PEORIA — As early morning sun painted stripes across the 150-year-old brick walls of the Pettengill-Morron House on Thursday morning, the 13 women standing in the dew covered grass below reached for the sky.
Birds provided the soundtrack as students in Soulside Healing Arts’ sunrise yoga class progressed through a series of postures designed to wake up the body and free the mind.
When Peoria reopened after the COVID-19 shutdown, leaders at Soulside decided that the only safe location for in-person classes was outside.
"We’ve remained closed in the studio because, in reality, this pandemic is not over, and as an organization based on health and wellness, we do not want to contribute to the rising case count locally," said Hannah Ramlo, founder and executive director of Soulside Healing Arts.
Those classes have been happening in some very interesting spots around central Illinois.
"We’ve been so grateful to local organizations welcoming us in — the Peoria Historical Society, Wildlife Prairie Park, Peoria Public Library, and Whittier Primary School has an outdoor classroom we are using," said Ramlo. "Just some beautiful spaces around town. We see it as an opportunity to connect even more with local partners."
While being outdoors can be inspirational, it is very different from being in a climate-controlled studio.
"We tell people that there’s going to be bugs, it might be humid, the ground is not going to be perfectly even," said Ramlo. "But it kind of gives people an opportunity to just find peace regardless of the disturbances and the distractions."
Emily Dahlhoff, who taught Thursday morning’s class, was leary at first about teaching outdoors.
"But it’s been really beautiful," she said. "I appreciate the change of scenery - especially here, goodness gracious. This was my first time teaching in this space, and it is just so private and wonderful."
Lauren Miller and Madison Ingold drove from Morton to attend the early-morning class. It was the first time either of them had visited the historic Pettengill-Morron House.
"We pulled up and we were like, ’woah, this place is pretty,’" said Miller.
It was not the first outdoor class Miller has attended.
"I love the outdoor classes," she said. "I’ve been able to make my mind more blank and just kind of be in the present moment outside more than I have in the studio."
The shutdown was hard on organizations which host in-person classes. Though Soulside has been offering Zoom classes and other virtual options, the ability to do outdoor classes has helped give them a boost.
"Revenues, for sure, have been down," said Ramlo. "So we’re nervous and uncertain of how long this will last, and, once cold weather hits again, what we’ll do. But we’re trying to stay innovative, and it has given us an opportunity to create some online content we never would have done before. All of us teachers are thankful for that professional growth, and thankful to our students who have been purchasing it and practicing at home."
In addition to a boost in creativity, the pandemic has also given the group a new sense of purpose, said Ramlo.
"It feels good to be doing something we know can provide people with some peace at this time," she said.
To learn more about classes offered at Soulside Healing Arts visit www.soulsidehealingarts.com.