By Linda Saslow
Why not take your yoga practice to the coast to boost your beach bliss and your overall well-being?
What could be more perfect than a stretch of beach for practising yoga as a couple? There are numerous beach locations around the world that are ideal for trying out relaxing or energising poses in a natural setting, ranging from the hipster and exotic to the quiet and peaceful.
ONE recent Sunday morning, 13 barefoot women and one man sat cross-legged on yoga mats, eyes closed and hands resting on their knees, palms facing upward, listening to cues from the woman in the center of their circle.
“Breathe in, breathe out,” said Pam Wheelock. “Exhale out the tension and stress of your body.”
Ms. Wheelock spoke calmly, but she had to project her voice to be heard over the sounds of the seagulls above and the waves breaking at the shoreline, perhaps 10 feet from the yoga class.
“Hear the ocean, smell the salt water,” she said. “Distractions will move into your body. Acknowledge them, then bring your attention back to your breath.”
Nearby, a dozen surfers were riding the early-morning waves, several joggers passed by and a tractor was cleaning the beach.
But the 14 yoga students seemed oblivious as they moved into downward facing dog and triangle, while their teacher circulated among them to adjust their positions.
“Open your heart to the sky,” said Ms. Wheelock, 54, who lives in Long Beach, right down the street from where she leads weekly Sunday yoga classes on the beach at 8 a.m., beginning in June and continuing until the weather breaks.
Why the beach? “Because practicing yoga on the beach at sunrise is glorious,” she said. “The sound of the waves and the blue sky are too much to resist.”
Her students, some regulars, others newcomers, have been steadily increasing in number.
“It’s the highlight of my week,” said Eileen Johnson of Freeport, who has been practicing yoga with Ms. Wheelock for two years. “The open space, the sound of the waves and watching the surfers help me open myself up to relaxation. This is my happy place, and when I’m here, it all makes sense.”
Sandie Oppenheimer, a Long Beach resident who teaches yoga to children, showed up for the first time, eager to try yoga on the beach after hearing about the Sunday classes from a friend.
“Yoga has so many benefits,” she said. “It’s great for stress release and relaxation, and contributes to overall well-being. To be able to practice yoga on the beach is so soothing and very spiritual.”
Ms. Wheelock, who is a registered yoga instructor and also teaches blind and visually impaired children in New York City, has taught in studios in the past and now gives private lessons in homes. The Sunday classes started last year when she decided she wanted to practice yoga on the beach.
“I invited a few friends to join me, and they told their friends, and the word just continued to spread,” she said.
The classes are open to all levels and there is no fee, but many participants drop a donation into a plastic pail. The money is given to charity; last year, the students collected $750, which they donated to the Long Beach Breast Cancer Coalition.
Ms. Wheelock is delighted to share the many benefits she has discovered from practicing yoga.
“Physically, yoga increases flexibility and circulation and helps improve balance,” she said. “Emotionally, it helps to release tension that we hold inside our bodies. And there’s a spiritual benefit of connecting with whatever divine being you believe in.”
Alice Quinn of Rockville Centre first learned about the beach yoga at a nearby yoga studio.
“I’m an early riser and I love the beach, so I decided to give it a try,” said Ms. Quinn, who was back for a second week. “There’s such peace and serenity from the sound of the ocean. Just being at the beach, I feel a spiritual connection.”
Tim Hoffman, who came on Ms. Quinn’s recommendation, had one word for his experience: “Awesome.”
By 9:30, when the group disbanded, the sun was rising in the sky. Lifeguards were on duty, sunbathers were setting up blankets, children were building sand castles, the quiet giving way to another busy summer Sunday.