Oak Bluffs goes to mat over yoga

Parks commission says no beach events without a permit.

Yoga participants were back at Inkwell Beach on Tuesday in silent protest of a decision by the parks commission to oust them last week. — Joanne Lambert

The Oak Bluffs parks and recreation commission is under fire after a long-running yoga group was ousted from Inkwell Beach early Thursday morning by a parks employee. 

O.B. resident Henry Diodati, abutting homeowner and yoga group supporter, told The Times that on Thursday, around 8 am, an unidentified parks commission employee informed the class that they were prohibited from the activity on public property without a permit.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Diodati said, “that they would stop something like that … something so beautiful as yoga — [beneficial to] the mind, spirit, and body.” Especially when the activity isn’t interfering with the general public, he said. While confused, Diodati brought the group to his front lawn for the remainder of the exercises. While it accepts donations, the class, Diodati said, has no official charge for joining and participating. 

The ousting triggered an overwhelming number of members of the public to attend Monday’s parks commission meeting — peaking at around 150 participants — ready to express support for the yoga group, and overall freedom to utilize the town’s public spaces. 

In mitigating private use of public sites, which has been a hot topic at recent town select board meetings, the parks commission said they ”[have] been working to identify and manage the many events and businesses that have taken root in town parks in recent years.”

What initially triggered the parks commission to double down on enforcing regulations that have been mainly overlooked for years is unclear, as no one at Monday’s meeting expressed objection to the activity. 

Parks commission chair Antone Lima confirmed to The Times that the parks department approached the Inkwell Yoga group and relayed that without a special permit, the group was in violation of town bylaws. Considered a “special event,” the class, without having secured a permit and permission in advance, was told to leave Inkwell Beach pending receipt of official approval from the town, Lima said. 

“As a commission, we are very mindful of how people and organizations use the parks for financial gain. The parks commission also understands the value of the diverse offering of special events in town, and wishes to continue promoting public recreational opportunities while balancing the rights of the public to use the parks and beaches simultaneously,” Lima wrote on behalf of the commission in an email. 

That prompted a big showing by the public at Monday’s parks commission meeting, held via Zoom. Those in attendance were hoping to understand the decision to begin the strict enforcement, despite not having the item on the agenda. 

On Friday, Lima, in an email to The Times, said that the commission has since received an application for Inkwell Yoga, with a discussion and possible vote on approval or denial at their August 8 meeting. Lima said because of short notice, the commission was unable to accommodate the group at Monday’s meeting. 

Commissioner Amy Billings vehemently asserted that the specific topic of Inkwell Yoga was not to be discussed at Monday’s meeting, noting midmeeting, “We’re not discussing it. It’s not on the agenda, and i’m getting text messages saying, ‘Do not discuss this in detail.’”

Nevertheless, the commission — mainly Lima — were inundated with messages and raised hands of attendees, and cited town bylaws, noting that a special event is defined as “supervised or organized activities involving one or more participants or spectators, which might reasonably be expected to affect the public use or enjoyment, or the general environmental quality, of any park or beach.” 

Lima referenced another town bylaw, prohibiting “commercial activity including, without limitation, signs, notices, advertisement, concessions, or soliciting/selling of goods, services, or articles,” but highlighted that the parks commission has the authority to issue “a special-use permit upon receipt of a complete application for an otherwise prohibited activity.” 

Despite Lima’s acknowledgement that the parks employee engaged with the “organizers” of Inkwell Yoga, he asserted that a “point person” is needed for a group to be deemed “supervised and organized.”

Lima said that there have been no changes in the town’s bylaws, causing the ousting of Inkwell Yoga attendees, but because of the volume of visitors and beachgoers, he has to look more closely at the commission’s range of regulatory functions. One of them, said Lima, allows the commission to amend certain bylaws, which is not likely. “If we don’t issue the permits, we don’t necessarily have a way to control [happenings on public property],” Lima said at Monday’s meeting. 

