Meet the instructor behind free yoga in the park

Story By Soumya Kona

For the rest of the world yoga may be just a simple hobby, but for one Gainesville yoga instructor, it can be everything.

“What ultimately got me interested in it more than anything else was mild forms of depression,” said Maggie Rucker, co-owner of Flow Space, a Gainesville yoga studio. “It was just being kind of unhappy with my body and myself and my life and not really knowing where to turn.”

After beginning to practice a few hours a day outdoors by her mother’s lake, Rucker became more devoted to the discipline. “When I got into it was when I needed it the most, and it really did make a huge difference in my emotional and physical state,” she said. “I became much happier in my body.”

Rucker now aims to extend that same feeling to those getting involved in yoga. She has often interacted with people new to yoga and was able to witness firsthand their evolution as a person. 

“You see someone come in, and maybe they’re socially awkward, shy and not that comfortable in their body, and they eventually transform into a place where they’re very confident and happy,” Rucker said. “It’s a beautiful evolution that takes place with so many people, and I’ve seen it a lot.”

Along with teaching at her studio, Rucker holds free classes on the first Saturday of every month at Devils Millhopper Geological State Park. More information is available at the park website. “Our first free class here a couple of years ago had, like, 100 people,” Rucker said.

Rucker’s classes in Devils Millhopper have been going on for several years. The park embraced the idea of expanding activities provided to their outdoor-loving guests.

“A lot of the people who were coming to do yoga had never even been to the park,” said Jesse Natwick, Park Services Specialist at Devils Millhopper. “It’s a nice opportunity to attract people to the park; you do yoga and get to see the sinkhole.”

The classes were also able to give Rucker a way to reach people of all experience types in the area. She discovered through her own time with yoga that community can be the best part of the practice.

“The free class can often be enough to draw people in in the first place, but I think people often stay for the community aspect of it,” Rucker said. “I think community is paramount to my wellbeing.”

Second-year medical geography and Honors student Vikasni Mohan attended her first outdoor yoga class at Rucker’s November park session. “It seemed really interesting, and the weather was nice,” Mohan said.

As someone dealing with the pressures of the pre-medical school track, Mohan in particular considers it necessary to keep up with yoga and other methods of wellbeing. “Yoga is good for relaxing my mind and helping me focus,” she said. “I think it can be a very central part of my stress management process.”

As someone who has been able to relate to this feeling, Rucker uses the practice to help her students get to a better headspace and achieve what she feels is a very genuine experience. 

“Treat it like the art form it deserves to be,” Rucker said. “It can be such a raw and authentic and beautiful process if you’re staying true to you, and it can be ripped away from you if you have a lot of expectations put on you to be a certain way.”

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