Many yoga classes play soothing background music. Ava Csiszar needs no such assistance during her class on Siesta Beach. The Gulf of Mexico does the work for her.
Yogis in the class listen to the waves breaking on the beach, catch some rays from the morning sun and feel the world-famous sand on their feet, all while practicing an ancient form of exercise. Csiszar teaches a style called hatha yoga, which takes yogis through basic poses and stretches. She encourages her pupils to go at their own pace and intensity, doing only what feels right.
Summer classes begin near the green lifeguard stand at 8 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. A large sign makes the class easy to find. Csiszar accepts a $5 donation per class to pay for monthly beach fees, which is cheap considering most studio classes cost at least double that (and that’s if you buy a bulk package). You can pay at the beach or on her website.
I used to practice yoga weekly but stopped almost four years ago. Csiszar eliminated my nerves at the beginning of class by telling us to listen to our bodies, which feel and respond differently each day. Csiszar leads class from the front and won’t come over to adjust you during a pose. Only you know what feels right.
The class starts from a sitting position. Csiszar leads her yogis through some light stretches to the left and right, but the primary focus is on breathing. Students take deep breaths, coordinating their breathing with their movements and stretching. My movements became more fluid when I followed Csiszar’s instructions on when to inhale and exhale.
Like other exercise classes, beach yoga progresses in difficulty over time. We eventually worked up to a kneeling position, focusing on hips and hamstrings. Nothing looked very difficult, but holding a basic hamstring stretch can exhaust your legs after a while. I was excited to move to a sitting position to recharge for a moment. My legs felt both tired and loose at the same time.
Make sure you bring water to the class. Csiszar provides plenty of chances to pause and take a drink, and the morning sun starts to heat up later in the class. The session ends with some standing poses, focusing again on hamstrings. Csiszar, as always, emphasizes posture and breathing.
The advantages of beach yoga over a studio session aren’t limited to sand and sunshine. The outside setting means plenty of room, and latecomers don’t interrupt by opening a door and tiptoeing through everyone. You should, however, get close enough to hear Csiszar during the class. Noises from the beach can drown out instructions if you’re too far away. And as with any trip to the beach, bring a towel (or yoga mat in this case) and sunscreen. Our class continued through a light drizzle that lasted a few minutes, but really bad weather will cancel the class.
Final piece of advice: Watch Csiszar demonstrate the movements, but don’t compare yourself to her. Yoga is not a competition, so enjoy the beach, focus on yourself and loosen up.
P.S. Today is International Day of Yoga, and you can celebrate this weekend with Pineapple Yoga Studio at Selby Gardens--another beautiful outdoor setting. Click here for more information about the event.