Select board chair Ryan Ruley, who was present at the meeting, explained that discussions among the town, the police department, and the parks commission led to the conclusion that having police respond to special-permit-related matters “wasn’t necessarily appropriate.” 

Ruley said the goal is to begin with public engagement, and notifications — ”a more administrative function” — concerning town bylaws, rather than involve the police department. 

Ruley said the aim was to begin with an “educational portion” of the notification process, with parks employees informing members of the public about the rules and regulations. 

Ruley said parks employees would explain how to obtain a special permit if one is needed. He said that in the past, activities held on public areas like Inkwell would have needed special permits, unbeknownst to those organizing the events. 

Regardless of officials’ reasoning, members of the public in attendance expressed concern over the focus on regulating seemingly peaceful activities. Further frustrating supporters of the yoga group was the commission’s reluctance to hear comments from the public. 

“I’m concerned about the interest of the town in trying to monetize healthy, productive activities that contribute to the larger sense of the community,” said resident Caroline Hunter. “Whether it is yoga, group swimming, water aerobics, [it is necessary to have] free public usage of the beach and parks.”

She added, “We’re very disturbed about how the Inkwell Yoga group was treated,” adding that there was no written notification sent out to the Inkwell Yoga organizers. “You are all operating from a position of having stopped something very productive, and now making the people come from a kind of backhanded perspective to justify what they were doing.” Hunter said she looks forward to “a wide airing of the issue” at the August 8 meeting. 

Noting the large number of members of the public present via Zoom, Hunter said, “This is a serious concern. I think you’re threatening the business life, the social life, the healthy life of the Oak Bluffs community.” 

Additionally, Hunter raised an issue over the lack of public forum, to which Lima responded because of the volume of attendees, and the attention generated by the issue, the commission is “struggling” to accommodate everyone, which he followed up with an apology. 

Shelley Christiansen, Oak Bluffs resident and Cottage City Historic District commissioner, said she was “stunned,” and seconded Hunter’s statements. “I have never been at a meeting, after all these years, where public comment has been denied in a commission meeting on a specific agenda item,” she said. 



  1. The way this was handled was disgusting, and frankly embarrassing as a town citizen. That our town officials would treat people like that – shooing them off a public beach like they were doing something terrible. These are town residents and regular visitors who come because they love the island and our town beach. Certainly if the town has decided to clarify what kind of activities need permits, then do so and communicate with us, the people. It doesn’t sound like it is clear whether yoga on the beach needs a permit. Why not figure that out first and communicate what needs to be done, in a civil manner? And, doing such an aggressive thing and then refusing to talk about it, saying it’s “not on the agenda” – perhaps you should have thought of that before taking that tactic?

    • Communication (or lack thereof) is often the root of so many issues, and an issue in and of itself. This is how we get “us” and “them.” Having something in the paper about this up-and-coming policy would likely have had better results.

      • To notify the groups using the public spaces would have been even better. This isn’t a new activity and the organizer could have easily been found and offered a chance to get the paperwork in before the summer.

    • Hmmmm? What happens if someone with that connections to the yoga people of MV says something on social media that they are doing yoga on the beach’s t inkwell at a specific date and time and then from all directions other yoga enthusiasts are walking the beach and decide to join in. Do they have to stop then if it is a natural gathering? I don’t do yoga but I think a pick up session of beach yoga is quite attractive. I personally would love to see MV on the national news for a yoga-in rather than all the negative political and war news presented everyday…….. Does this mean that a pick up game of beach tennis or group castle building needs a permit too? Just ridiculous.

  2. Someone obviously gave this parks representative the instruction to unceremoniously boot the yoga group off the beach. Who was it? Im trying to imagine the thought process behind an altercation rather than a conversation. These are residents, its a public beach. There is no commerce taking place. It’s a peaceful early morning ritual, not a late-nite, loud & boisterous drink-a-thon. Come on, man.

  3. You were foolish fo leave the beach. It’s a civil matter and at worse you could have applied for a permit at the next meeting. Since you had been there a long time in the past the police could not ask you to leave.

