Yoga instructor Sarah Sawyer leads her students in the cobra stance at the Forest Pavilion of the California Botanic Garden in Claremont. / photo by Sheridan Lambrook

Yoga instructor Sarah Sawyer leads her students in the cobra stance at the Forest Pavilion of the California Botanic Garden in Claremont. / photo by Sheridan Lambrook

by Amy Alcantara
photography by Sheridan Lambrook and Chris Rogers

Serene, green and lush, the California Botanic Garden is a magnificent place for reflection, contemplation—and yes, even yoga. The sound of water burbling over rocks near where classes are held adds a sense of calm that participants likely would not experience at an indoor spa.

Formerly known as Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens, the California Botanic Garden was founded in 1927 by Susanna Bixby Bryant. It is the largest garden dedicated to conserving California’s native flora, and houses more than 22,000 native plants. But it is not just a place to conserve California plants, it also is a place to bring the community together.

Springtime means the wildflowers are in full bloom at the California Botanic Garden in Claremont. In addition to native flora, the garden offers a variety of activities and educational programs. / Photo by Chris Rogers

Springtime means the wildflowers are in full bloom at the California Botanic Garden in Claremont. In addition to native flora, the garden offers a variety of activities and educational programs. / photo by Chris Rogers

People seeking peace of mind are welcome to attend Yoga-in-the-Garden classes several times a month. Sarah Sawyer, a certified yoga instructor and founder of The Yoga Stream, has taught the class since June 2021. “I have always loved the beauty of the Botanic Gardens,” Sawyer says. “It has become my favorite place to practice yoga each week.” 

Practicing yoga in the Garden, Sawyer believes, enhances participants’ senses because instead of stepping into a classroom, they’re stepping into the beauty of nature. “My hope is that students will realize that yoga is more than the practice we do on our mats. It helps us be more mindful and present in our daily lives. What we learn can help us navigate challenges in our daily lives with more mindfulness, grace and ease.” 

Anastasia Cummings, a member of the California Botanic Garden, has been visiting the Garden since she was a child, but had never practiced yoga until 2021, when she signed up for Sawyer’s class. She recalls falling in love with yoga right away because Sawyer makes the experience a whole-body workout while also helping students relax. “The gardens offer me a safe place to practice yoga in nature where I can totally relax and meditate on what I need to feel happy and healthy,” Cummings says.

Sawyer begins her classes with meditation and breath-work, then transitions to a gentle and relaxing warm-up. Halfway through, she incorporates sun salutations to practice breath meditation, and fluidly connect breath and movement. She ends the class with a gentle cool-down and invites students to relax for a few minutes.

Sawyer incorporates nature into her classes with sensory and observation experiences, and uses poses such as tree and rabbit. She encourages students to be grateful for what they experience and focus on the natural surroundings. “We see hummingbirds floating by and butterflies dancing in the air; we hear leaves rustling, watch lizards making their way through the desert that surrounds us, and hear water trickling from fountains,” Sawyer says. “We feel the wind on our skin, the warmth of the sun, and smiles emerging on our faces.”

Sawyer believes nature can enhance her students’ experience because it allows them to be present, observing what sometimes gets overlooked. “When students take time for themselves and recognize the beauty—life and nature that surrounds them—they often leave with their mood lifted or feeling more appreciative,” Sawyer says. “I always feel that way after I’ve taught a class in the Garden.” 

Yoga in the Garden also is sometimes offered at night. Although Cummings finds the Garden to be relaxing day or night, she says her favorite time to practice yoga is at night, under the stars. She believes there is something magical about being in the Garden after dark. “I love nighttime yoga,” she says. “The Garden is closed, and you can hear the birds, watch the sunset and see the stars after it’s dark.”

California poppies, the state flower, grow throughout the gardens. / photo by Chris Rogers

California poppies, the state flower, grow throughout the gardens. / photo by Chris Rogers

Classes are held in different locations, depending on the size of the class and weather conditions. The Forest Pavilion is used for larger classes. It has a shaded area and fans, and is located near water fountains. If she is conducting a smaller class, Sawyer opts for the Cultivar Garden or Outdoor Sage Gallery and Garden, which provide more intimate settings. “My favorite location is the gazebo in the Cultivar Garden,” Sawyer says.

The Forest Pavilion is one of Cummings’ favorite spots. She likes to arrive early and relax there before class. “I also love it when classes are held in the Sage Garden,” Cummins adds. “I enjoy walking through the garden. It’s very peaceful there.”

