Chances are, that if you are reading this, you are one of the many Columbians this summer who have forgone relaxing days on the beach for that prestigious internship right in the middle of the city. An even better, and more unfortunate, bet though is that internship only offers you a few measly dollars a day, and even that’s a blessing. The curse of a summer in the Big Apple lies in watching your bank account slowly drop to zero, something that happens much too quickly.
However, there is hope. Enjoying your time in the city doesn’t have to be a painful experience on your wallet. Search in the right places, and one is bound to find all sort of excellent things for very discounted prices, or even free. My outing today to Bryant Park falls in the later—I didn’t spend a single dollar for four hours of exercise, excitement, and enjoyment.
Bryant Park sits smack dab right in the center of Midtown, only a block away from Time Square. But unlike one of Manhattan’s most expensive districts, Bryant Park is full of free things to do all summer, as provided by the city’s government. The park itself is small, sitting between some of Manhattan’s biggest skyscrapers and nestled next to the New York Public Library. While the sounds from the passing cars and subways are always around, the park itself is calm except for the bustling residents looking for a place to relax.
However, my morning did not start out with relaxing on the grass, but instead with an intense workout that may have stretched muscles I wasn’t even aware of. While Bryant Park offers free yoga every Tuesday and Thursday, today offered a special class in what is known as IntenSati. Over 200 curious New Yorkers showed up for the event, mostly women, leaving my testosterone fueled body out of place. Yet my confidence was soon to drop, as this workout was not going to be easy on my body.
IntenSati can only be described as yoga meets exercise video meets Oprah. The intense work out is all based on stretching the muscles used in a yoga work-out, but with a high intensity. The combinations are a fun though often ridiculous set of punches, kicks, thrusts, and the what-not. While at first easy, the combinations get more and more complex, and by the end of the forty minute intense work-out, my body was feeling it.
But here’s where IntenSati makes it own mark: you don’t just do these exercises quietly, counting the numbers. Each move is accompanied by a phrase that is supposed to help strengthen your mind in addition to your body. A series of forward punches leads the group to shout “I am exceptional,” while a slide of ones quads is “I am the one.” While the phrases seem ripped out of a basic “self-help” book, our instructor, Natalia Petrzela, CC’ 00, had us convinced that saying these phrases would help channel our energy and bring out the warrior in every one of us. Petrzela’s background—a New School professor in education studies with a PhD from Stanford—surprised me when I researched it later, but one could see her teaching method working as the multitudes of women around me shouted her chants and moved with ferocity at a pace I couldn’t compete with.
By the end, I was sore and tired, but I felt the impact of IntenSati. With so many people all channeling their energy, it was difficult not to get caught up in the fun and excitement of this free class.
After the intense workout, I managed to head to the West side of the park for something completely different— Pétanque. A mix between bocce ball and curling, pétanque is a French pastime that requires more skill than athletics. The game, played in a pebble-filled box, is all about getting your ball closest to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet. But the balls that you shoot with are where the challenge comes in—these heavy iron balls put a strain
on your wrists, as well as your mind. The fun of pétanque comes in the head-to-head competitions. Each player is given three iron balls, and whoever is not currently closest gets his or her chance to throw a ball. A good player will have the skill to land it close to the cochonnet. The pros will take aim at your ball and knock them to the other side of Bryant Park, leaving their own balls only inches away. Needless to say, the pros running the event took it easy on me…occasionally.
For those looking something a little more casual, Bryant Park also offers two finely crafted ping-pong tables, where pros and amateurs can take part in a relaxing and fun game. Also available on the opposite side of the park are chess sets, though the real pros of the city were not to be found here, and more likely down in Washington Square Park (Most likely due to the fact that despite all the free enjoyment, Bryant Park does charge $3 for its sets).
It wasn’t until lunchtime though that I saw what an amazing spot Bryant Park was, not just for me and for their events, but for at least a thousand New Yorkers. Hundreds of residents flocked in with their sandwiches, gyros, and salads to simply bask in the sunlight and the calm, away from the cars, streetlights, and ads. People just wanted to get away from their desks, see the sun, and relax on the grass. Bryant Park’s bold location and conception—a tiny park, dwarfed by the city’s gigantic buildings—served as a reminder that the outdoors, no matter how small, could be beautiful for those in need of a change of pace.
While my journey though Bryant Park ended there, it didn’t necessarily have to. A quick look at their calendar throughout the summer includes a series of outdoor movies, fencing lessons, and even performances from Broadway musicals. Sure it may lack the size of Central Park, or the breezy winds down at Battery, but Bryant Park is a cozy retreat that exhales a tranquility rarely found in this bustling city.
Check out the CUArts Flickr for more photos from my day!
Peter Labuza, CC’11