Yoga on the Pier aims to be yoga for the people. Available during morning, evening, and twilight hours every day of the week, the program located on Race Street Pier offers a more inclusive yoga experience. It has no online reservations, no class price, and no roof. It is open to all, not just those clad in Lululemon.
The class was created by yoga instructor Malik Wilson after he often felt like the “elephant in the room." As a black male “with muscles," he describes himself as an atypical member of the yoga community. “If I rolled my mat out in a class, I am the least likely person you think would be the teacher. I am not the stereotype.”
When he founded Yoga on the Pier five years ago, he hoped to be able to reach a more diverse community with his classes. “I was frustrated with the studio I was teaching. It didn’t seem like an inclusive studio for everyone. I built Yoga on the Pier to be the opposite of what I had experienced.”
Now, his program has grown greatly from its inception as a small, private Facebook group. Yoga at the Pier attracted members of many different communities in Philadelphia, not just those wealthy enough to afford yoga classes. In particular, he has noticed a following from the different Philadelphia–area universities.
Beyond broke college kids, the program is frequented by many of the different ethnic minority groups in Philadelphia, especially those from nearby Chinatown. “Asian [students] come in groups where only the younger person might speak English, and they are there translating the classes.”
Malik also noticed a higher number of men attending his class than he saw at his old studio. “People ask 'why don’t more men do yoga?' It is 60:40 men–to–women at any time here.”
Since the class is available to people of all experience levels and learning is an important aspect of the class. “It is not a yoga studio where you can holler poses that are familiar to you. You have to teach instead of just being an instructor. You are also an ambassador of the practice.”
Since the classes are donation–based, teachers must rely on their students to support Yoga on the Pier. But for Malik, yoga isn’t about the money. It has been a constant part of his life for the last 15 years. He was first exposed to it while learning martial arts, and he has used it as a way to connect to what he calls the “new Philly."
“When I had to come back to Philly after ten years, there was a different Philly, and I was kind of concerned about how I would make it here," he said. "I looked at my life and thought, 'what is always going to be present or has been present?' And yoga was one of the things that came up. I used yoga to integrate back into the city I had grown up with.”
Although also featured in local Philadelphia news outlets, Yoga on the Pier has gained national recognition. During the Democratic National Convention last year, it was featured in the New York Times as one of the top activities to do in Philadelphia. This media attention has helped his program become a famous attraction in Philadelphia as a place for both locals and tourists alike.
While many people find out about Yoga on the Pier from its growing media presence, Malik credits the success of the program to word of mouth and luck. “It wound up being the people who would walk on the pier would eventually become students. A lot of people who would be running across Ben Franklin Bridge, they would look down and it drew their interest. It grew from there.”
Yoga on the Pier will return this season on April 28, in perfect timing for de–stressing during finals. For those that aren’t staying on campus this summer, the classes run well into fall semester, ending in November. For more information and for class times, visit delawareriverwaterfront.com.