A walk on the wild side

A morning stroll through La Cañada Flintridge's Descanso Gardens doesn't have to end at the trail but in child's pose, stretched on a yoga mat.

The next 10-week yoga program at Descanso begins on Jan. 4. The morning and evening classes are Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Longtime yoga instructors Cara Davis and Cam Hall work with participants on increasing strength, flexibility and decreasing stress.

Class begins with a 25-minute fitness walk to warm up muscles and to identify any pains or aches. The walk also relaxes and prepares students' minds for meditation during the 60-minute yoga practice, instructors said.

"Walking sounded good to me and from a teaching perspective, it gets your blood pumping in the morning," said Descanso yoga instructor Davis. "You're letting the day go and it settles you."

Davis began practicing yoga in 1990 and returned after giving birth to twins, she said. The La Crescenta resident was an accountant prior to her work as an instructor and took classes at Descanso Gardens before becoming certified.

Exercising in the gardens and practicing yoga taught her to reclaim her body, Davis said.

"I think yoga teaches you to listen to yourself, so you know what your needs and wants are so you can be more productive in the world," she said. "I would encourage people to come to see what's possible for them."

Davis and Hall work with students to make sure the yoga moves are safe for each student's body, Davis said.

"If you're nervous about a yoga class or if you just know nothing, both Cara and I feel very strongly that anyone can do yoga and we will make it work for you," Hall said. "Come try it out. What you lose is an hour and half if it's a bust."

Hall lives in La Cañada Flintridge and began taking yoga as a teenager at her local Michigan YMCA 40 years ago with her mother. She and Davis tailor the course to each student.

"It's great for beginners," Hall said. "Some people show up and they're really afraid about hurting themselves. It's a very safe place to start. You get to be in a beautiful garden and you get to see all the beautiful changes."

Three sisters, Lisa Harrison, Mary Hawkins and Catherine Rowe, take yoga classes with Davis.

Hawkins enjoys that the class allows her to modify moves to fit her body, she said.

"For me personally, it just makes me feel really, really good. I used to have a lot of pain in my neck and since I've come to yoga classes, all that disappeared, especially with the exercises [Cara] has us do."

"Honor your body" is a phrase Davis uses, said Rowe, who has taken yoga for six years.

"We take the walk and we've all grown and stretched," Rowe said. "I think I became ¾ of an inch taller. I think it all has to do with the stretching and the opening up of yourself. I always feel very relaxed and centered after leaving."

The first class is free for new students. Participants are encouraged to wear walking shoes, exercise clothing and bring a mat and towel. For more information about yoga and other classes at the gardens, visit http://www.descansogardens.org.

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