a large group—and often in an outdoor setting—is less intimidating than showing up for a much smaller, more formal class in a yoga studio. Lacey Sturgis, for example, came to the Berkley Riverfront yoga event with her black lab, Molly. She said that for her, location and timing is everything.
“I have gone to Yoga in the Park at the Nelson-Atkins Museum. I’ll go about once a month,” said Sturgis. “I try to find somewhere within walking distance of work. I like that these free events usually rotate instructors. That gives you a chance to try different instructors before going to a class. Plus, this is more relaxed. Everyone is just out, enjoying the weather.”
Before the class on July 4 began, a family of four—Megan and Josh Burdette, their eight-year-old daughter, Kodi, and their ten-year-old son, Ryder—relaxed on their yoga mats, soaking up the sunshine. Josh said he had practiced yoga in the past but has had a difficult time making it a regular thing since becoming a parent. The informal format of this event seemed ideal.
“It’s a good chance to get out with the family and try some yoga together,” said Josh.
As the class got started, Leduc introduced herself to the group, and then invited everyone to get out of their comfort zones. “Get up off your mat and meet three people you don’t know, and then give them a high five,” she instructed. Three-hundred people stood and began high-fiving, and even hugging each other. When the chatter died down and the yogis returned to their mats, Leduc continued.
“There are lots of different kinds of people here. Different ages and different stories,” she said. “Remember our practices will all look different. Remember, we’re all in this together.”
A Yogi’s Journey
Lauren Leduc grew up in suburban Kansas City in what she describes as a conservative, religious household. “Yoga was not practiced,” she said, “and in fact, some of my churches early on actually preached against it.”
The now 34-year-old yoga instructor said she found the practice when she was a senior in high school. “I was a dancer growing up, and a super high-achiever,” she said. “I developed an eating disorder. When I was 17 years old, I spent one month in recovery. There, I was introduced to yoga for the first time, primarily for its psychological benefits. The breathing, the movement… It was satisfying in a way I’d never known before.”
In the early 2000s, it was nearly impossible for a suburban Kansas City teen to not only find places to practice yoga, but also to afford them. Leduc would track down VHS videos to practice at home. She left for college, got a degree in fashion, and then returned to Kansas City in 2011.
“I started daily practice with teachers,” said Leduc. “It completely transformed my life and accelerated my healing. I was moving in a way that I felt strong again. I was growing stronger, becoming more mindful. Even early on in this process, I had an internal whisper to teach.”
In 2013, she signed up for yoga teacher training.
Leduc describes the past five years as a whirlwind period of “accelerated growth”. She began working for various studios, community centers, and gyms in the Kansas City area.
“My goal was to teach as much as possible with as many bodies as possible,” she said.
“That has always been a passion of mine. When you look at my appearance: I am a young, white, able-bodied woman—what you would stereotypically expect from a yoga instructor. But I’ve always known that yoga is not for one type of person. It is beneficial for everyone.”
Learning to teach all kinds of body types and abilities grew into a determination to make yoga as accessible as possible to everyone. Leduc began teaching classes at Yoga in the Park at the Nelson-Atkins Museum, which was one of the first pop-up yoga events in the area. Since getting started in 2009, Yoga in the Park’s Facebook group now has more than 7,700 members.
“It has grown a lot in the last three years, but back then, we usually had 12 to 20 people show up at each class,” said Leduc of Yoga in the Park.
On an unusually warm weekend in March 2015, Leduc decided on a whim to post on Facebook and offer an outdoor yoga class. “I set a time and a place… and 50 people showed up,” she said. “That was unprecedented. So, I tried it again the next week.”
Leduc then founded Pop-Up Yoga KC and began partnering with other organizations and businesses to arrange locations for the free yoga events.
“I saw how transformative it was, and then I envisioned a home for the pop-up yoga: a donation-based studio,” she remembered. “It manifested itself really fast.”
The first home for Leduc’s Karma Tribe Yoga, a donation-based studio, was a shared space in the Crossroads District. In 2016, the studio moved to its own space in Midtown at 35th St. and Broadway Blvd.
Evolution of Pop-Up Yoga
As Leduc has grown as a yoga teacher, so has the concept of offering yoga to the masses.
“When we first started, it was guerilla-style yoga,” laughed Leduc. “We were a crazy, traveling group of yoga people. Now that I have a studio it has been beneficial to partner with organizations and businesses in order to have more regular meet-ups.”
Pop-Up Yoga KC partners with Friends of the River to help with their Riverfront Fitness program. They have teamed up with the Kansas City Public Library to do “Yoga on the Rooftop” of the main branch. “It’s so pretty up there,” said Leduc. They’ve done yoga at the Kansas City Museum; at Gillham Park; at the Belvoir Winery in Liberty; and even “Yoga in the Pool” at UMKC.
While the outdoor format has its benefits—exposure to the public, and a connection with nature, for example—Leduc said she encourages people to step inside the studio.
“I know it can be intimidating!” she said. “I try to look at it through their eyes. I understand. So, we try to cultivate that same welcoming feeling you get at the outdoor events.”
And feeling welcome to roll out your mat and enjoy an accessible yoga class is exactly what Leduc hopes to achieve with her pop-up events.
“I want for anyone walking down the street to see lots of different people, from all walks of life, practicing together,” said Leduc. “It’s incredibly inspiring. There is so much negativity and divisiveness in this world. It is a huge privilege to be able to co-facilitate a space where all of that feels non-existent.”
All photos by Rick Mayo / Mile 90 Photography
About the Author
Kristi Mayo is the editor of REC Midwest.