  4. The heat is apparently frying the brains of some town officials.

    It seems to me that if 3 people decided to jog along the beach together every other morning they would need a permit.
    How about the polar bear club ?
    It would seem to me that the Parks & rec committee would have more important things to worry about. If not, they should go to the beach and chill out.

  5. Our Parks Department needs a complete makeover. First, it should be a separate department, and not subsumed into our Highway Department. Then, it’s main purpose ought to be to provide and maintain a beautiful interface between humans and nature, where both sides are treated respectfully. As well, our beautiful beach should be a top priority, not a begrudging afterthought, with no discernable budget to maintain it.
    I live and walk in our downtown area all year round, and am shocked by the things I see that get absolutley no attention. We should be kind and generous to the people who love our town, and contribute to it in all their ways. It does not need to be run like a state penitentiary.

  6. Totally agree with Joanne’s comments above. If the Commission really feel this was an issue that just had to be addressed (seriously?), then perhaps start a dialogue with the group, but to start with kicking people off the beach is heavy-handed and totally unnecessary. As a resident of Oak Bluffs, I strongly resent this.

  7. i still cannot believe this happened. The beach is PUBLIC. And these are good people.
    This is embarrassing to the Christian people and our love for each other.

  8. They should have refused to leave. If this was not a commercial enterprise with no fees being charged the town should not be concerned in any way.

  9. As a Recreation and Parks Director in another state, member of National Recreation and Parks Association, Certified Parks and Recreation Professional and all around person with common sense, this was handled all wrong. I understand the purpose of Permits but this group has a history of meeting here, no money is exchanged and in general Parks are created for people to loiter and do positive things, this is what we want to see in our parks. Not sure what’s going on here but I have noticed some of the towns in MV don’t have Recreation and Parks professionals in charge. The customer service was bad and sometimes there are grey areas that force exceptions.

    • Furthermore, a permit is typically used to reserve an amenity. This is an informal group of people who meet and I am sure would find some other space if there was a permitted event so the thought of first come first served like for a baseball diamond isn’t a fit for this instance.

    • I think at issue is the charge for the class, even though you can just participate and walk away without paying, there is a donation request of $15 a class. For business owners who have pay taxes and get a license, etc. it strikes them as unfair that someone gets to run a business on public land. And yes, it could have been handled without the surprise element.

  10. This is really unwelcoming and disappointing. I hope there is a good outcome to this soon.

  11. Sometime I wonder how the conversation goes…
    “I had an argument with my wife last night, and the kids are acting up. — let’s throw some people off the beach– I’ll feel better. ”
    So someone else has to agree that’s a good idea.
    “Great idea, boss, — can I get a raise or an extra doughnut at the next meeting ? ”
    How is it that no one asks how this will go over with the public ?
    Is O.B as full of sycophants and yes “men” — no disrespect intended for women or they’s — it’s just a term.. as the political “boot” lickers in the highest levels of our government ?
    I am not so surprised that some officials will occasionally make a stupid decision, but how they can get people to agree is puzzling to me.

  12. In a town where inclusivity has always been revered, it appears that exclusivity has now taken preference…This is a shameful turn of events and needs to be rectified.

  13. Just yesterday I noticed large groups of people around noon hanging out at the beach on towels! PERMITS in place I hope!?

    As I do my morning walks from the cottage campgrounds, along the ocean and to all around, I love to stop and watch the yoga people…such a calming scene…ocean, yoga, and to the right, catching the water group. How ANYONE could find this morning island experience a problem is beyond me. I am embarrassed and angered.

  14. Welcome to the island of no it seems to be the first thought out of most public officials and boards. Instead of how can we make this work it’s no no no.

  15. Common sense was lacking by the town in this encounter. It would be nice to know who in town government kicked this hornet’s nest and examine what other power plays this individual(s) may have been involved with. This is not how our town should be managed. Deriving satisfaction from kicking people off a beach versus informing and guiding is a pure power play by someone.

  16. of course this is ridiculous. i have a suggestion for the yoga group. next time you meet, someone bring along a volley ball and just start playing volley ball if a “recreation” and parks rep comes around. or i suppose you could start building sand castles. pretty sure those things are allowed on public beaches.

