By Galen Patterson
Twice a week, Arcadians gather in the arboretum, one of the few places in Los Angeles County where people can be engulfed in nature, to practice yoga.
As the attendees are lead through the poses and breathing exercises, they are instructed by their yoga teacher, Brie Wakeland.
Wakeland has been practicing yoga for nearly twenty years, and started in her home state of Texas at the age of sixteen “I fell in love with yoga at first practice,” she says. Later, she studied yoga in India and came back with a cultural appreciation and connection to the practice.
Some of Wakeland’s regular attendees are people who started practicing yoga in the arboretum years ago, when the program was first started under a different instructor. Wakeland has since taken over the class. “Teaching in the arboretum has been challenging,” she says, citing reasons of health issues and different capabilities for her students.
There are thousands of yoga teachers in Los Angeles County, but the caliber of teacher the arboretum has acquired reaches far beyond yoga; Wakeland is so much more.
Wakeland is a UC Master Gardener. According to the UC Cooperative Extension website, master gardeners are community volunteers who use research to promote environmentally friendly practices across public and community spaces, with workshops, public speaking and consultation.
Aside from teaching yoga and gardening, Wakeland also teaches children about gardening and cooking for a non-profit called Garden School Foundation, and at the Gourmandise School in Santa Monica.
The layers of Wakeland resemble that of an onion. Each layer is as carefully grown as the others, but they are separate and overlap chiefly in the way that the overall entity is composed of them. The onion is made of layers of onion, and Wakeland has layers of professional interest. For example: she is also an expert food preserver and fermenter.
Wakeland studied natural food preserving and fermenting under Sandor Katz, a field-recognized guru of sorts, who has written books on the subject of organic food preservation and fermentation. Katz relates human history and natural medicine to his profession.
Katz takes on students at different times to his home in Tennessee. During the student’s stay, they camp on his mountainous, forested property, discuss natural preservation and fermentation techniques, and enjoy many kinds of food created this way. Like yoga, Wakeland acquired this knowledge from the source, and brought it to the arboretum.
She learned about how tomatoes are tricky to work with and need to be handled a specific way when preserving, and how mold is essential to the fermentation process. Since mold is something people tend to be repulsed at, she had to learn what kinds of mold are good for you, and which ones are dangerous.
Now, she teaches a series of classes called “Preserve and Ferment!” at the arboretum. On Sept. 15, she taught Arcadians how to make ricotta cheese and yogurt, along with other foods like marscapone. The most popular item of the series so far has been kombucha.
For her next goal, she plans on learning the art of ancient cheese making from an organic farmer and world-famous cheese maker, David Asher.
The concept of dharma is open and vast, but is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “an individual’s duty fulfilled by observance of custom or law.” Whether it is organic techniques of food preservation, cultivating the earth responsibly, cooking with children or yoga in the arboretum, “my dharma is to teach,” says Wakeland.