WALNUT CREEK -- Although there was a slight chill in the air on a recent overcast Thursday morning, a group of people showed up to stretch.
As yoga mats were arranged in a semicircle at the entrance of the Ruth Bancroft Garden, Pleasant Hill yoga teacher Jan Enderle led the students through a series of gentle, flowing movements.
"Outside yoga is a little different. Instead of closing ourselves from the world, we're going to bring everything in," said Enderle, who guided students to the benefits of each yoga pose and movement.
She explained that her style, called Sugi Yoga, emphasizes gentle movements that encourage participants to be mindful of their bodies to ensure a pose or movement doesn't cause any pain. Enderle said she invites students to "find a place where it's comfortable and stay there." The adage "no pain, no gain," doesn't have a place in her class, she said.
After exploring the parks, trails and open space of Contra Costa County for several years, Enderle received training and certifications in horticulture and natural landscape interpretation. Soon after, she took up yoga teacher training at what was then Sugi Yoga studio in Pleasant Hill in 2004.
Enderle's first introduction to yoga "all started with a book and a TV show," when she was 20 years old.
"I did my yoga off and on for several years as I was hiking but hadn't combined the two," said Enderle, who took up backpacking in high school. "I always hiked
Today, Enderle has blended her two passions -- hiking and yoga -- and is offering them through Yoga Nature Adventures for the public's enjoyment.
She started inviting people on yoga hikes and soon developed a following, she said.
"Now, I can't go hiking anywhere without scoping out a great yoga spot," said Enderle, who also teaches at Windbell Wellness Center in Pleasant Hill.
Practicing yoga outdoors, she said, adds a whole new dimension to the experience.
"Inside you're 'walling' yourself off," said Enderle, who started offering yoga at the Ruth Bancroft Garden this month. "When you're outside, you're opening yourself up, you're exposed to everything -- the weather, plants, animals. You're really connecting with everything that's around you."
The cold morning at the Ruth Bancroft Garden didn't stop Jenny Mosley of Concord from attending her first yoga class in a long time.
"It's nice to be stretching in a beautiful setting," said Mosley, who was on her way to work. "I was enjoying the nature, the birds and the clouds. It was a great way to start the day.
Lafayette resident Kelli Sage heard about Enderle's yoga hikes through the Windbell center where she attends yoga classes three times a week.
"I have been practicing yoga for about seven years," Sage said. "My favorite yoga hike location is Morgan Territory Open Space. Jan always leads us to the perfect spot for our yoga practice that allows us to take in the trees, vista and sky as we move through our asanas (poses).
Enderle's yoga hikes offer many benefits, Sage said.
"I learn about plants native to California and the history of the East Bay," she said. "I enjoy the physical benefits of combining hiking and yoga practice. Most of all I gain a sense of peace and rejuvenation from time spent outdoors away from everyday routines. Jan's yoga hikes are my favorite way to start the weekend."
Sophie Damerel, education director at the Ruth Bancroft Garden, said the yoga class provided a sense of calm that lasted the whole day.
"As a novice yoga participant, I felt comfortable with the movements and enjoyed (Jan's) calm instruction, posture advice and modifications as well as her relaxing jokes," said Damerel. "It was great to see people laughing and smiling during the yoga session with their eyes wide open, taking in the beauty of the garden, the clouds, the chirping birds and the nature all around them."
What: Yoga Nature Adventures
When: 8 a.m. Thursdays
Where: Ruth Bancroft Garden, 1552 Bancroft Road, Walnut Creek
Information: For more on yoga hikes and classes, visit www.yoga-adventures.info