Yoga Stretches across the Emerald Coast



No one should have trouble finding yoga opportunities on the Emerald Coast. Studios and teachers offer a wide variety of yoga classes, from Navarre and Fort Walton to Destin and Panama City and points in between.

Yoga’s popularity has been growing steadily as people discover its mind-body-spirit benefits.

“Some people try yoga for the physical benefits and then see the spiritual and mental value too,” says Kathy Tabb, who has operated Navarre Living Yoga and Health Center for 10 years.

The bonuses are widespread, she says. For many people, the payoff is dramatic, whether they’re dealing with an injury, fighting anxiety, or trying to lose weight, gain flexibility or become more mindful. Yoga can help people overcome insomnia, throw away sleep aids and begin sleeping naturally—another valuable step toward healthier living. And meditation, a key part of yoga practice, can help people tune out stress and become happier, healthier and more centered.

“It’s a practice that changes lives,” Tabb says.

Many Choices

On the Emerald Coast, there is a smorgasbord of options to satisfy a yoga yen:

  • Sunshine Yoga Studio in Destin offers children and family yoga—most studios welcome a wide range of experience levels.
  • SoFitco Studios on 30A has hot yoga, yin yoga, PIYo (Pilates/yoga) and much more.
  • Yoga is a major component at Balance Health Studios on 30A. BHS also offers chiropractic, acupuncture, kinesiology and nutritional features.
  • Otium 30A, a boutique-style fitness and wellness studio, offers classes in yoga, high-intensity BarreAmped, TRX Suspension Training and other activities.
  • At Yoga Elements in Panama City Beach, students can choose traditional, aerial or paddleboard yoga.
  • In Panama City, 23rd St. Yoga offers classes in the ancient tradition of yoga: breathing, meditation and asana (posture and exercise). Other Panama City studios offer a broad mix of techniques and approaches for a wealth of choices.

Melissa ShalongoShy? Frustrated?

In addition to public classes, many studios offer private individual and group classes. Independent yoga teachers such as Melissa Shalongo of Fort Walton Beach and Danielle Masters of Panama City provide personalized instruction as well.

As Shalongo notes on her website, “Perhaps you don't feel good enough, flexible enough, or strong enough to ‘do’ yoga. Here’s where I come in. I have made it my life’s work to make yoga accessible to everyone.”

Private instructors develop personalized yoga plans for students and help them progress comfortably.

Laura TyreeHot and Traditional

For Laura Tyree, yoga classes were a welcome solution for the back pain she suffered after a bicycle accident. A college triathlete at the time, she was struggling to recover until a friend suggested she try yoga. After her first class, she began to sleep well again.

“That started my yoga journey,” she says. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without yoga.”

Tyree now owns two yoga studios in Fort Walton Beach. Dragonfly Yoga, a therapeutic, classically oriented studio, came first. Her “hot little sister,” Hot Yoga Om, is three doors away.

Tyree said she has found little overlap between the two studios. Hot Yoga Om has brought in new students drawn by hot yoga, which got its start about 20 years ago when people discovered benefits to exercising in 95-to-105-degree heat.

At Hot Yoga Om, infrared panels produce a sauna atmosphere that provides the best of the sun without the dangerous effects of solar radiation. Practitioners report experiencing both the benefits of traditional yoga and increased blood flow caused by the passive heat. Professionally trained instructors control the heat and the tempo of the class. “We don’t stress the bodies out,” Tyree said.

When it comes to yoga, Tyree was a pioneer of sorts. She started teaching classes in the area in 2000, when yoga was often misunderstood.

“I got a lot of questions,” she says. “People misinterpreted yoga as a religion. It’s not.” Now mainstream people accept yoga, which is increasingly popular with senior citizens, including winter vacationers. “We all get excited when we know the snowbirds are coming back.”

Amy LikinsYoga at the (Juice) Bar

Yoga classes are on the menu at Synergy Organic Juice Bar and Café in Fort Walton Beach. Synergy uses real whole food as part of its focus on healthy living. In addition to yoga classes, owner Amy Likins offers education about nutrition, skin care, antioxidants and other health issues.

The café’s Yoga Synergy Style has evolved from more than 20 years of teaching and practicing. It’s a blend of alignment-based hatha, vinyasa, vini, kundalini, yin and restorative yoga, along with meditation.

Classes cover diet and lifestyle changes, weight loss and maintenance, hormonal balance, and private and public cooking lessons, among other offerings.

Likins, 42, began practicing yoga when she was 19; she also was among the first yoga teachers in the area, starting 18 years ago. As she became more aware of the importance of diet and other wellness issues, she returned to school and got a master’s degree in nutrition. The café was a natural fit for her; she teaches yoga at nearby Northwest Florida Ballet Academy.

“The yoga definitely came first,” says Likins, who says she now looks at “the whole picture,” including lifestyle choices and food, as she helps people achieve wellness.

The Best Yoga for You

People searching for a yoga class should do research online and in person to find the one that fits them best. A good plan is to sample several classes and talk with instructors and practitioners to see which studio offers the right setting and services.

Mark O’Brien, a longtime journalist, author and editor, lives in Pensacola.

 
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