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Save Outdoor Yoga in San Diego

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My name is Amy Baack, and I'm a yoga teacher in San Diego. In 2021 I started offering a weekly free yoga class at Sunset Cliffs, a magical shoreline public natural park in the Ocean Beach neighborhood. With stunning vistas of the ocean, and a large flat peak of land that stretches away from the walking path enough to hold a large group, it was the perfect destination to help me achieve my goal of making yoga more accessible for all. We'd just come out of the pandemic, and practicing yoga outdoors gave everyone a chance to spread out and feel safe, their health protected by social distance and the ocean breeze. I wanted everyone to be able to enjoy the healing powers of yoga, including those who cannot afford to pay studio prices, which is why I chose to lead a free class, with donations accepted but never required.

I am not the only one; there are many other yoga teachers in San Diego who offer similar free yoga classes for the community, all over the city including Sunset Cliffs. I manage the Instagram for @sunsetcliffsyogasd as well as a website that shares more information about these community classes.

Over these past three years, over 5,240 people have come to my classes in total. I've taught a 60 minute long class every Saturday from 9:00-10:00 am and Wednesday evenings at 6:00-7:00 pm, or 5:00-6:00 pm during the winter. People of all ages, many visiting from out of state and from all over the world, with different skill levels (many with injuries or special needs), have been able to gather together and enjoy a tranquil, peaceful yoga practice together at Sunset Cliffs. Many say the experience is life-changing, and the blissful, calm energy that comes over the space by the end of our final Savasana meditation is palpable.




The practice of yoga is one of creating harmony and unity in mind, body, and soul in order to find peace and create a more enriched life. Its numerous health benefits have been documented by countless studies that demonstrate its ability to relieve mental health ailments like anxiety and depression, to heal chronic pain, to rejuvenate energy and much, much more. Our yoga classes allow ALL people, in any body, from any background, of any race, of any age, of any sexual orientation to get to enjoy these benefits in a supportive environment, at no cost. They also get to experience an incredible natural public park, which adds to this restorative process as we breathe and listen to the birds and waves.

All of my classes have followed what was, up until recently, the laws as reported to me by the San Diego Parks and Recreation department, when I first called about getting a permit in 2021. They told me they only did permits for weddings, but that gatherings were allowed as long as they were under 50 people, did not use amplified sound, and were not operating as a business. Since my yoga classes fit these rules, we operated peacefully for three years. A couple times park rangers would stop by my class, but once they confirmed we were within attendance and not charging for this service, they would move on.

The most harassment I got was from nearby landowners or tenants. On multiple occasions, they came charging at me as I packed up or set up a class and started screaming that I wasn't allowed to be there, and that they would call the cops on me. When I asked what the issue was and how I could help, these individuals would simply walk away, still swearing at me, never answering the questions. They would stand across the street from my classes and take photos and videos, regularly stalking me from their front yards. It made me extremely uncomfortable and scared during these instances, but we were doing nothing wrong, and we all have the right to enjoy a public park. These individuals have confronted other yoga teachers at Sunset Cliffs, as well.

Our classes don't make audible noise (you cannot hear us across the street—in fact, my own students often have trouble hearing my voice) or leave a trace behind (unlike the destructive wedding altars they allow to be staked into the ground—we find nails discarded haphazardly all the time). We leave plenty of room for others to walk around our class and enjoy all stretches of the cliffs. If anything, these yoga classes are creating a more peaceful, mindful community that can only have positive ripple effects on the city at large. The more healthy people are inside and out, the more likely they are to thrive in their workplaces, drive on the streets with more presence, avoid destructive activities, and have more kind, positive interactions with others.

Since classes are donation-based, despite popular attendance, I sometimes teach without receiving anything in exchange. The donations I do receive are usually just enough to cover essential expenses to keep the classes going. It's not a business; we do this for the people.




On Wednesday, May 8, at 5:40 pm I arrived at my usual teaching spot at Sunset Cliffs Blvd & Adair St to teach my Sunset Slow Flow class. Instead I saw three park ranger trucks parked ON the cliff, barricading access to the stretch of land where my students and I gather. There were three park rangers talking to a few of my regular yoga students, who attend every class and look forward to this practice as one of the highlights of their stressful weeks. Later I would notice a couple other park rangers there as backup.




When I asked what was happening, the rangers informed me that a law has recently changed in San Diego that does not allow any yoga classes to occur (even for free) on any shoreline park except for one in La Jolla that allows permits. I am currently waiting on the San Diego Senior Park Ranger to get back to my email with a copy of this law, and I'm committed to working to change this so that we can all have this joy-bringing experience again soon.




I am partnering with other San Diego yoga teachers who also offer similar banned free yoga classes in order to work together to petition the city to change this new law. We are seeking to raise funds to help with the expenses of hiring a civil rights lawyer, reaching out to press and media to spread the word, and petitioning the city council.

We will be posting updates here about our efforts to Save Sunset Cliffs Yoga! Please share your experience of yoga here, and what it has meant to you. Our next step will be to create a formal petition for law change.

Funds will be used for legal fees to get a lawyer on our side. Any remaining donations will be split evenly among the affected yoga teachers to ensure they can devote time to these lobbying efforts and be able to return to teaching their public classes in the future.

Thank you so much for your support and for helping us achieve this goal to bring back donation outdoor yoga, a staple of San Diego and part of our tourism appeal. Everyone deserves access to enjoy mindful movement and public parks. Whether this means allowing free classes to continue or opening up the ability for us instructors to get permits for yoga activities, I am optimistic that we can find a solution that allows us to keep going.

We rise together. Thank you.
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Donations 

  • Anusha Velineni
    • $20 
    • 16 d
  • Tamina S
    • $10 
    • 16 d
  • Alex Mantanona
    • $60 
    • 17 d
  • Taylor McKie
    • $10 
    • 1 mo
  • Leslie Patino
    • $20 
    • 1 mo
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Fundraising team (3)

Amy Baack
Organizer
La Mesa, CA
Jacqueline Kowalik
Team member
Steve Hubbard
Team member

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