  17. Well, if this is free and anyone can join, I am all for it. I thought a venmo payment of $15 was expected for yoga. But if that’s not the case, then allow groups that meet for free like the Polar Bears to use the space. Otherwise you could have a $10 yoga class set up next door to the $15 class, and the beach becomes a commercial space which isn’t what you want either. I like the beaches as they are – free to everyone for free activities. Let commercial entities get licenses and pay the town fees when they charge charge participants fees for their activities.

  18. Wwhhhaaaattt?????….. With all that is going on in the world…the war, illnesses, random shootings, the emphasis on inclusion for all peoples….you would think that something as peaceful as a yoga group would be a welcome sight on the beach. The parks and recreation personnel ought to be ashamed of themselves!….Where is their common sense… oh, yah, I forgot…common sense isn’t common, and certainly not in OB!

  19. Excuse me . . . Public beach and people are kicked off because they are doing yoga? How about if they were just sitting as a group (maybe meditating together?) would you kick them off the PUBLIC beach? Let’s take this to its logical conclusion. My wife and I go to Inkwell Beach and sit and do yoga . . . technically we are a “group” (I’m assuming that “group” is more than one person gathered together) . . . will the OB officials kick us off the beach? Please, let’s get real about this. Town officials must have better things to do with their time. Oh . . . how about “removing” the ladies who gather together in the water and exercise . . . remove them too? Wow!

  20. IMO The yoga group should continue to do what they have been doing for years. Ignore the idiotic parks and rec dept. let them try to stop you. Let them try to prove you aren’t doing yoga individually in court, they won’t be able to.

  21. It’s actually PAY BEACH all these off islanders want to change the names of places change the place you fell in love with and it will always be GAY HEAD to us birn and raised there and remember you can’t fix stupid

  22. Lots of commenters simply missing the point. This was a business venture that they were advertising, and for which they were charging a fee. You can still see the ad online if you care to look. What other types of businesses would you like to see taking place on the beach? There were articles about this in this paper from last year, which are available for your perusal. Not even the reporter has ackowledged the fact that the parks department has been struggling with this for over a year. This is not the fault of parks department personnel – they are simply doing their jobs. This is the fault of someone who wants to conduct a fee based business on public parklands, without a license or a permit, with no insurance, etc. It’s not remotely legal to do so. Every other yoga business has the usual overhead, except this one. People are acting as if this is some kind of infringement on the free use of parks by the public, when it’s actually being done to protect that very thing.

    • Agreed, if you are charging money you are a business and need a permit. Otherwise another business comes along and then———–

      • Katherine– Just because andy says they are charging for this does not make it so.
        To quote the article above ” While it accepts donations, the class, Diodati said, has no official charge for joining and participating.
        Accepting a donation is not “charging”.
        I took the Time’s word on that quote..

        However, at Bert’s suggestion, I did see an advertisement in the M.V Times for July 25 2020 which says it was free to guest of the Narraganset House, but $15 for others. I couldn’t find anything more recent than that, and the link from the Narraganset House to their yoga classed on the beach gives no specifics.
        If that is the case, it sounds like a business to me, and the Park & rec is correct that they need a permit.
        Could the Times dig a little deeper into this one ?
        Is there anyone reading this who attends those classes ? If so, do you pay ? Do you feel coerced to “donate” ?
        A Simple question that clearly defines the situation..

        • It was advertised as recently a yesterday on marthasvineyardyoga.com. Today that ad has been removed. This is getting more slippery by the minute.

          • Bert– did that ad mention anything about money ?
            If it said “donations welcome” , I am fine with that and the town deserves the mess they have stepped in.
            Already bad enough the way it was handled , even if it turns out this is a business. But if they don’t charge or just say donations welcome, the town is really knee deep in it.

          • andy– just looking for the facts– It’s not about your opinion, which I correctly point out is often incorrect when compared against facts . Most of your statements are false,misleading or disingenuous , but some of them are true, I assume.

