Local Zen Masters Around Town

The first yoga class Kerri Verna ever participated in was the one she taught. A Maryland resident at the time, she was on a quest to become certified in nearly every type of fitness program offered at the gym where she worked: Pilates, tai chi, kickboxing, weightlifting—you name it. But when a pregnancy halted her high-cardio training, she decided instead to pursue “that easy yoga stuff,” as she describes it. “I instantly loved it,” she recalls. “I fell in love with how it made me feel—at peace.” Verna taught yoga until the day before she delivered and later became certified after she and her family moved to Florida nine years ago.

Kerri Verna believes practicing yoga in an uncontrolled environment like the beach is the core of the discipline—experiencing the exercise in the elements.

Now, since 2012, Verna’s studio is the beach in Lake Worth, where she instructs Wednesday and Saturday mornings. “The sand can be a hindrance and also enhance your practice,” she says. “I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, [but] the sand completely takes away any pain because it moves and can hug your body in a way the ground cannot.”Yogis who can’t attend Verna’s beach class instead observe her practice via her Instagram account, @beachyogagirl, which has attracted more than 980,000 followers in fewer than three years.

“The beach is my happy place,” Verna says. “It’s where I feel God’s presence the most.”

While normally a private person, Verna has found real-life connections through the social-media network, as she receives inspiring messages from fans, gets to know yogis worldwide, and even met her best friend and business partner, Kino MacGregor, with whom she launched a fitness apparel line through Liquido Active. The mom to two boys travels often, leading workshops around the world and aiming to teach others about what she believes is the essence of yoga: a path to find one’s creator. “You learn how to surrender, release, let go, and turn it all over to the power that created you,” she says. “That is what I feel Zen is.”

To Kelly Green, being a Zen master means staying peaceful amidst the chaos of life. She would know: The first time the Port St. Lucie High School grad entered a yoga studio, she was suffering from a debilitating knee injury that left her depressed and physically limited. But six months later, Green knew she wanted to be a yoga teacher. She enrolled in a training course, finished at the top of her class, and was offered a job at the very studio that had transformed her inside and out. That was 13 years and, to Green, a lifetime ago.

A former lululemon ambassador, Green has been spreading The Yoga Joint message by teaching at conferences and workshops all over the world.

Today, with 1,500 hours of training under her belt, she is the co-owner of The Yoga Joint, a South Florida studio with three locations—and 10 more to come this year—including its newest in Boca Raton, which opened in October. Along with her business partner, Paige Held, Green created the studio’s trademark Hot Fusion Flow, a sequence of traditional poses performed to modern music and inspirational words. “Our teachers are taught life-coaching skills, so when you’re doing the class you’re going to get these uplifting messages throughout the entire sequence of the flow,” she says. Despite leading novices, Green says her students are her biggest inspiration. She’s seen clients step on the mat while going through hardships such as substance abuse and chemotherapy—and then turn their lives around with the help of yoga, just as she did. “We’re working on making our students the very best version of themselves so they can, in turn, make the world a better place,” she says.

When Kristen Lemoine discovered one of her favorite shops in Palm Beach Gardens had closed, she made it her goal to relocate her fitness clothing store from its tiny boutique in Abacoa to the expansive space suddenly available in Midtown. There was just one big difference: After meeting an aerial yoga instructor, Lemoine decided to devote half of the new location to a studio specializing in the discipline. She reopened her business as Palm Beach Athletic Wear and Yoga in February 2014. While having the studio was good for business, it also motivated Lemoine to conquer her fear of public speaking to pursue her dream of being a fitness instructor. She became certified in aerial yoga in December 2014 and now teaches regularly.  “After that first class, I felt like: This is what I was meant to do,” she recalls. “I wanted to teach 20 classes a day—I was that excited about it. It was so empowering for me to realize what I held back all those years, what I could have been doing all along.” With more than 1,000 poses, aerial yoga has more than just Cirque du Soleil appeal; Lemoine lists such health benefits as increased muscular flexibility, spinal realignment, and a refresh to the endocrine, lymphatic, digestive, and circulatory systems. It also boosts the brain’s neuroplasticity and, yes, releases happy hormones—an easy feat when swinging from a hammock. “It’s a big self-esteem thing as well,” Lemoine says. “People overcome a lot of challenges because there is some fear involved in it.” She teaches a mix of classes, from fitness-focused ones that get the heart rate up to restorative sessions that relax the body. Throughout it all, Lemoine shares affirmations to help others release negativity and overcome their own fears. “If you want to fly, you have to be willing to let go,” she says.

The 1990s was Oblio Wish’s decade of health, when she discovered her spiritual calling to two unique disciplines: Kundalini yoga and the Gyrotonic methodology. She was introduced to both at separate health expos that left her immediately enamored and eager to share the practices with others, which she has done at her Gyrotonic Satnam studio in West Palm Beach since 2008.

Kundalini and Gyrokinesis have similar mental health effects as yoga, Wish says. “You have that same kind of peace as yoga inside and out, a calmness,” she says.

Kundalini is a form of yoga that incorporates chanting, meditation, and the bang of a gong, which sends vibrations through the body. “It’s taught me how to meditate and helped me be a better person,” Wish says. The Gyrotonic method, meanwhile, branches into two forms: a training system that pairs Pilates-like exercises with pulley-based equipment and Gyrokinesis, which involves yoga-inspired postures usually performed on a stool. Often referred to as “yoga for dancers,” as the program was created by one, Gyrokinesis is ideal for people like Wish, who struggled to perform many yoga postures due to health reasons. “I can’t get in a lot of the positions,” she says. “In this, I can get into all of them and still feel like I did yoga.” Wish teaches Kundalini and Gyrokinesis to everyone from other yoga instructors to people with disabilities, including young children as well as her husband, who has polio. “I get emotional because I see what I do, how happy they are,” she says. “I just love giving back and having people feel good, look good, and be happy.”

Seth Kaufmann knows what you’re thinking when you look at him: He doesn’t fit the typical yogi label. But look past that beard he’s been growing since 2014, and his passion for the discipline is obvious. After earning a master’s in exercise science from Florida Atlantic University, Kaufmann opened Iron Lion Fitness Studio in Wellington in 2012, offering strength and conditioning sessions as well as yoga classes. He didn’t teach yoga at the time but eventually pursued a certification for his own education. “It’s a cliché, but the first time I unrolled a yoga mat and got down in Child’s Pose, I thought, ‘This is my long-lost friend I was looking for and didn’t even know,’” he recalls. “It was such a connection.”

“Every single human being has the equal opportunity and authority to become Zen masters,” Kaufmann says. “Zen is being fully present in the moment and finding the bliss and beauty associated with every breath.”

Since then, he’s led yoga sessions not just in his gym but also worldwide through workshops and classes—even personal sessions via Skype. Perhaps his greatest teaching experience came last year when he was cast on an episode of A&E’s Fit to Fat to Fit. The show challenges fitness experts to help a client get in shape, with one caveat: The trainers must first gain as much weight as possible. Kaufmann jumped at the unique opportunity, putting on 47 pounds in four months before he was paired with Dave, an Army veteran who weighed 380 pounds. Kaufmann incorporated yoga into Dave’s program, which helped him overcome an essential mental block. Four months later, Dave was down 104 pounds while Kaufmann shed 53. The experience, Kaufmann says, gave him a firsthand perspective of clients who struggle to stay motivated and helped him show millions of people that yoga is for everyone. “I realized: This is what my soul’s been missing,” he says of finding yoga. “This is what I need, and I want to share this with the world.”

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