Yoga events bring families virtually into ASU 365 Community Union

Sun Devil family members are invited to join an ASU Family virtual yoga miniseries

ASU Family yoga series instructors Pixi Pickthall, Randi Graves and Alexandra Vlachos stand on the deck overlooking Sun Devil Stadium

ASU 365 Community Union yoga instructors (from left) Pixi Pickthall, Randi Graves and Alexandra Vlachos, pose on the deck overlooking Sun Devil Stadium. The local instructors are leading the three sessions in the new ASU Family Virtual Yoga miniseries. Photo courtesy of Danny Upshaw


Julie Bufkin wasn’t the only one in her family excited for the ASU Family virtual yoga miniseries to begin on her computer screen in her Tempe home.

For her 19-month-old son, Calvin, the ritual on the morning of Saturday, March 20, was a familiar one. Mother and son donned their pajamas and rolled out their yoga mat, water bottles and a few toys. Bufkin placed the screen high enough to be out of reach of her young toddler.

Moments later, instructor Randi Graves appeared on the Zoom screen with her maroon-colored yoga mat on the deck of Sun Devil Stadium, a sun-splashed football field stretched out behind her, and began leading the free class in beginner-level stretching and breathing exercises.

“He’s into it!,” said Bufkin, who works as a project coordinator for the College of Health Solutions and attends graduate school classes at ASU — when not busy taking care of young Calvin along with her husband, Kevin. 

“Calvin usually joins in once we get moving, and I help him place his hands and feet in position. While I might not get the best workout, I love how much fun my exercise buddy has. Of course, his favorite part is getting a little sweet treat after saying, ‘namaste.’”

The session with Graves, an expert Pilates instructor, was the first of three Saturday morning classes in the new ASU Family virtual yoga miniseries organized in partnership with ASU 365 Community Union. 

Two more sessions are scheduled for March 27 and April 3, both from 11 a.m. to noon.

Instructor  pictured overlooking Sun Devil Stadium

Randi Graves

For ASU Family, a university department whose mission is to provide engagement, resources and community for all Sun Devil family members and their students, setting up a program similar to 365 Community Union’s popular Live Well Yoga Series was a perfect fit.

“ASU Family aims to provide all of the families in Sun Devil Nation with opportunities to build their own ASU experience and participate in university events, activities and programs,” said Kellyn Johnson, the director of ASU Family Programs. “We’re excited to partner with the ASU 365 Community Union on the yoga series, and share this opportunity for family members of all ages to move together and join us in Sun Devil Stadium from anywhere in the world.

“We want to continue to grow these types of opportunities for all of our families as we expand opportunities to connect as a community and engage with all that ASU has to offer,” Johnson added.

The ASU Family Virtual Yoga miniseries provides free, family-friendly and healthy fun, led by certified yoga instructors experienced in teaching beginner-level moves for yogis of all ages. More than 60 ASU families and students tuned in for the March 20 event with Graves, who specializes in mindfulness and holistic wellness.

Pixi Pickthall, who teaches fun and inclusive yoga classes for all ages, levels and bodies, will lead the Saturday, March 27, class. With a background in crisis intervention, child welfare and Thai boxing, Pickthall's classes help students feel into the body and intuitively find movement to help regulate the body and emotions. During her session, she plans to guide participants through a safe place to practice yoga as preventative maintenance, so that when a crisis arises they have the tools to assist in their own deescalation.

The final session on Saturday, April 3, will be led by Alexandra Vlachos, who owns Meraki Yoga AZ and who specializes in yoga for children with autism as well as trauma-informed yoga for adults. 

Vlachos said she plans to focus on mindfulness, to help participants to stay in the present moment.

“When we are practicing yoga we aren’t thinking about what we ate for breakfast that morning, or anything else we have done or have to do that day,” she said. “One of the ways my class centers around this concept is with breathing exercises that are simple and fun for all ages to learn. They are stress-reducing and calming — something we could all use a little more of during the past year or so.”

Instructor Alexandra Vlachos stretches on her yoga mat overlooking Sun Devil Stadium

Yoga instructor Alexandra Vlachos will be leading the third session in the ASU Family Virtual Yoga miniseries on April 3. Photo courtesy of Danny Upshaw

The instructor encourages everyone to try out the upcoming yoga classes, regardless of physical ability.

