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Looking to get in shape? Romare Bearden Park offers free fitness classes

Fit In ’15 participants take a yoga class at Romare Bearden Park.
Fit In ’15 participants take a yoga class at Romare Bearden Park. JOE HABINA

At the end of his 5-mile morning run, Ramesha Kandasamy settled onto a bench at Romare Bearden Park, across the street from his Martin Luther King Boulevard apartment.

With sweat coating his body from his run in the sweltering Saturday sun, Kandasamy watched as a few dozen people began stretching and posing on the park lawn with yoga instructor Lisa Lilienthal.

On a whim, Kandasamy decided to join them, finding an open space on the grass between two students in the back row.

Kandasamy’s visit to the uptown park represents the mission of Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation’s quest to make Charlotte a healthier city. The department’s Fit In ’15 initiative includes a series of free fitness classes at Romare Bearden Park.

The hope is to appeal to center-city residents and the commuting workforce by scheduling classes as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 5:30 p.m. The sessions, which include yoga, Zumba and bootcamp, run Monday through Saturday; they began in April and will conclude at the end of September. Click here for class list and to register.

“I think people love having the after-work class, and people seem to love the morning class,” said Lilienthal, 45. “Yoga puts people in a good mood and gets them centered, focused and calm.”

Park and Recreation encourages participants to register online, but walk-ins are welcome. Attendees are invited to as many sessions as they wish; no one is turned away.

Fit In ’15 sessions are taught by instructors from Fit 4 Life, a comprehensive wellness company that has directed fitness programs at Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation facilities since 2011.

The fitness styles taught at Romare Bearden Park also include Insanity, which incorporates plyometrics and resistance training; The Werk Out, which is geared toward dance; the core and buttocks-toning workout called Barre Booty; and Tabata, a cycle of 20-second exercises geared toward cardio, core and strength training.

Desiree Adderly, Fit 4 Life’s corporate wellness director, says classes in the uptown park usually average 20-50 participants, of which yoga is the most popular, peaking at 80 students during June 6 sessions.

Kandasamy, a 51-year-old bank employee, had seen the classes from his 19th-story uptown apartment.

Kandasamy, who practices yoga once or twice a week at a gym, said he was apprehensive about participating during his recent park visit because he did not have a mat like the other students.

As a yoga veteran, Kandasamy said, he also was trying out the teaching style of Lilienthal, whom he endorsed after taking the class. Lilienthal, a Steele Creek resident, says her classes can appeal to all levels, from beginner to advanced.

Stephen Cook, a 28-year-old Wesley Heights resident, said he likes to start his weekend with the Saturday morning yoga class. He attends with his fiancé, Alexandra Estevez, to supplement the running and cross training he does with a way to “actively rest.”

Joy Smith said she enjoys the Fit In ’15 classes because she gets off work from her hotel job at 5 p.m. and walks to the park for the 5:30 start times Monday, Tuesdays and Thursdays. She’s new to yoga but felt it was time to lose some weight.

“It’s about being healthy,” said Smith, 41, who lives in east Charlotte. “And I have a thyroid condition. I have a doctor’s order to exercise to get fit. And it’s free; it’s good.”

Some yoga students arrive an hour earlier on Saturdays so they can participate in instructor Malik Jamal’s more strenuous Tabata class. As his recent class wound down, Jamal ad-libbed a weight-training exercise with some nearby metal chairs and a run around the park’s flower-lined, red-brick oval.

Allysa Kent, 22, a third-grade teacher at Briarwood Elementary School, said she is happy to drive into uptown from her University City home for a free and productive workout. She credits Tabata with making her physically stronger, building her endurance and helping her lose weight.

Jamal ended the class with by suggesting his students assume a yoga-like “prayer” position as he repeated these words: “Inhale through your nose. Exhale through your mouth. Release all your worries.”

That’s a nice way for anybody to start a weekend.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at

Learn more:

For information on Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation’s Fit in ’15 initiative, visit