By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
Karen Wood has been active all her life, participating in five marathons, many half marathons, other races and powerlifting; however, she hesitated to try yoga because she was embarrassed to do it at a studio. One day she tried the P90X DVD at home and was introduced to yoga via instructor Tony Horton, who had included a yoga demo in the series. She was hooked, but she realized that others probably had a similar hesitation when it came to yoga. “So many people are intimidated to go to a studio. I didn’t know the lingo. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t want to look stupid,” she said. “That’s why beach yoga is so important to me. I want everyone to experience yoga without all the hang-ups. Every physical body is able to do yoga.” Wood, the youngest of seven children, has been practicing yoga for 16 years and teaching for six years with training from the Yoga Den and Baron Baptiste Power Yoga. In April, Wood launched beach yoga “Beyond Breath” because a mom’s stroller group asked her to offer it. So, she did and made it donation-based for anyone to attend. Anywhere from five to 35 people attend on Mickler’s Beach four times a week (new location starting Nov. 1 due to the beach restoration project). Wood and her “loving partner” Robert Sprague have one goal: “Help as many people as we can breathe deep and learn how to create their own calm, peace and ease right within their own bodies.”
Q: What inspires you to help others?
A: I have been through a lot of losses in my life. I lost my Dad at 15, and my boyfriend at 25. I have lost five immediate family members in the last seven years, and I was always the caregiver. It all culminated in me being able to truly relate, share and give back. I have always been passionate about giving to and helping others. I can help others by sharing my story, my gifts and by listening.
Q: Explain your “ALL are welcome” policy.
A: We create an environment where we encourage people to listen to their bodies. There is never any pressure of any kind. If folks don’t like a pose or prefer not to do it — perfect. Never any judgement, and I highly encourage practitioners to do whatever their body is calling for at that moment. Each day and each practice is different. That’s why it is so important to listen.
Q: How do you design your classes?
A: No two classes are ever the same. I don’t plan my classes. I wait and see who shows up, hear the needs of others and read the energy. It is all about balance and trying to achieve it, our emotions, life, mind and feet. That is why it is called “the practice.” We are constantly working at it, noticing our breath and how we breathe through it. We are habitual beings. How we handle stress on the mat is how we will handle stress off the mat. We have to have those tools in place to go to when we need them. The whole purpose is to prepare for mediation, to come out of our heads and into our bodies.
Q: Tell us about your yoga and meditation work at the Brooks Adaptive Sports Program.
A: I work with paraplegia, quadriplegia, stroke survivors, amputees and those with traumatic brain injuries. These are the most beautiful humans that you will ever meet. They are so grateful for the movement. I am very fond of this program, and it is my passion.
Q: You run women’s workshops, mediations, private lessons and fundraisers as well?
A: I run “Real Authentic Women” (RAW). It started as a book club one year ago, but it became more about life and experiences. I also teach private yoga lessons on the beach and in the home and offer coaching, meditation and retreats. In October, we raised $2,038 for the Jay Fund by holding a “Beach Yoga and Sound Bath” charity event with 90 people in attendance. All donations went to the Jay Fund to help families with children battling cancer. We plan to hold more fundraisers like this one in the future because it is so important to give back. I am working on launching a Women in Wellness event in early 2022 in Jacksonville Beach with my dear friend Mary Beth Perrone.
[Author’s note: For yoga updates and information, Wood can be found on Instragram @beyondbreathwellness.]
Photo courtesy Tiffany Merlo Phelps