SARASOTA – As the sun beats its retreat from another day in the worst year of the 21st century, scores of people, maybe as many as 70, converge on Bayfront Park. They wander in singly, or in small groups, two or three, usually. Most are strangers to each other, although by now, the faces are beginning to look familiar.

They spread out, facing west, in an open area rimmed by oaks, palms and banyan. Sufficiently distanced, they are unmasked and, unimpeded, they breathe fresh air. They place mats and blankets on the grass in anticipation of the only communal effort some have joined in more than nine months.

Most are women, but men like Mike Stein are starting to catch up. A 71-year-old gym rat who coaches JV hoops at Cardinal Mooney, Stein had never tried yoga until now. He can tell you about the physical rewards, but that would be missing the larger point. “My goal is serenity, and peace of mind,” he says. “Because there really isn’t a book of rules and regulations for where we are now.”

Recovering from hip-replacement surgery, Connecticut resident Irene Young discovered this little oasis shortly after she and her husband arrived in Sarasota for a monthlong break. Tomorrow is her last day in town, and she doesn’t want to go home. “Oh, I’m definitely coming back,” she says. “I need this.”

Yoga instructor Erin Hurter leads a free yoga class on the lawn of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Saturday. About 60 people participated in the class.

What they keep coming back to is Erin Hurter’s hourlong Yoga By the Bay classes, which she conducts at Bayfront Park on Tuesday afternoons, and on Saturday mornings outside the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

“This is the highlight of my week. Especially when people who’ve never done yoga before show up,” Hurter says.

Hurter was the industry development manager with Visit Sarasota County when the coronavirus struck and the state shut down. As businesses shuttered, pink slips went out and livelihoods crashed, she knew she couldn’t fix it. But she decided to take her $20-a-person yoga classes, which she taught at her studio in Burns Court, and move them to an outdoor public venue. Except she gives these away for free.



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