As spring and summer approached this year, Katrina Pierson was looking for opportunities to get outside and practice meditation in Duluth's Enger Park. Pierson has been guiding meditation for the past 10 years and recently became an instructor with Full Circle Yoga in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
"Like a lot of people, I've been cooped up due to COVID and I was looking for an awesome opportunity to get out in nature and spend some time meditating to the sounds of the birds and all," Pierson said. "And I knew if I invited other people to come join me, that I'd actually get there. I think the exchange of energy and the feeling you get from real-life experience is something we've all been so starved for."
Since Memorial Day, Pierson has been leading a free outdoor meditation class in the Peace Garden at Enger Park on Wednesdays from 8-8:30 a.m. The guided meditation class is open to anyone who wants to join in.
"Beginners are absolutely welcome," Pierson said. "The hardest part is getting there and sitting down. We can help guide people from there."
Pierson started looking into meditation a little over a decade ago to help relieve stress. She was working as a coach for leaders and CEOs of nonprofits, and noticed they tended to take on extra work.
"They were all working, like, three people's jobs," Pierson said. "And I wanted to start offering meditation as a way to help them ease the weight on their shoulders."
Pierson learned traditional Vipassana meditation from the Common Ground Meditation Center in Minneapolis and found she had a passion for it.
"I want to make it practical for anybody who is looking to relieve stress in their lives," Pierson said. "And to help build a community of support around it."
One of the most common misconceptions Pierson encounters is about the goal of meditation. A lot of people think it's about clearing your mind, but Pierson said it's more about "observing your mind."
"It's about taking time to be quiet and to observe your mind, not clearing it," she said. "A lot of people think you have to start with a clear mind and that they can't do it because their minds are never clear. It's like, no, no, no. The idea is to observe your mind and to just find a chance for some quiet and settledness."
Rather, meditation "starts when your mind starts to wander," she said.
"You'll notice your mind wandering to the past or the future and that's when it all truly begins," Pierson said.
While Pierson uses meditation mostly for stress reduction, she said there are other benefits that others have found from practicing it regularly.
"It can help reduce anxiety and improve your body awareness," Pierson said. "It can help with emotional awareness, increase brain matter. I don't mean to make it sound like a magic pill that's going to fix everything. But there are a lot of ancillary benefits people might not be aware of. Even if you commit to it for just 10-15 minutes per day."
Meditation is something which can be practiced individually or in a group setting, like Pierson's Wednesday class. There are several apps that provide guided meditations for myriad reasons, which Pierson said she'd also recommend.
"I'm a big advocate for guided meditation in any form. Do it in whatever way you feel comfortable," Pierson said.
But doing it in a group setting does "make it more achievable," for beginners, she said.
"It gives you some accountability and helps your mind not drift off so far, at least in my experience," Pierson said.
Pierson said she's had a small group of regulars show up to her classes as well as several people who have come once just to try it out. She encourages attendees to sign up ahead of time at fullcircleyogaduluth.com or via the Mindbody app so she can contact them in case of bad weather or other conflicts. Attendees should also bring a cushion or blanket and dress in layers. The class will continue on Wednesdays until Labor Day.