Beach yoga with Holly
The smell of saltwater in the air. The sound of the sand beneath your mat. The sun's warmth on your face as you lie back in Savasana… Yoga on the beach is a treat for the senses – as Wavehunters Yoga Instructor, Holly Purchase, can attest.
As the summer beach yoga season at Watergate Bay hits its stride, we spoke to Holly about why rain can be a blessing in disguise, how yoga will make you a better surfer, and what happens when an excitable whippet decides to join in with the class…
When you say yoga, people think of movement and making shapes – but it wasn’t about that for me at first. My route into yoga was through meditation. Then the more I learnt about the philosophy, the more it resonated. I really connected with the fact that yoga can give you wisdom to navigate life.
I did my first 250 hours of yoga teacher training between Sri Lanka and London, and a further 500 hours of yoga therapy training, which allows me to work in clinical settings.
Yoga for me is about creating self-awareness and taking time for yourself. It gives you the time and space to really check in and see what’s going on internally.
I was drawn to the balance that working with Wavehunters offered. You have so much freedom, you’re not stuck behind a desk – and you get to hang out on the beach, surrounded by young people. It’s great fun! But there’s also the element of growing a business and a community, so it’s a perfect balance.
Doing yoga on the beach is a totally different experience to being in a studio or a gym. Your mat gets sandy. The wind and the waves test your balance and focus. The ground isn’t flat, which affects the placing of your feet, your posture – it challenges people in a way the studio can’t, which leads to learning.
The outdoor setting awakens you – it stirs your senses. And facing the ocean just lights something up in people. I taught a woman the other day with her daughters, and she said: “I was sitting there gazing at the sea at the end of the class, and I realised, you really don’t need much at all.” When you’re out in nature, you don’t need the fancy equipment or the snazzy gym kit. The backdrop of the ocean is enough.
We often hold our classes at Watergate Bay just in front of the hotel so people can find us easily, but it really depends on the wind and tides. If it’s a big spring tide with a lot of swell then there might not be much beach, so we have to adapt. But, whatever the conditions, we try to go ahead if we possibly can.
Lots of people who come to beach yoga are here on holiday, so they want to make the most of their stay – which is why we’ll go ahead and teach if there’s a bit of drizzle or a breeze. It adds to the practice – feeling the spray, enjoying the elements. I think some of my favourite classes have been in the rain. People lose their inhibitions and just let go.
Of course, when the weather’s good, you can’t beat it. I love it at the end of class when you’re lying on the sand in relaxation, feeling the warmth of the sun on your face – it’s like nature’s helping you out.
I play on the environment a lot, so I’ll tell people: “The wind is your test.” Like anything in life, it can throw you or catch you off guard, but you have to find your balance.
Being on the beach, there’s no need for music. In meditation, I’ll use the sound of the ocean rather than having to think of a track to play. It’s extremely freeing.
I like the unpredictability of practising outdoors – it means it’s never boring. Sometimes you begin class and the sky’s all ominous and grey. You can see the students waiting for rain, following the clouds, thinking it’s about to hit. Then there’s a breakthrough moment where the clouds part and the sun appears and it’s warm and lovely – and you can sense the relief, that collective exhale.
My miniature lurcher, Lentil, sometimes comes down to Watergate Bay with me. She’s well known on Sea Lane and goes by many names. But I don’t quite trust her to stay still enough during class – especially not the meditation part!
I had one occasion where there was a lively whippet on the beach that thought everyone in my class was a hurdle to be leapt over. He was doing zoomies on the sand and trying to jump over each person! I haven’t had any close encounters with wildlife at Watergate just yet, but I know there have been dolphins in the Bay during class before.
We were lying on the beach the other day in Savasana, and a lady said, ‘look up!’. There was a light halo in the sky above. You know when you get the reflections of the sun and it creates almost like a rainbow in the clouds? I love those unexpected moments you get teaching outdoors.
On the beach, it feels like there’s more of a community after a class than in a studio. There’s a sense of people wanting to stay in that space for as long as possible, not rushing to pack up, chatting with each other. People look freer – like they’ve shifted something. It’s lovely to see.
Yoga has so many brilliant benefits for surfing. Finding your centre is really important in yoga, and that directly translates onto a board. Then there’s the flexibility yoga brings, which can prevent surfing injuries. If you look on the beach, you’ll see surf instructors using yoga postures to warm up their clients before hitting the waves.
There tends to be an assumption that if you do yoga, you’re probably vegan or vegetarian. But I think, like anything in life, yoga is about balance and building an awareness. Nutrition is incredibly important of course, but I’d never stop myself from having a burger from the Beach Hut just because I teach or practise yoga.
When I’m teaching a lot, I do have to time my meals, and think about how dense my meals are and what I’m eating. But I don’t restrict or change anything for yoga – and neither should anyone else! Anyone can do yoga. You should be able to be fully yourself.
A pre-yoga snack for me would need to be maybe an hour or two before class. I’d probably have something like a coffee and a nutty bar.
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