Mali's classes are donation-based and relaxed enough for anyone to join.
Despite the bugs, Angela Mali and a small crew of friends and passers-by dutifully held their downward dogs and low lunges until the muggy end of class. In September on Longboat Key, there’s little relief from heat or no-see-ums, but the views of the water and the restorative stretches make up for it.
“I hope they don't stick around when it gets cooler out,” Mali said of the bugs. “It's definitely trickier when you're doing yoga outside. You definitely have more factors.”
Mali, 53, is a former dance teacher who began practicing yoga about eight years ago after she took a class in Sedona, Arizona while there with her mother. After the first class, she absolutely loved it and did it every day during her two-week trip.
“I knew I was doing the real deal yoga,” Mali said. “I just knew this was kind of different than what I was getting at a YMCA yoga class. It was more holistic, more at the heart of it … It was a great first place to yoga.”
She was living in Orlando at the time and began going to a studio near her house while also flying back and forth from St. Louis weekly while she still taught at her dance studio there. The balance between yoga and dance got more lopsided towards yoga, and when she moved full-time to Orlando, she did a 200-hour yoga teacher training. Once she moved to the area in the summer of 2020, she heard about a 300-hour training that some of her yoga friends were doing, too.
“Everything was so weird, but I thought, ‘Where am I going to focus my energies to keep myself in a positive place?’” Mali said. “So we found out about the training the 300 hour and I'm like, ‘OK, I have I bought this home that has a yoga room.’ I have decided to practice yoga in this little square in my living room, though, so I decided to do the training. And it was totally different from my first training.”
She finished the training in December and wanted to begin teaching. During the pandemic, a friend of Mail’s began doing donation-based community yoga classes. Bryant wanted to start the concept in her own outdoor area so that people would feel safe in the open air and a neighbor suggested Bayfront Park. She now has classes at 6 p.m. every Sunday, weather and schedule permitting.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love this park,’” Mali said. “So I just decided to put some Facebook posts up and see what happens and I mean, it's been small. But I just say keep showing up. More people will arrive, you just got to keep showing up. We get to do yoga outside on the water and connect with nature.”
Bryant has a few regulars who show up most weeks and sometimes gets students who join as they’re walking by in the park or vacationers that spot her posts in the I Love Longboat Key, Florida group on Facebook. There are others who have said they’d love to join when they return for the winter.
“I like the flexibility of the outdoors,” Mali said. “I think I just need to get the word out. I've only done the Facebook posts. I figured that was the best way to get the word out. I know this is the slower season right now.”
There are adjustments she’s had to make. Sometimes, she cancels class if she’s out of town or if a summer thunderstorm crops up. Now that sunset is getting closer, she’s moving class up in the evening so the no-see-ums stay unseen.
During red tide, Mali took her class to Joan Durante Park so they would be a little more sheltered from the stench and irritants. Though she enjoyed the park, she and the regulars at her class prefer the waterfront views.
“That's beautiful, too,” Mali said. “It's a whole different vibe, but that's a nice backup.”
Mali keeps her class flexible like any good yoga instructor should. There’s no one specific type of yoga that she offers — she asks those who show up what they want to do that evening. Sometimes it’s a more relaxing flow, other times it’s a more intense, strength-building vinyasa class. Luckily, she hasn’t had students who disagree on where to take class on any given night.
“I think to be able to have that community yoga option where you can just kind of drop in and do yoga, you don't have to sign up for a membership or you can just show up, that’s important,” Mali said.
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