- October 11, 2021
“Honor your body.”
It’s a simple but important mantra, and yoga instructor Angela Mali says it often while she leads yoga classes on the beach on Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island.
It’s a reminder to her students to practice the movements that feel good, to avoid straining themselves. The former dance instructor’s sunset yoga classes draw a wide range of ages and experience levels. Her students are generally aged 20-70 and mainly women, although several men do take her classes.
“I know what movements most everyone can do. We’re in the sand. It’s an uneven surface, so it has to be gentler. I’m not rushing from one pose to another pose. It’s very relaxing and fluid.”
Her Longboat Key class meets on Friday evenings at Bayfront Park before walking across the street to a strip of open beach near the public beach access. Mali wants everyone to feel welcome, which is part of the reason why the class is free.
“I just want to offer it so anyone can come. A lot of times you go to the yoga studio and it's $15 or $20. If someone wants to give a love contribution that’s great but I want to make it so anyone can come regardless of their budget.”
Right now, the class starts at approximately 7 p.m. but the time changes throughout the seasons to stay in sync with the sunset.
As many as 30 students have found their way to one of Mali’s classes. Many of them say things like, “Oh I saw your post on Facebook” or “I found you on Instagram.”
“There are different people every time — travelers and visitors who come. Although I do have my regulars,” said Mali. “I have to keep posting (on social media) on a regular basis.
There’s something different about doing yoga on the beach, Mali said. You can’t get the same feel in a studio.
“The first few times when I taught beach yoga … I’m like it’s a whole different feel, you hear the birds, the ocean. We have had rainbows, we’ve seen sea turtles come out on the sand … It’s a connection with yourself and nature. … Every night you get a different painting in the sky.”
Oddly enough, it wasn’t Mali’s idea to teach the beach yoga class. She’s approaching her one-year anniversary (June 6) of teaching the class on the sand, but if it wasn’t for a conversation with an enthusiastic student, Mali may never have found this method of expressing her passion.
Mali was teaching adult yoga at the G.T. Bray Recreation Center in Bradenton. (She also teaches yoga to athletes aged 12-19 at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.)
At the end of class at the G.T. Bray, a newcomer approached Mali. Her name was Pilar Aqui. It was her first class with Mali; she had actually been looking for a Zumba class when she arrived at the rec center.
But she wanted to know if Mali would bring beach yoga back to Longboat Key. Due to the pandemic, classes had fallen by the wayside. She was excited, adamant: Do you want to start it again?
“Who is this pushy person who just showed up?” recalled Mali. “She was this instigator who was like, ‘We can do this.’”
Not long afterward, Mali found herself on the beach with a small group of students. With the pandemic still a concern, the beach was the perfect place for people to learn yoga in a safe, open environment.
“My teacher told me to just show up. It doesn't matter if you have one person come or if you have 50 people come.”
Despite her initial reluctance, Mali soon found there’s something different about practicing yoga on the beach. For one, as Mali pointed out, being on the beachfront rather than in an indoor studio, brings practitioners into contact with the five essential elements that ancient tradition holds make up the universe.
“What I love about teaching at the beach,” said Mali. (Is that) we have fire, air, earth, water and ether (space). The only challenges are weather and red tide — you can’t breathe.”
Every night is different, thanks to the setting, but every class starts the same way. With breathing. Mali is an advocate of box breathing, a technique Navy SEALS use to manage stress.
“We start lying down and breathe on our backs for five to 10 minutes,” said Mali. “Nobody ever taught me to breathe (before yoga). How my breath can affect my emotions. How my breath can calm me down. We don’t think about it.”
Class is timed to end just before the sun sinks below the horizon, at which point the night’s practitioners gather at the water’s edge in silence and meditate on the moment, and on their gratitude.
“(Indoors) you’re missing something so much bigger and deeper,” said Mali.
Mali said one of her dreams for the class is to share that deeper connection with even more people. She said she’d like to eventually lead 100 practitioners through a yoga session on the beach. In the meantime, Mali said she's likely to add a 7 p.m. Monday class on Longboat Key for the summer, but to confirm with her via phone (618-789-7226).
“There’s room for everyone,” said Mali. “I think that everybody gets a really special experience out of it no matter your level. When you're doing it this way, you connect more with yourself and tune into nature.”