At one point Sunday morning, I hovered over my yoga mat with the soles of my feet digging into the ground and my outstretched hands planted in front of me. I looked like maybe an early stage of chimpanzee evolution.
What seemed like the tiniest clouds possible would pass in front of a typically oppressive Houston sun, gone as fast as they arrived, leaving me drenched in sweat and roasting in the heat. In this pose, I glanced down at my feet and saw them covered in wetness, adhering specks of the BBVA Compass Stadium grass to most of my exposed legs.
This was the first moment I realized I needed a break and headed to the shaded areas of the field, past defender Kofi Sarkodie (who effortlessly transitioned between poses), just to catch my breath. I stood there watching some 250 yogis sprawl out in the sun, following the guides of Roger and Albina Rippy - the owners of YogaOne studios in Houston.
Everyone on the field had gathered to hear the Rippys at the first ever "Yoga on the Pitch" event in Houston. With mats spaced out across midfield, a diverse crowd of both experienced and absolute beginners (myself included) had assembled to take in the morning air to the benefit of the Houston Dash and In-Powered - a yoga-centric charity that provides programs to underserved children and adults in schools, detention centers, and prison.
"I think it was Columbus Crew that did something like this so I thought, 'this would be a fun idea.'" said Dynamo legend and Dash Managing Director Brian Ching, who participated in the event with another yoga instructor - his wife. "I think YogaOne is amazing in the fact that they're helping put on a class and people get a ticket to the Dash game. Then, with their proportion, they're turning around and donating it to In-Powered. It just says a ton about their involvement in the community and how much they want to give back. We see them as a similar organization in the sense that [the Dash] like to give back to the community as well."
In-Powered is also co-founded by Roger Rippy and is made up of different programs geared towards servicing individuals that may need the focus and uplift that yoga can provide. The organization helps reduce stress and anxiety through programs in schools, empowers young teens in juvenile justice facilities, offers three-day immersive retreats, and has even partnered with the Cleveland, TX Correctional Facility to serve adult men within prison and through their extended programs after release.
"We've seen students gain confidence in themselves as leaders and creators rather than feeling limited by their circumstances," says Roger Rippy. "They come to realize that they have choice in how they see things and that they can lead and help others in their communities as well... We hope to help them gain resilience."
Those who tolerated the heat Sunday morning did so for a $20 admission that partially goes towards In-Powered. That cost also included a ticket to Wednesday night's Dash match against FC Kansas City. That match carries with it playoff implications as the NWSL season begins to wind down. It also serves as the first glimpse at home of returning USWNT players (Morgan Brian, Carli Lloyd, and Meghan Klingenberg) from their World Cup victory after returning to league play last weekend.
"We look at the ticket numbers already compared to before the World Cup and if we had a game on Wednesday night... we'd struggle to get people out," says Ching. "In an event like this, we hopefully get some new people in the building; get them to see our team [with] our three national team players and their first time to play at home since the beginning of the season. It's a great opportunity for everyone to come and watch good soccer and enjoy an evening."
But aside from soccer, many of the over two hundred people that braved the Houston sun were there to draw in the benefits of practicing yoga.
The Rippys, who led the morning's session, founded YogaOne studios in 2008 and have grown to five locations in the Houston area with the Midtown spot (3030 Travis St.) serving as their first. Their approach to the morning's session was to emphasize the same thing that lit up Ching's eyes when discussing the studio - community.
"We have co-created with our students and teachers," reads the YogaOne website, "a breath-filled, supportive community dedicated to community, mindfulness, and personal growth and to the idea of living life full out."
As we all sat on our mats, waiting for the session to start, everyone certainly seemed to have a sense of just how the weather threatened to sap our energies over the next hour. Reiterating that this was, in fact, the first time they had ever tried anything like this, Roger Rippy told the gathered crowd, "We don't know what will happen but we do know one thing. You will sweat."
And Roger was undeniably correct. Over the course of about an hour, I gave it my best shot for about thirty minutes before finally succumbing to the temperatures. Taking a break, I walked around the class and took in everyone's dedication.
Save for a few, the entire crowd found themselves reaching a point of struggle and grabbed their water bottles for a quick taste of cold liquid. And just like that, they were back, balancing on one foot with an arm outstretched toward the same sun that sat them down seconds earlier.
Most of the time, the group moved and breathed as one. Even in the outdoor environs of a soccer stadium, the heavy exhales swelled around me, as if they were timed. It gave our group, as Roger put it, a sense of community.
It didn't matter if you were standing in the heat, stretched in all directions. Maybe you were sat on the mat, catching a breath while those around you continued. Or, if you were smart (unlike me), you might've dragged your mat fifty feet back into the shaded canopy of the sideline and kept going. All of these people were part of a group, sharing in the same sense of community, to help In-Powered and the Houston Dash - both sparked by noble ideas in their own rights.
"Every time I go into a yoga class, I always go in kinda dreading it but I always come out feeling like a million dollars," said Ching. "It was an awesome event... This was the first time we had ever done anything [like this] and to get a turnout of around 250 people is a testament to YogaOne and their reach and their breadth in the yoga community."
"Our intention is to help people lead happier, healthier, more inspired lives right now," said Rippy. "It might mean the difference between getting to bend over and pick up and play with your grandkids [versus] sitting in a chair and watching them instead. Which sounds more inspiring?"
I did return to my mat, mind you, after about a 10 minute break to finish the last few segments of the session. It helped that the more strenuous poses were long gone and the final few centered on leaving participants in a calm, relaxed state. And, believe it or not, for all the adversity that the big ball of gas in the sky threw at us, many seemed to have achieved that uplifted feeling. I certainly did.
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Information on joining YogaOne classes can be found on their website, YogaOneHouston.com. They offer introductory courses at a rate of $30 for 30 days with classes being targeted to all skill levels - including absolute beginners. As Roger puts it, "You belong here, too."
In-Powered is a Houston-based charity and information on how to volunteer or donate can be found at their website, In-Powered.org.
The Houston Dash host FC Kansas City tomorrow night, July 29th at 7:30PM. Tickets are available through the Dash online portal.