Shaler woman offers free weekly yoga at Sharpsburg’s Kennedy Park

Francine Porter twisted her right leg high into the air, balanced on her left and stood still in the center of Sharpsburg’s Kennedy Park, exhaling away the day’s worries.

“We want to concentrate on our breathing to wash away everyday stresses and feel relaxed, strong and peaceful,” said the Sharpsburg native, who offers free Vinyasa yoga at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays on the park lawn near the war memorial.

After practicing yoga for nearly a decade, Porter, who lives in Shaler, completed a 200-hour Yoga Alliance teacher training with the aim of bringing instruction to others who “could not afford to belong to fancy studios.”

“You can only uplift others if you are in a good place yourself,” Porter said. “Fortunately, I am an established critical care nurse and did not get into teaching for the money.

“I was born and raised in Sharpsburg so it has a special place in my heart, and I thought this beautiful little town would be the perfect place to start a practice.”

Each week, a handful of students converge on the grass to ease their aches and boost their balance with an hour-long class that involves slow movement and purposeful breathing.

Anita D’Angelo saw the activity posted online this summer and decided to give it a try.

“It does help with stress,” said D’Angelo, a Sharpsburg resident. “It’s something to support the community, and I think it’s nice to see the people coming out for it.”

Her niece, Marissa Hilinski, 23, of Gibsonia, has been joining D’Angelo for the weekly sessions.

“We’re beginners but it’s relaxing,” she said. “It’s a nice way to push yourself through the rest of the week.”

In a series of moves like the Lotus or the Bridge, Porter instructs her students on where to stretch their arms and legs and reminds them to concentrate on strength and calm.

With an array of skill levels before her, Porter offers modifications for beginners or those who have physical limitations.

Some poses take time to master the contortions while others, like the Downward Dog, have students bend themselves into an upside down V to stretch their back and legs.

“I am thrilled to offer this beautiful practice to others,” Porter said. “I always wondered what made my own yoga instructor so excited and enthusiastic, and now I know how wonderful it is to deliver this practice to others.”

Porter plans to continue offering the free outdoor lessons as long as the weather holds up, possibly through October. She has begun scouting indoor locations in hopes of continuing through winter.

Indiana Township resident Rita Yost said it has been wonderful to find an outdoor class, particularly in this time of covid-19.

“This has been perfect because we can social distance and you feel safe,” she said.

Yost has been taking yoga classes for about six years and appreciates the benefits to aging bodies, she said.

“As we get a little older, it keeps the joints moving and increases flexibility and strength,” she said.

“I’ve brought friends who are newcomers to yoga, and it’s for every ability. I wish she had it a couple times a week.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 412-782-2121 x1512, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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