            What I am trying to figure out is whether people were charged for this. I don’t really care if the participants are buying time with a yoga instructor or buying MAGA hats.
            If someone wants to hand out free MAGA hats every morning from 8 am to 9 am on the beach I am fine with that and the town has no right to tell them not to.
            It doesn’t make a difference to me.
            The issue here is whether it is a business or not.
            Andrea says no one is charged — and I agree that if someone wants to donate, that is not being charged. Note my analogy about playing a guitar on the beach.
            The point is that if this was being advertised and a price was posted, as Bert has seen, then the town has the legal obligation– let me repeat– obligation — to require a permit, and all that it entails.
            If no one is charged, as Andrea says, then the town should go crawl back under the rock that this slithered out of and leave them alone. This should be easy enough to determine–
            I think we all agree that the initial way it was handled was ignorant, insensitive, and offensive, and according to the opinions of some, racially motivated.

    • Interesting. I googled “Inkwell Yoga” and found in 2020 (maybe this is a different group?) there was advertising for yoga through the narragansett house. It stated: no drop-ins, free for narragansett house guests and $15 for non-guests. Sounds like there there may be more to the story. Bashing the Parks Commission, who volunteer much of their time, overseeing what defines Oak Bluffs (neighborhood parks and a town beachfront) is not the thing to do.

  23. Outrageous, these mindful individuals are not bothering anyone. Definitely a government overreach here. Poor communication on the town’s part.

  24. My family reunion was to be in your town next year, We have 328 people in our family that would have been coming to your island. We have decided to take our money and go somewhere that is more friendly towards citizens! Our reunion was to last for two weeks. Do the math on what that Parks commissioner just cost your town. 328×14 days is 4528 then multiply that by an average of 150 per guest that’s roughly $688,000 and that’s just an average…some of the family blows through three to four times that. So thank your commissioner for a loss of almost 3/4 of a million dollars in town revenue! Many of the relatives have already canceled the reservations and most of the others never even made them! Good bye! I hope he or she gets fired for these actions!

  25. Been vacationing for over 30 years on the Island, never have seen this type of official response to an “everyday” occurrence. Almost grandfathered in, to the day-day beach activities. Seems like there were multiple opportunities to handle this in a different fashion. Many folks are thinking racism. There it has been said.

      • Not a stretch at all. A white blonde woman catering fitness classes to nearly all white women on the beach, boardwalk, etc gets written up in glowing news articles, including this newspaper. I also had the same concern as Steve when I read this story, and I am glad he said what he did. It’s weird if you think about it, since there are and always have been early morning beach classes.

  26. Question about what a business is.
    I am sure you can sit on the beach and play a guitar, as long as no one complains.
    If you put a box out for donations ( think subway musicians) are you then a business ?

  27. Early morning beach classes (as well as other public properties being used, like fields, docks, gazebos, boardwalks, tennis courts), with required paid tuitions to partake, have been going on since forever. For example, how are the Inkwell yoga group class different from these early morning fitness classes profiled in this newspaper a few years back and still going on today? Do they get a permit every time they use public property for profit?


  28. There’s a lot of misinformation here. INKWELL YOGA IS FREE. THERE IS NO CHARGE. The Yoga FB page is not an advertisement and “Love donations” (of no specified value) are NOT required. This is not a business venture but an expression of Black joy, spiritual/ physical wellness and excellence. Inkwell yoga is a fitness experience that truly feels sacred and healing. It’s a guided meditative connection to the beach that I’ve spent my entire life visiting with family. Like many black families, for generations we have summered in OB. I feel the spirit of many of my family who’ve passed, cousins, Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and my mother, right there, on that beach. It’s where we spread my mother’s ashes. Black people have historically pilgrimaged to the inkwell from all over the country to find peace for a couple weeks. A peace that we look forward to and pull strength from to survive the rest of the year. I am a people person but as a result of the last few years, I’m also ridden with social anxiety. I honestly NEED Inkwell Yoga. Some of these comments are very telling of the true nature behind this issue, and the timing, just before “Black August” is no coincidence. We should all be outraged and pained by this attack. I am disgusted, but not terribly surprised, because whitelash seems to never end. It’s free beach yoga! Will our peaceful existence ever stop being perceived as an act of resistance?

