Natalie Morales teaches Yoga Wednesdays outdoors in Peacock Park to hundreds. Backed by the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District (BID), the class draws people of all ages and walks of life.
“She has a fun quirkiness throughout her practice,” said Kristen Carranza, 30. “She’s a really good guide and a good teacher.”
But now, as summer rains start, the BID plans to suspend its GroveFit wellness program – including the 6:30 p.m. yoga classes – from July through September. According to the BID, Yoga Wednesdays is one of the most popular classes offered by the program. Others also planned for three-month suspension include Meditation Mondays, Zumba Tuesdays, Strength-Training Thursdays, Sunrise Yoga Fridays, Family Karate Saturdays, Family Hip-Hop Sundays – and more.
“During the summer, it rains almost every day, so almost every day we have to cancel it, and that’s an administrative process,” said Cynthia Seymour, executive director of the BID. “Everybody needs a summer vacation and paying for these programs [during the rainy season] is not in the budget.”
Over the years, Morales has shared her signature Funyasa Yoga with hundreds of people. She created the class, which she teaches in the park, in 2000. It is her spin on Vinyasa, a traditional practice that prioritizes conscious breathing with flowing movement. She encourages movement without judgment and creates a fun atmosphere by joking with her students and building a rapport.
“I made up that name because I like to emphasize the fun,” she said. “I feel that when people are being light-hearted about it, they’re less likely to get injured, and they’re more likely to laugh. I just feel like there’s enough to be serious about, and you can be serious about having fun.”
Before teaching yoga in the park, Morales worked at her studio on Commodore Plaza, Dharma, which closed in 2020. (She continued doing classes online for a while.)
Veronica de los Rios has been Morales’ student for over 10 years. She started by attending classes at Dharma.
“When I first started going to her classes, my son was 2 or 3 years old, and [Natalie] was cool with him being there,” said de los Rios. “She would ask him to model a pose, and we always felt so welcomed there.”
Morales is supremely dedicated to teaching her class. When the BID canceled a class due to a possible storm, Morales says she called and had it uncanceled.
Now she is trying to do the same with the summer closure, having requested the BID continue funding the program because of widespread interest. So she is urging students to call the BID to have the classes continued. Several have.
Carranza, who tries to attend Morales’ classes as often as possible, is aware of the suspension, but is looking forward to the classes continuing in the fall. In the meantime, she plans to go to the gym and rollerblade around town.
“I think resuming them by the end of September would be wise,” she said. “Whenever Natalie is teaching a class, I’m sure many would go. Including myself!”
Morales is still hopeful that the BID might have a change of heart and allow the classes to go on throughout the summer.
“I would like to keep doing it,” said Morales. “I’m just telling other people, if you have an opinion on them suspending the classes, please call them.”
According to Seymour, the Grove Fit program has been suspended for the summer months in past years. The BID spends tens of thousands of dollars on the program even though it is not its primary aim.
“Our job is to promote businesses, not to have fitness classes,” she said. “It is an add-on gift, and I have put my heart into it.”
Budgeting constraints make it difficult to continue the programs, she said. Paying for the classes during the rainy months is not in the BID’s spending plan. Insurance and safety are also concerns.
As it stands, Peacock Park does not have a dedicated covered area where classes can be held if it rains. The artificial turf can become slippery when wet, raising the potential for injury.
“People love [the yoga], but we don’t hear that,” she said. “All we hear are the complaints and that, you know, ‘why are you canceling? This is something I have put my heart into.”
Unless things change, the last Yoga Wednesdays class will be held June 28. Beginning July 1, all Grove Fit classes – including yoga– will be suspended until the fall, at which point they will resume once again.