The early-autumn sun dips behind Fenway Park, and the lights come on at the 101-year-old stadium. But instead of the usual baseball buffs clutching beers in the stands, there’s a long row of men and women striking one unusual pose after another at the edge of the park’s celebrated field.
FenwaYoga – the first–ever yoga session in Fenway Park, and the start of what the Red Sox Foundation intends to make an annual event – was held Monday, Sept. 23, to raise money for the Red Sox Scholars Program, the “Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities” program, and the Jimmy Fund. The three programs are designed to help young people find equal opportunity in education, sports, and quality of life.
Dr. Charles Steinberg, executive vice president for the Boston Red Sox, said the Red Sox Foundation landed on the idea of yoga while looking for “new ways to raise funds while connecting to the people of New England… We felt that the obvious popularity of yoga plus the use of Fenway Park may strike a chord.”
Locals responded. More than 150 participants took to the stadium to do their favorite asana sequences along the warning track of America’s most beloved ballpark, all in the name of charity.
“It’s a great opportunity to do yoga at the greatest ballpark in America,” said Marie Ruzzo, who came with her friend Joyce Chan, both regular yogis and Sox fans.
While most of the participants were female, there were also men, including Adam Blake, a Mohawk-sporting graphic designer, and Jim Masterman, a gray-haired trial lawyer. All were happy to raise the minimum $250 requirement to participate – with some even going so far as to bring in over $1,000 for the cause – and to go barefoot on a windy fall evening, when temperatures dropped below 60 degrees as night fell.
Gena Borson, interim executive director for the Red Sox Foundation, said the group picked yoga because it has “become mainstream, in terms of health and wellness.” She said that although the event drew fewer participants than the venue’s capacity, the Foundation was still able to raise more than $50,000 – well beyond expectations “for a first-time event, on a Monday in September.”
The event was co-sponsored by the fitness club Equinox, which provided yoga instructors, and by sportswear brand New Balance.
Borson said the Foundation hopes to make FenwaYoga even bigger next year, with yogis on the field instead of just on the warning track. The limit was imposed because the field needs to be preserved for the October playoffs.
Yoga sessions at sports arenas have recently emerged as a popular fundraising tool. Steinberg said FenwaYoga was patterned after a similar event in Los Angeles in 2009, when over 100 fans spent an afternoon doing yoga poses with L.A. Dodger Andre Ethier at Dodger Stadium.
“We knew that yoga at a ballpark had been done, and done well,” he said.
In Massachusetts, another organization holds regular – and successful – yoga-for-charity events at a sports arena. The group, Yoga Reaches Out, held the first New England Yogathon at the Gillette Stadium Field House in April 2010, with about 450 participants. This year, more than 1,000 people took part in the April event, raising $500,000 for Boston Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Tumor Foundation, said founder Sarah Gardner.
“Through yoga, you learn that once you take care of yourself, you want to take care of others,” she said. The organization now has chapters in California.
Back at Fenway, Rebecca Pacheco, a yoga instructor with Equinox Boston and the lead instructor for FenwaYoga, put a local spin on the philosophy of yoga-for-charity:
“ ‘Yoga’ means ‘to join together,’ to unite. That’s what this team about,” she said of the Red Sox, whose logo was emblazoned on both her hoodie and the 2004 championship beanie warming her head. “That’s what this community is about. That’s what this city is about.”
Pacheco kept the 90-minute session lively from her makeshift stage at home plate, encouraging participants to literally bend over backwards as Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and John Legend’s “Don’t Give Up” blared through the ballpark’s speakers.
She ended the event by asking everyone to dedicate the traditional yoga “om” to the Red Sox, to the Foundation, and to themselves – before directing them to give the nearest person a big, warm hug.
“I feel enlightened. Rejuvenated,” said Shayna Watters, smiling as she rolled up her mat. By now it was dark, with only the yellow bulbs from the stands illuminating the field.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.