Although many of her students are regulars, Sawyer usually has new students each week. Many are local, but some come from beach cities, the mountains, or the Palm Springs area. College students sometimes attend with their parents and family members who stop by for a weekend class. “Bring a friend or a group and enjoy the experience together,” Sawyer recommends. “And don’t forget your water and sunscreen.” 

Of course, there’s far more to the Botanic Garden than yoga. It is a place where people can go and enjoy the beauty of nature without having to travel too far. Visitors often feel as if they are being transported to different parts of the state, since the Garden is divided into different sections: the California Plant Communities, Mesa Gardens and SoCal Gardens. Within the California Plant Communities, visitors can follow different paths leading to the California Fan Palms, Joshua Tree Woodland, Boojum Tree, Valley Oaks and Bay Laurels, to name a few. “It’s kind of wild back there,” says Lucinda McDade, the Garden’s executive director. “Some people really love being there and feeling like they’re out in the wilderness.”

In the Mesa Gardens, visitors will find the Waterwise Garden, Wildlife Pond, Reflecting Pond, Sage Gallery and the Garden and Redwood Grove. Garden member Susan Gregory says there is a new water feature at the mesa. Although she enjoys different parts of the garden, that’s her favorite place to walk. “The dirt trail circles the whole mesa. I love it.” 

SoCal Gardens visitors will encounter the Mountain Stream Garden, Channel Islands Garden, Fan Palm Oasis, Majestic Oak and other features. McDade says they soon will add a butterfly garden there. Even though the butterfly exhibit will not be completed until summer, visitors are welcome to start exploring the area now.

“We try to offer something for all ages,” McDade says. “We want things that are kind of small and education-
oriented, and some that are larger and family friendly.”

Trails lead throughout the California Botanic Garden, offering a variety of peaceful walks. It is the largest botanic garden dedicated to native California flora. / photo by Chris Rogers

Trails lead throughout the California Botanic Garden, offering a variety of peaceful walks. It is the largest botanic garden dedicated to native California flora. / photo by Chris Rogers

The Garden also hosts other classes and events throughout the year. Things That Go Bump In The Night is a popular October event, offering visitors a chance to explore the Garden at night and see nocturnal creatures. “It’s a celebration of all things nocturnal—plants and animals and things that are a little bit creepy,” McDade says.

In December, the Garden transforms into a beautiful glowing garden during Luminaria Nights. This event not only offers gorgeous, illuminated paths, but also live musical performances, art, food, drinks and desserts. “My family enjoys walking around the garden at night with all the lights,” Cummings says. “I look forward to it every year.”

Smaller events include photo contests, A Garden of Verses Poetry Festival, First Sunday Family Friendly Bird Walks, and Wildflower Walking or Tram Tours. And the Scientific Botanical Illustration for Beginners and the Animal Illustration for Beginners classes are perfect for art lovers. 

The Garden is a wonderful place for people to visit whether they attend a class, an event, take a walk, or simply stop by to relax. As Gregory observes, “You can find a really peaceful place and just sit on a bench, and you’ll love it.”

On some Sunday mornings, yoga instructor Sarah Sawyer conducts her class outside the classroom in the California Botanic Garden, allowing students to appreciate the stunning surroundings. / photo by Sheridan Lambrook

On some Sunday mornings, yoga instructor Sarah Sawyer conducts her class outside the classroom in the California Botanic Garden, allowing students to appreciate the stunning
surroundings. / photo by Sheridan Lambrook

A turtle suns itself on a rock in the reflection pond at the California Botanic Garden. This is one of a handful of ponds throughout the gardens. / photo by Chris Rogers

A turtle suns itself on a rock in the reflection pond at the California Botanic Garden. This is one of a handful of ponds throughout the gardens. / photo by Chris Rogers

Flowers are in full bloom throughout the California Botanic Garden. The site hosts a wide variety of plant species, from tiny flowers to large oak trees. / photo by Chris Rogers

Flowers are in full bloom throughout the California Botanic Garden. The site hosts a wide variety of plant species, from tiny flowers to large oak trees. / photo by Chris Rogers

Amy Alcantara is a senior communications major at the University of La Verne.

Sheridan Lambrook is a senior journalism major at the University of La Verne and co-editor of the Summer 2023 issue of La Verne Magazine.

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Chris Rogers is a junior photography major with a minor in art history. He is a staff photographer for the Campus Times and chief photographer of La Verne Magazine. He is also a freelance photographer and movie stills photographer. He discovered his love for photography at a young age as he and his family traveled the world in their goal to reach all seven continents. They were fortunate to reach their seventh continent in the winter of 2019. He have a deep love for photography and loves being able to tell an entire story through one still image at a time. His work can be found at ChrisRogersPhotography.com.