Fifty people sit on yoga mats on Siesta Key Beach listening to the ocean waves and the voice of Avananda Csiszar. She wears a microphone and projects her voice so all the students can hear her over the rolling waves. Csiszar instructs the class to take a deep breath in and then let it out — all at once. Csiszar has been teaching yoga for 40 years.
“I was living in Manhattan and very interested in philosophy, and through the study of philosophy I came across yoga,” Csiszar says.
Csiszar emigrated from Hungary to North America when she was a child. Yoga reminded her of her youth. Her father was a karate teacher who practiced yoga.
Csiszar lived in Manhattan, N.Y., during the early ’70s. At the time, yoga was becoming popular throughout the city. Major yoga teachers offered free classes, which gave Csiszar the opportunity to learn.
“It was easy for me then, not having much money at the time, but a lot of interest to explore the different yogas in Manhattan,” Csiszar says. “Without it being free I would have never been able to learn it.”
Csiszar continues this tradition of free yoga classes from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, on Siesta Key Beach. The classes are free, but she accepts donations.
“The entire philosophy of yoga is altruistic and, traditionally, yoga was taught for free,” Csiszar says. “It was one’s interest and one’s enthusiasm for the classes that permitted you to practice not only yoga, but a healthy lifestyle.”
Csiszar says she is living proof of this philosophy. At 60, she proudly says that she has never been ill and that she hasn’t seen a physician since the age of 14.
“Yoga has taught me you can be in command of your own health and you can be your own master,” Csiszar says. “That’s the truth, and I’ve tried to show people.”
After New York, Csiszar went on to teach yoga in other cities throughout the U.S. and Copenhagen. She always had two dreams: to teach yoga outdoors and to learn to surf. She moved to Hawaii and did just that. At 40, Csiszar learned how to surf and opened a surfing school. She was not able to teach yoga on the beach because the sand was made up of ground volcanic material that got too hot. Instead, Csiszar taught her students on a lawn overlooking the ocean.
“I personally have tried to go back indoors to teach and I can’t do it,” Csiszar said. “There is something extraordinarily moving about experiencing yoga and the poses — the spiritual part of it — in an environment that is beautiful.”
Csiszar began teaching yoga on Siesta Key Beach a few months after moving to Sarasota. She gets anywhere from 300 to 650 students during the winter season. For more information about Csiszar or her yoga classes, visit yogaonsiestabeach.com