Richard Graziano was stressed often and angered easily. He felt “kind of crazy” a lot of the time, he said. A North Miami Beach resident for eight years, he would walk by the beach occasionally and observe yoga classes. He had always wanted to try it and one day, he took the leap, signing up for a morning class in nearby Sunny Isles Beach.
That was five years ago. Graziano, 63, has since fallen in love with the practice and all of the benefits that come with it.
“I look at life differently because of yoga. It’s more peaceful,” he said. “I don’t get as angry easily and it’s chilled me out a little bit.”
Sunny Isles Beach provides residents with access to yoga and all of its benefits through their local classes. The city has been offering recreation programs for adults and youth since 2005, but they recently placed a special emphasis on wellness due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They began to include additional programming such as virtual lectures on mental health and pre-recorded sessions of Tai Chi, chair yoga and others on their YouTube channel.
Sylvia Flores, the director of the Cultural & Community Services Department, said that residents have thoroughly enjoyed the programs.
“We have received great feedback from residents who participate in our programs,” Flores said in an email. “Our senior community has particularly showed appreciation… Most programs for seniors fill up quickly.”
One of the most popular programs are the yoga courses, which are taught by instructor Beatriz Gutierrez, who has taught for the city since 2016. She is a 50-year-old North Miami Beach resident who spends time in Sunny Isles. In 2008, she began her journey with yoga, taking classes at a small studio in Miami Beach. She advanced to teaching when one of her advanced classes required her to teach two public classes.
Gutierrez then began to offer her own beginner’s class at Ayama Yoga around 2011. Throughout the years, she taught at different studios and took even more classes, studying at Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Southern India.
“[As an instructor], you need to read the room, your students and how they move, and then adapt to their needs and capabilities,” Gutierrez said. “Everyone is different and a lot of classes have advanced practitioners that don’t offer something for everyone and people feel like, ‘I can’t do that.’ The most common thing people say is ‘I’m not flexible enough’ but if you can breathe, you can do yoga.”
It has been five years since Gutierrez began teaching yoga for the city. When the pandemic hit last March, all in-person classes were paused, turning into Zoom classes and pre-recorded YouTube sessions instead.
This past winter, the city resumed some of the in-person yoga courses. Currently, a morning class is offered at Gateway Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9:15 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. It’s $80 for residents and $120 for non-residents for a six-week program. There is also the full moon class, which occurs monthly between 7:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. at Gateway Park. It’s free for residents and non-residents but pre-registration is required. The next one is set for March 28.
Ivette Francolla, 60, is a Sunny Isles Beach resident who has been a student of Gutierrez’s for six years. She said that she attended the February full moon class and it was a relief to be able to practice yoga outside again.
“It allows us to have some normalcy, to be outside,” Francolla said. “You can gather with friends and neighbors and enjoy having a yoga class… And what I really like about Beatriz is that not only is she a yogi and a wonderful instructor, but she really believes the teachings and leaves you feeling mentally calm.”
Graziano also began attending Gutierrez’s in-person morning classes again this past February. He’s been a student of Gutierrez for five years and said that the classes have helped him during the past year.
“It definitely saved my life through the pandemic,” Graziano said. “I feel great all day after doing it. And the physical aspect of it, when you know that you can start doing these poses and stretches — I’m much more flexible than I ever was — you think good about yourself.”
Gutierrez said that her yoga classes are COVID-safe with masks and social distancing required. All students must be pre-screened before attending the class. She also remains distant from her students, using a microphone to instruct and refraining from adjusting her students’ postures.
Whatever struggle someone might be going through, whether COVID-related or not, Gutierrez insists that yoga will help.
“Every aspect of yoga is good,” she said. “The breathing is key for relaxation, the physical posture is good to release tension and keep the body flexible and there is also a little bit of philosophy involved. Eating better, connecting better with people… yoga is so much more than just the poses and the mat.”