Out of hours: At the beach with Alicia Ray
April 14, 2021
If you spy a group doing downward dog in the Gwithian dunes at dawn, the woman leading the way is likely to be beach yoga guru Alicia Ray. Channelling insight gained from years of experience as a clinical psychologist, therapist, fitness instructor and yoga teacher, Alicia brings a holistic approach to wellbeing that incorporates her love of the Cornish coast.
As part of our Out of Hours content series, we spoke to Alicia about sunrise sun salutations, the restorative power of the sea, and what a flock of Canada Geese has to do with beach yoga.
After 10 years of teaching high-intensity fitness classes, I needed something different. I was seeking space and a deeper connection with the outdoors. I found yoga through attending surf and yoga retreats in Portugal, Sri Lanka, and Costa Rica. My first yoga class was outside on a rooftop in Portugal. We practiced sun salutations at sunrise and after that I was hooked!
I don’t think I truly understood the value of connection with nature though until I spent six weeks doing my intensive yoga teacher training in Costa Rica. We’d start each day with yoga as the sun rose and I found there was something particularly magical about practising at this time of day.
I now teach beach yoga classes, surf and yoga retreats in Cornwall, yoga and wellbeing retreats in Sri Lanka, and advanced yoga and mindfulness training for aspiring young surf athletes in the Philippines.
The benefits of yoga for surfing are amazing, including increased strength and flexibility and a calm, focused mindset.
“My first yoga class was outside on a rooftop in Portugal, we practised sun salutations at sunrise and after that I was hooked!”
The last 12 months have highlighted how essential the coastline is for my wellbeing. If I’m feeling stressed or low on energy then I find that being close to the sea restores me.
Living in Truro means I have both the North and South coasts within striking distance and so I’m utterly spoiled for choice. I love being on the South Coast for the sunrise and head there for sea swimming and paddle boarding in the calm waters; while I love the North Coast for its dramatic cliffs, amazing surf and epic sunsets.
Weekends are all about getting up super early, parking our van by the coast for coffee and soaking up the view. That time when there’s hardly anyone around is precious, breathing in the fresh air, the sea, the calm.
I like to hit the beach first thing and stay until that quiet time after sunset. I think what makes the sunrise and sunset special is the serenity. There’s a magic when you sense that others are connecting to the same energy as you.
“Weekends are all about getting up super early, parking our van by the coast for coffee and soaking up the view. That time when there’s hardly any people around is precious, breathing in the fresh air, the sea, the calm.”
I think the unpredictability of nature helps create perspective. It’s hard to worry about everyday problems when a sudden rainstorm erupts, or a glorious burst of sunlight appears from behind the clouds. There have been amazing rainbows out to sea during our beach yoga classes, and then there are incredible moments when someone spots dolphins in the waves. And there’s nothing like the sight and sound of a flock of Canada Geese flying overhead to snap you out of ruminating about work!
We can be so consumed by our devices and online commitments that we don’t see the beauty of what is already around us. Outdoor yoga enables a calming of the nervous system so that our full attention is present in the moment. Practising in nature allows us to absorb so much more of our environment, which we can easily miss when we’re rushing from one thing to the next.
I would encourage everyone to try yoga at sunrise. During my Sri Lanka yoga retreats we’re on the beach at 5.45am each day – which can be a shock at first! But by the end of the week, everyone is hooked, and all agree that the magic you experience at this time of day is well worth the early start (coffee helps!).
“There’s nothing like the sight and sound of a flock of Canada Geese flying overhead to snap you out of ruminating about work!”
Gwithian was the first beach we visited when we moved to Cornwall and I have many fond memories of this amazing stretch of coastline. I love how open it is. You can get off the beaten track quickly, you can find a space for yourself, or share it with others. Everywhere you look there are inspiring views, ocean sounds – you really feel the entire landscape. The sand dunes are just stunning and I can spend hours amongst them walking, reading, practising yoga.
My favourite light for beach yoga is the golden sunset tone you get at Gwithian in September and October. This warm, low light is pretty special.
Every outdoor yoga class has a totally unique feeling as the light changes throughout the seasons. In spring, the colours are bright blues and then into high summer they change into vivid yellows and greens.
Our practice is often influenced by the change in energy from the environment around us and the changes in the ocean. Through the summer months the ocean is calmer and the energy picks up in our Autumn classes as the waves become stronger and more powerful.
It’s amazing watching the change in people from the start of a beach yoga class to the end. The walk back across the dunes is calmer, more zen – I notice that people pause to take in the scenery, listen to the sounds.
“I would encourage everyone to try yoga at sunrise. The magic you experience at this time of day is well worth the early start (coffee helps!).”
I’ll be teaching regular classes from Gwithian beach on a Saturday morning and Wednesday evening from this Spring to Autumn. From regulars to newcomers, everyone is welcome! We practise during all weathers and embrace the changes in the elements. I also offer bespoke individual and group yoga, surf and wellbeing packages so that people can enjoy a wellbeing retreat day or a surf and yoga weekend as part of their holiday in Cornwall.
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