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On the ice, pandemic stresses briefly melt away

Instructor Elin Schran (center), founder and director of Joy Skate Productions, lead a recent outdoor skating class at the 401 Park rink in The Fenway.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Standing under the December sun on ice skates, Elin Schran lifted her arms over her head, encouraging her 17 students gathered on the rink in the Fenway to breathe in deeply.

“Pretend you’re part of a kelp forest,” Schran said Sunday, laughing along with students in the yoga-inspired skating class as they swayed their arms and wiggled their hips, moving like seaweed on the ocean floor. Then Schran led them across the outdoor rink, swooping from one end to the other, feeling the ice under their blades.

The goal is to find joy in the thrill of gliding over the ice, cutting through the crisp fall air, focusing on the present and, even for a moment, pushing away the stresses of pandemic life.

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Last fall, as COVID cases surged and a series of clusters were traced back to indoor ice hockey leagues, the state’s Department of Public Health temporarily shut down operations at all indoor rinks. The Boston Common’s iconic Frog Pond rink, too, remained closed over COVID fears. Much has changed since: the advent of COVID vaccines, new variants of concern, and a better understanding of how the virus spreads.

Though there is still uncertainty about the effects of the virus’s Omicron variant, public health professionals emphasize that gatherings outdoors are significantly safer than being cramped indoors. Despite Boston’s harsh winters, outdoor winter activities offer an outlet for people who are feeling cooped up indoors.

Schran’s free weekly IceFlow classes — every Sunday morning at The Rink at 401 Park in the Fenway for the remainder of winter — combine yoga-inspired breathing techniques with the peaceful feeling of gliding across the ice. It’s a group fitness class and an exercise in joining breath and movement.

“You can just have so much fun in the winter if you like sledding if you like skiing, if you like going snowshoeing or skating,” said Schran, founder and director of Joy Skate Productions.

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Skating, she said, is about “that essence that we all love so much — that glide.”

Two participants in the Fenway class, Deborah Kramer of Needham and Judy Lipson of Boston grew up skating together in Newton. At the end of the class, the students joined together in a wide circle at the center of the ice and did a joint breathing exercise, tightening, and expanding the circle in unison.

“Often in skating, it’s not a group activity,” Kramer said. “And I felt that energy at the end, that was so beautiful . . . That felt very connected.”

On Monday afternoon, the sound of blades slicing through ice and the excited squeals of children could be heard at the Common’s Frog Pond. Skaters of all ages from around the world — including Sydney, Dublin, Ireland, and Baltimore — filled the rink.

The Boston Common Frog Pond skating rink.The Skating Club of Boston

A group of college students in backpacks raced from one end to the other. A couple bundled in puffer coats, scarves, and fur hats held hands through a pair of mittens.

Some skaters moved gracefully and did tricks, while others were clearly first-timers, gripping the edge of the rink for dear life.

Emma Bradley, 35, came to celebrate her daughter’s 10th birthday. Back in her Iowa hometown, there’s only one skating rink, Bradley said, so she doesn’t get to go often. When she does, it’s exciting, she said.

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“It’s something different and something fun. It’s like a little adventure for the day,” Bradley said. “Even if we fall, we still have a good time.”

“I didn’t fall today!” her daughter Isabel chimed in. “I’m pretty good.”

Brennan Doyle, 26, of New Jersey, was visiting a friend in the city. They were looking for a quintessential Boston Christmas activity, and alas landed at the Frog Pond.

“I figured it was one of the cool winter things to do around here.” Doyle said. “It’s fun, a good way to be active and get out of the house.”

Doyle said he was surprised that some places decided to close rinks earlier during the pandemic.

“It’s outside and it’s not too crowded,” he said.

At the Frog Pond Monday, around 20 skaters filled the rink but were able to maintain social distance. Some people wore masks and given that the rink is outside, it could be considered the perfect pandemic-safe activity.

On his way off the rink, a teenage boy in a Red Sox hat looked at his friend and said, “Everyone here just seems like a good person.”


Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com or at 617-929-2043.