“If you skip out on yoga because you’ve never tried, or you don’t think you’re ‘flexible’ enough, I like to joke that it’s like saying you’re ‘too dirty to take a bath.’ You have to start somewhere and this is a great place to try!”

ASU Family organized the partnership series with a similar goal — that Sun Devil family members seeking fun, healthy activities for the entire family would join the classes. The sessions are also open to ASU students, including Sun Devils who have young families of their own.

Johnson said ASU Family reached out to the ASU 365 Community Union team looking for ideas to connect families to programs more intentionally.

“Through our family communications platform, the ASU Family Hub, we saw tremendous interest in the weekly ASU 365 Community Union Yoga events. We were delighted when they proposed an all-ages, all-levels family mini-series.”

ASU’s free stadium yoga program began in September 2019 and was all about making yoga accessible to the community, according to Kimberly Inglese, ASU 365 Community Union’s marketing and sales coordinator. The pandemic’s emergence in early 2020 forced them to adapt quickly.

“We turned our stadium yoga program into a virtual yoga program, which actually grew the attendance of our program significantly because it became more accessible to people,” Inglese said. “We saw class sizes double — some even reaching 100-plus attendees tuning in on Zoom. Transitioning from live in-person classes to a virtual space was an adjustment for everyone, but we are so lucky that we get to create this opportunity and bring the community together.”

The Live Well Virtual Stadium Yoga series was recently named "Best Virtual Exercise Program" in Phoenix Magazine’s 2020 “Best of Our Valley” issue, an honor that Inglese credits to “the incredible cast of local yoga instructors who partner with us.”

Although the limitations imposed for health and safety reasons have created a challenge, the virtual series is a great start toward the Community Union’s mission to utilize Sun Devil Stadium 365 days a year.

Inglese looks forward to the return of in-person events once it is safe to do so. 

“We plan to bring back some of our amazing community events like Movies on the Field and ASU Pow Wow. Plus, we cannot wait to bring our Concert Series back to the Coca-Cola Sun Deck, and we're currently developing our first major exhibition to debut in 2022.

Inglese said they also hope to bring back partnership event ideas put on hold because of COVID-19, such as a food festival with the Hawker Street Market and TopGolf Live.

In the meantime, virtual yoga sessions have become a star attraction. For parents like Bufkin, the virtual classes meant more than an exercise opportunity. By the time her son was old enough to sit upright and they were ready to participate in social activities with other kids, the spread of COVID-19 made that impossible.

“As time went on, more virtual options became available, but Calvin was too young and I was frankly too exhausted to attend programming designed just for parents,” Bufkin said. 

Then she found out from her neighbor, who happens to be Pickthall, that she was teaching yoga classes for families. Bufkin signed up immediately. 

“Finally, we had a chance to do something relaxing together in our living room or on the patio "with" other people, and it was OK if we didn't follow along exactly or had to pause for interruptions,” she said, adding that her son mostly left her alone while he roamed around the room, between the occasional snuggles.

Instructor  leads a yoga class from Sun Devil Stadium

Pixi Pickthall

Bufkin said she was looking forward to another virtual class with Pickthall.

“I love how Pixi incorporates mental health and parenting advice, how she makes me laugh and never makes me feel guilty. I'll admit I cried after the first class. It was a tremendous relief to have support for our physical, mental and social welfare when there seemed to be not much else for infants/toddlers and their parents. I'm excited to have this community where he can learn and move with me.”

Graves, the instructor for the first ASU Family yoga class, despite not being able to see the participants in the webinar format, offered encouragement to her all-ages audience as she led them through about 45 minutes of stretches and breathing exercises.

“Be gentle with yourself, but try,” she said about halfway through. “No one’s judging you, just have some fun. I’m so proud of you for showing up.”

ASU families are welcome to register for any of the miniseries sessions through the ASU Family Hub. Sun Devils are welcome to sign up through the student registration. Explore even more engagement activities for Sun Devil families with the ASU Family Events Calendar.

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