It’s a summer Sunday in Bay Head, and for 30 eager yogis and yoginis, 8 am is a perfect time to hit the beach. They are here for yoga with instructor Jeff Seymour, and he is just as stoked about the open-air session as they are.
Once the session is underway, the positions flow from seated stretches to standing warrior poses to bendy twists. There is one constant: Seymour’s voice, as soothing as the waves. He is careful to engage his students, walking among their mats as he guides them in the makeshift studio on the sand. Nearby, sunbathers begin filtering onto the beach. But for these students, it’s all about being mindful of their breathing and staying in the moment.
Joe Belfatto, a Summit resident who owns a vacation home in town, has been coming for more than six years to Seymour’s class. “It’s a fabulous way to start the day,” he says. “The sun, the waves, the sand and the birds make for an incredible yoga experience.”
Bay Head’s beach-yoga program, one of the oldest in the state, was founded by Patti Durkin, who owns Therapeutic Touch, a local spa. With the borough’s blessing, she runs the program on the beach at Howe Street, in the hours before or after lifeguards are on duty.
Beach-yoga classes are attracting followers from Sandy Hook to Cape May. Unlike studio sessions, you typically don’t have to preregister or buy a package of classes. Individual classes cost $5 to $15; some locations offer freebies throughout the season.
Generally, the classes are run by the local recreation department or an area yoga studio. In Cape May, Karen Manette Bosna, who teaches throughout the region at fitness centers including Miracle Fitness, runs classes along the bay at David Douglas Memorial Park, Cape May Point State Park and behind the new Convention Hall. The settings are ideal because they have outdoor shelters, which enable students to practice even in the rain. Just north in Margate, Melissa Holzman Goldstein leads classes on the beach Saturday mornings. NJ Yoga Zone, which has locations in Margate and Ocean City, even includes some poses in the water for those who care to get wet.
The beach is an ideal setting for yoga. It’s easier to balance because the sand contours to your feet. It’s also great for practicing handstands and headstands—without fear of hitting a hardwood studio floor. Of course, there’s always the danger of accidentally kicking sand on your classmates. But in this informal atmosphere, few are likely to mind.
On this morning, Seymour, who teaches at Inlet Yoga in Manasquan and Jersey Shore Hot Yoga in Avon, focuses on warm-ups. The class is aimed at all levels, so the positions are not too challenging.
One participant, Robyn Leitner of Point Pleasant, enjoys the change from the studios she frequents during the cooler months. The sand gives her a place to try new poses. “Are you going to get your best down dog? No,” she says. “You come to the beach because it’s just awesome.”
Instructors and students agree there are some disadvantages to a session in the sand, such as not being able to achieve perfect alignment. But it’s a small price for a sun salutation actually under the sun. True, there’s no music, but the ambient outdoor sounds are just as soothing.
“The ocean becomes the natural soundtrack,” says Susan Pogwist, a Wanamassa resident who headed to Asbury Park one morning for a seaside class run by Yoga Basin. Pogwist says she was energized by the warmth of the sun as she moved through the asanas, or poses.
In Asbury Park, Councilwoman Sue Henderson comes out for the morning event led by fellow-resident Serena Soffer, a Yoga Basin teacher. She appreciates Soffer’s lighthearted comments and her ability to tailor a class for all levels. Moreover, she likes what the class adds to the city by attracting tourists to the beach and downtown businesses.
Carrie Godesky, who runs a beach-yoga class in Point Pleasant Beach and teaches at the Atlantic Club and Inlet Yoga in Manasquan, has even created a beach-yoga accessory: the Twisted Guru mat. The traditional Indian fabric mat has a large area on which to practice and comes in several patterns. When you fill the corner pocket flaps with sand, the mat stays in place—even in the wind.
It came in handy last August as Godesky led her final summer evening session. Unlike her morning classes, no one was wearing sunglasses or sunscreen; in fact, a few sweatshirts were in evidence.
As the students transitioned through lunges, twists and standard forward folds, she delivered an informative and uplifting narrative through a wireless microphone, which amplified her voice over the crashing of the waves.
With the sun setting behind the dunes, Godesky sat cross-legged, drew her hands to her heart and bowed in closing. Namaste, she said, which means, “The light in me honors the light in you.”
The moment would have to keep until the summer sun returned again.
Kristen Fischer is a copywriter and author living in Point Pleasant.
Sidebar: Yoga on the Beach
From Monmouth County to Cape May, there are plenty of places to practice yoga.
Location: Great Lawn
When: Mid-June through mid-August; various days and times
Location: 4th Avenue Beach
When: Memorial Day to Labor Day; Saturday, 8 am
Information: 732-481-4110; yogabasin.com
Location: East End Avenue Beach
When: Weekends in June and daily July 1 through Labor Day; 7:30 am
Location: Inlet Beach, adjacent to the Manasquan Inlet jetty
When: July and August; Sunday, 8 am
Point Pleasant Beach
Location: Inlet Beach at Jenk’s North
When: Saturday and Sunday, 8 am; July 4: Freedom class; early morning
Information: 848-218-1654; bodyknowledge.us
Location: Howe Street Beach
When: Memorial Day through Labor Day; various days and times
Information: 732-899-0920; therapeutictouchnj.com
Seaside Heights/Seaside Park/Lavallette
Location: Hiering Avenue Beach/ 2nd Avenue/Gazebo on the Bay
When: May through September; various days and times; free on select dates; Lavallette begins June 26
Fee: $10 in Seaside Heights (plus $1 to park); $5 in Seaside Park; $3 in Lavallette
Information: 732-505-8282; centerforhealthandhealingnj.com
Long Beach Island
Location: 26th Street in Spray Beach
When: Mid-June through August; Friday through Sunday, 7:15 am; Friday through Monday, 8:30 am; Friday, 6 pm
Information: 609-492-4906; iwc.massagetherapy.com
Location: Granville Avenue Beach
When: Memorial Day through Labor Day; Saturday, 8:15 am
Fee: $15 or class card
Sea Isle City
Location: JFK Boulevard Beach
When: Through September 28; Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 7:30 am
Information: 609-602-3398; njbeachyoga.com
North Cape May/Cape May Point
Locations: David Douglas Memorial Park/Cape May Point State Park/behind Convention Hall
When: Various days and times. Rain or shine; shelter provided at all locations.
Information: 609-827-8886; yogacapemay.com