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Balanced Rock: Sharing Yoga, Meditation and Wellness from Yosemite

Co-founder Heather Sullivan shares what the non-profit is bringing to Yosemite in 2021 and beyond

Photo by: Josh Helling

Earlier this month, after attempting the Rostrum with Yosemite local Whitney Stowe, I sat down with Balanced Rock co-founder Heather Sullivan to hear about her latest program offerings. As the sun crested over El Portal on the national park’s western border, we took a seat on the crisp granite boulders along the Merced River. There, she told me about the company’s upcoming offerings, her possible future partnership with the Yosemite Mountaineering School, and her upcoming 200-hour yoga teacher training. As we talked, we were keeping our eyes on our friend Sean Jones on the cliff above us rope-soloing high on Parkline Slab. By the light of his faint headlamp high on the wall, we watched as he put the finishing touches on his new sport route Otherworld (5.11d, 9 pitches). Like Jones, Sullivan is a longtime Yosemite resident, member of the local climbing tribe, and contributor to the community.

Balanced Rock instructors in El Cap Meadow. Photo: Courtesy Balanced Rock/Dean Fidelman

For twenty years Balanced Rock has been a central part of wellness in Yosemite. By offering donation-based classes, they bring park residents together while promoting health and wellbeing. “We do everything we can to make our courses accessible to all who are interested regardless of financial resources,” says the website.

During chilly winter days — pre-Covid-19— I attended Sullivan’s classes in person, which were offered in the community center in El Portal, at the Wellness Center in Curry Village in the park, and at Autocamp in Midpines. There in El Portal, perched on my yoga mat in the warm room as cold rain fell outside, I followed Sullivan’s directions as she led the group through gentle poses. The classes are so relaxing that it’s not uncommon for some people to fall asleep by the end. Due to the pandemic, today’s classes are offered via Zoom; click here to learn more.

Eliza Kerr on the Rostrum
Balanced Rock co-founder Eliza Kerr on the Rostrum. Photo: Chris Van Leuven

Balanced Rock includes retreats, guided hikes as well as yoga. Custom outings include yoga over freshly fallen snow in El Cap Meadow and walks in the Mariposa Grove and from the Valley floor to the top of Yosemite Falls. They also offer backcountry programs and wellness retreats. Once the Yosemite Mountaineering School reopens, they look forward to providing combination yoga and climbing outings.  

yoga under heavy weather
A Balanced Rock class in the Tuolumne Rivershed. Photo: Balanced Rock

Sullivan and I met five years ago when I flew out from Vermont on assignment from Alpinist to write a story on the lives of Dean Potter, Graham Hunt and Sean Leary. Sullivan and Potter were housemates for many years, and her insight into his life helped me understand him personally. Two years ago, shortly after I moved back to the park, I met up with Sullivan and her crew at Balanced Rock and they became my climbing partners. Our first outing was a circuit through the boulders in Camp 4, followed by a visit to the Merced, where we took in views of Half Dome. Co-founder and donor Eliza Kerr and I have climbed the Rostrum many times and we’ve also dashed up Jones’s long classics at Parkline Slab. Sullivan, who manages Balanced Rock’s programs, is a yogi, guide, and former field expert at the Yosemite Institute.

Jiling Lin in Yosemite
Yoga instructor Akiko Oi in Yosemite Valley. Photo: Balanced Rock

That night on the bank of the Merced, Sullivan filled me in on the upcoming 200-hour yoga teacher training, offered for yoga students, teachers and friends of Balanced Rock. Starting on February 6 and extending through September 30, Paula Wild and additional Balanced Rock instructors will teach an eight-month online yoga certification training. The live courses — up to four hours long — are presented through Zoom. Additionally, starting on March 3 and running until March 24, Dennis Eagan offers a four-week Meditation and Pranayama series. Eagan is longtime climber, boater and skier. “His classes are gentle,” says Sullivan. 

“I think for people that live really active lifestyles, it’s nice to have a restorative practice to help take care of your body,” she continues.

Heather Bromberg teaching at Autocamp
Heather Bromberg teaching yoga at Autocamp in Midpines. Photo: Van Leuven

“I became an instructor with Balanced Rock after attending their 200-hour teaching training course,” says Heather Bromberg, who today teaches classes and provides program support for the non-profit. “Paula Wild helped me further my practice, tap into spirituality, and get centered.”

Lead photo: Josh Helling