Sunrise Yoga class on Lake LanierThe rising sun paints the northeastern sky in pastels reflected on the Chattahoochee River channel of Lake Lanier. Near the water’s edge, a troupe of early risers stretches their limbs and greets the day in an ancient ritual. Welcome to Sunrise Yoga, a rite of the season at Lake Lanier Olympic Park.

“It is absolutely beautiful,” remarked Cait Patterson, who will lead the third year of Sunrise Yoga on the award circle below the stone grandstands. “It’s my favorite atmosphere surrounded by the beauty of nature, the sunrise, and people who are concerned about being healthy.”

Those willing to get up at the crack of dawn to limber up by the lake may discover benefits for body and spirit. The 6:30 a.m. Saturday sessions get folks out of bed early to experience a weekend start like no other. Patterson tailors the hour-long class for beginners to intermediate level yoga followers. “For some, it’s their first time,” she said. “I try to make it fun and accessible for everyone.” She strives to help beginners feel comfortable and welcome as they learn new ways to move their bodies.

A small following of participants unfolded mats and faced the water when Patterson started Sunrise Yoga in 2019. She sometimes led only two or three students the first year. But when the pandemic hit last spring, more people sought special outdoor settings for exercise. Attendance surged, with more than 15 silhouettes seeking peace and saluting the rising orb.

“It’s outside and we’re all well-spaced,” Patterson said. Attendees pay $10, which Patterson donates to the Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club. (Her father, Jim O’Dell is a long-time coach/official for LCKC and Team USA Dragon Boat). Most participants bring their own mats, plus straps and blocks. Patterson rents equipment for a $5 fee. She said some students also bring a padded blanket for cushioning on the concrete.

She urges her students to “wear whatever is comfortable,” whether its swim trunks and t-shirts or spandex leggings and tank tops.

Patterson said she “came to yoga after having a baby.” She found her running program difficult to continue with baby in tow. “Running with a stroller is terrible … I wanted something I could do with my child,” she said. She went to her first yoga session on her birthday and “fell in love with it.” She achieved her 200-hour yoga instructor certification and then got certified to teach group fitness. She also leads classes at the Georgia Mountain YMCA, LCKC sessions for paddlers, and offers workshops and private lessons.

Patterson credits yoga for helping relieve her back pain after two pregnancies. “Yoga can help people so much when they learn how to move,” she said. It develops flexibility, balance and strength to put folks in new positions they never thought they could get in, she added.

She described the benefits of yoga as going beyond being able to balance into one-legged dog position or the more difficult crow pose. “Doing different moves with your body is beneficial for brain development to form new neural pathways,” she said.

Plus, doing it outside is “so, so good.” Being in the fresh air, absorbing vitamin D from the sunlight and awakening the body for morning exercise helps establish healthy sleep/wake cycles. Yoga and meditation can help lessen depression and anxiety and contribute to overall mental health, Patterson said. “It gives you a very euphoric feeling when you’re done.”

Wake Up with Sunrise Yoga

  • When: 6:30 a.m. Saturdays beginning April 24
  • Where: Lakeside below the Lake Lanier Olympic Park  grandstands, 3105 Clarks Bridge Rd., Gainesville
  • Cost: $10
  • Info: Instructor Cait Patterson-Facebook: Yoga with Cait,, Instagram: @bendy.Cait

Photo: Courtesy Sunrise Yoga