Free 'Yoga in the Woods' for furloughed federal workers impacted by shutdown

Free 'Yoga in the Woods' for furloughed federal workers impacted by shutdown (Victoria Sanchez/ABC7)

Food banks, churches and even celebrity chefs have stepped in to help furloughed federal employees with daily essentials like canned goods and hot meals. The Audubon Naturalist Society is trying to reduce workers’ stress levels even as the government is set to temporarily reopen.

The Audubon Naturalist Society is offering government employees a free one-year membership and other classes. Even with the new plan to reopen the government, the offer is good through next week. “Yoga in the Woods” is one of the new, stress-relieving programs.

“Inhale, arms come over head. Nice big inhale,” said Paula Wong as she reached over her head.

It’s a beautiful but chilly day at the Woodend Nature Sanctuary in Chevy Chase, MD. Wong is a retired science teacher who volunteers at the open space. She is also an avid hiker and practices yoga. She decided to combine her two passions to help people effected by the partial government shutdown.

“I have been through this as a spouse many times. Not as long as what you all are enduring,” she said to a group of 10 women, all federal workers out of a job as of Friday early afternoon.

So far, more than 150 federal workers have received a free membership.

“There’s a mental health factor here. People are just stressed out. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to miss two paychecks with a young family. So, to give them a way to calm their minds and feel something greater, feel good in the world, that’s what nature can do for people,” said executive director Lisa Alexander.

“Imagine your lungs filling with air,” Wong continued as the group walked along the sanctuary grounds.

On this last Friday of January, many workers are thinking about the same thing.

“Second paycheck missed,” said Sonia Hudson, a furloughed employee at the Food and Drug Administration.

Hudson spent her afternoon taking the free yoga lesson and nature walk to unwind and focus on doing something she loves.

“It definitely a really stressful time right now. I think for all of us there is some anxiety and worry. We’re all kind of in the same situation, I think, and sometimes it’s nice to get away from it for a little bit,” she said.

Getting their minds off the government shutdown became an easier task as leaves rustled in the wind and birds chirped in the tree tops.

“Exhale, one, two, three,” said Wong after instructing the group to lean against a tree. “Extend your spine, nice and long, and just feel your body breathing.”

The women seemed to put aside the stress and worry as they connected with nature.

“This even breath pattern has a really pretty profound calming effect on the nervous system,” explained Wong as the group stood silently with their eyes closed.

“Definitely helpful for mental clarity,” said Hudson after the hour and a half long class.

If you are a federal worker or would just like more information on the Audubon Naturalist Society, click here.

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