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Islanders love yoga. Hot yoga. Vinyasa yoga. Restorative yoga. Goat yoga. Llama yoga. We have it all. Yoga is known to increase flexibility, improve muscle strength, help maintain a balanced metabolism, good for cardio and circulatory health, and improves mood and weight reduction. So if you’re going to choose a group to make an example of, perhaps one performing yoga in the early morning hours — long before most beach users show up — maybe isn’t the right choice.

Thursday morning, July 21, an unidentified Oak Bluffs parks commission employee told a group practicing yoga at Inkwell Beach that they had to leave because they did not have a permit. Showing up at the beach and ousting them during their session seemed over the top and unnecessary. We can think of a whole lot of beach activities less beneficial than a dozen or so people practicing yoga in the fresh air.

As word spread of the yoga ouster, around 150 participants showed up to support the yoga group at a Monday, July 25, commission meeting, held in person and on Zoom. In the Times’ reporting on the meeting, Abigail Rosen wrote, “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.”
The parks commission considered the yoga group gathering a “special event,” and the gathering unlawful because the group did not have the required permit. Parks commission chair Antone Lima wrote to The Times in an email last week that the commission has to be mindful of how people and organizations use parks and public spaces for financial gain. We wouldn’t think there would be a large profit in getting together for yoga on the beach, and this group did not require payment to participate. From our reporting, the only indication of money changing hands are the donations the group encourages, which is not the same as charging a fee.

What was nearly as disturbing as kicking yoga practitioners off the beach was how the parks commission meeting was handled. The more than 100 people who attended wanted to know why the commission was taking such a tough stand on the activity after years of not enforcing the regulation, but the particular Inkwell Yoga issue was not on the meeting’s agenda. Just the fact that so many people showed up to a meeting in the summertime is a pretty clear indication that they would like to be heard. And you don’t help your position when you turn them away without listening. Commissioner Amy Billings was specific in saying the topic was not to be discussed at the meeting, denying the public their say.
Since then, another meeting was held on Monday, August 1, in a packed town hall conference room. The parks commission decided to honor Inkwell Yoga’s good intentions, and as long as the activity remains free for participants, they will not require a permit. In the end, Inkwell Yoga members expressed their gratitude at the decision, and parks commissioners supported the group and its intention to continue.

We’ve watched as Oak Bluffs officials neglected to fully vet public opinion on everything from sidewalks to flags to statues, and now yoga. We’re left wondering why those in town positions and those voted in to serve the public forget what their role is, why they’re there in the first place. The common good, the benefit of the people who live, work, and vacation here, should be foremost in their thinking — that and common sense. Is there really nothing more worthwhile to debate in the town of Oak Bluffs besides some people engaging in a healthy and beneficial activity on a public beach? And worse yet, it almost appears if town officials create their own problems. Local government working in reverse.
Maybe it’s time the parks commission takes a look at their bylaws and the way they impact the community. And the way they interpret and enforce them. With environmental challenges, lack of affordable housing, teachers who have to fight like hell to make a living wage, substance use disorder all around us, and a myriad of other problems that should take precedence, yoga on the beach seems inconsequential.

If this indeed was a misunderstanding on the part of the parks commission, then we can applaud their reversal on the decision to require Inkwell Yoga to get a permit. But it’s not recognizing the mistake to begin with, and allowing the group to be removed from the beach, that left so many people justifiably upset.