    • Well, as I posted previously, it was advertised as recently as yesterday on marthasvineyardyoga.com. Today that ad has been removed. It said nothing about a “love donation”. It just said $15. Hard to see how that translates into “free”. Others saw the same thing that I did, and yet other commenters have referenced different examples of previous advertised fees. Just because you place it in caps does not make it so.

      The rest of your post appears to be an attempt at provocation, and so I will not address it.

      • Anyone who’s actually ever gone to Inkwell yoga (I have for years) has heard of “love donations.” Theyre of no specified amount and optional at the end of class.

        I was part of the group forced off the beach that Thursday. My comments are in response to the provocation from that day and the gaslighting misinformation in the comments.

  29. The only people who are supportive of this are those who reference “Pays Beach” and “Gayhead”, respond to progress and inclusivity with “you can’t fix stupid”, and infer that the yoga group consists of bad people because “good people get the permits.” They are straight up lying here to gain support for something absolutely outrageous! INKWELL YOGA IS FREE! If you own some type of business that you feel is in competition, you should offer free beach yoga too! Because it’s a public beach, and it’s FREE! 🤡

  30. I first came to the vineyard in 1960 as a child. My grandmother Vera Robinson and her best friend Walty Doyles bought a rooming house on Circuit Ave to allow people who would not ordinarily be able to come and stay to have a choice. And there were few choices on the island for us at that time.

    My concerns are:
    First, as most would agree this was poorly handled. The “authorities” were out of order. People who were peacefully enjoying the beach together were told to leave. There was not an open discussion on any issue at hand.

    Secondly, why was the Yoga gathering chosen to receive this treatment? It was to me at the least, demeaning to those involved. Told they were doing something against the law they left. Questions to think about; What is the problem, who defines it and who came forth with the solution? Who is included, who is excluded and who decides?

    Thirdly, when the emperor was standing there feeling righteous having taking the power away from the people… he was embarrassed and afraid because the people saw the truth. Then refused to talk with the people.

    Finally, This will not stand. Taking away the right to choose to gather is not unusual in this nation or this world. Think, Apologize, and ask for suggestions to correct whatever needs to be corrected. And correct it quick!

  31. You are so right on, Donna Blackburn.

    Common sense is not so common anymore.

    And again I say, no wonder the Coneheads call us ” The Numbskull Planet”.

  32. What a joke all around. What world is mv part of? After the old money families left, I was sensible to follow. ‘Your’ island has become a predictable traffic jam of an Orwellian theme park for loud summer debauchery; if its even allowed. Enjoy august!!

  33. July 29, 2022
    Letter to the Editor:
    RE: Oak Bluffs goes to mat over yoga:
    This is insane to stop a yoga class that has been going on for a few years on the beach, yoga is so healthy both physically and medically.
    I can understand getting a permit. However, it shouldn’t take time to get on. Sounds like there are issues with the OB parks department and Mr. Diodati, there is no reason it could not be put on an agenda for the town to discussed ASAP and give Mr. Diodati a permit to continue his class without delay a class. To much town politics. And why is this just getting noticed during the middle of the summer. Taking much more time for obtaining a permit will prevent people doing yoga for the summer season.
    As far as accepting a small donation, yoga instructors have to take classes and get certified to be one. It cost time and money to became a yoga teacher. A person who takes a yoga, is being taught how to do yoga safely and not get injured.
    I take yoga classed twice a week and have been for about 4 years minus a year and half during the Covid shut down. It is healthy, breathing, stretching, etc. I leave feeling so much better. My health and mental state are so much better doing yoga.
    I would suggest the Parks department and any other town department who is against the Inkwell Yoga to take a yoga class to see how benefitable it is health wise, breathing and meditation. And let Mr. Diodati get his permit.

    Roger Maxfield

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