Yogis Try to Clean Up Troubled Hell's Kitchen Park with Sunset Stretches

By Mathew Katz on August 7, 2012 7:13am 

HELL'S KITCHEN — A sunset stretch is helping Hell's Kitchen yoga fans clean up a troubled neighborhood park.

Yoga in the Kitchen, a candlelit yoga series at Matthews-Palmer Playground in Hell's Kitchen, gives both novice and expert yogis the chance to watch the sun go down while practising poses.

The series kicked off at the end of July, and locals have one more chance to catch it this summer: on Aug. 13 at 9 p.m.

Lit by battery-powered candles — open flames would be too dangerous — the classes are led by veteran instructor Victoria Wells, who's taught in the park before, but not at night.

"The candles, they look like fireflies all through the park," Wells said. "You get a real outside experience, there's breezes that go through, the warmth of the summer air."

Organizers said the point of the class is to help the image of the troubled park on West 46th Street between Ninth and 10th Avenues, along with providing a service to the community. The Matthews-Palmer Playground, which will soon undergo a $1.8 million renovation, has seen its fair share of crime over the past decade.

"There's just a lot of negative energy in the park sometimes," said Chana Widawski, chair of the West 45th Street Block Association which is organizing the event.

"This will infuse it with a lot of positive energy."

Widawski added that at night, people drink in the park and it sometimes reeks of alcohol in the mornings.

By providing events like the yoga classes and film screenings at night, Widawski said she hoped to help transform the area into an "outdoor, free community center" that provides unique events and services to the neighborhood

Despite being in the bustling center of the city, Wells said the the park blocks out much of the noise and commotion that causes everyday New York stresses.

"We use the space and we're amongst our neighbors," she said. "It's more of a stress reliever than an intense workout."

Due to their popularity — up to 30 people at a time have shown up for the classes so far — the sunset yoga will likely continue into the fall, Wells said.

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