If ever there was someone who exudes summer, it’s Teri O’Connor.
A petite, tan, toned beauty with yellow hair to match her signature yellow painted toe nails, a dimpled smile and a happy habit of telling strangers they are “amazing,” O’Connor is, simply stated, a ray of sunshine.
The owner of NJ Beach Yoga, her year-round mobile yoga classes take her to homes, high schools and community centers.
Come summer, her self-proclaimed favorite season, is when she really shines and brings her classes to the beaches of Sea Isle City, where she is an independent contractor under the Department of Recreation.
Her summer season stretches from May 1 to Sept. 30, when Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings begin at 5:45 a.m. with 15 minutes of “quiet time” — reading, centering, meditation — before readying for her 7:30 a.m. beach class.
By 7 a.m., the 55-year-old wife and mother of three grown children is in her NJ Beach Yoga-branded minivan heading down Landis Avenue toward JFK to meet up with her fellow instructors, who also assist with selling T-shirts, setting up speakers and taking photographs.
In the offseason, O’Connor’s indoor classes fill quickly. With no walls, attendance at summer beach classes can be endless. O’Connor said 108 aspiring yogis signed in last Wednesday.
Yoga, with its various poses that challenge one’s balance even on a stable floor, is so much trickier on sand, which ebbs and flows with each shift in weight, like the nearby ocean does with the tide.
There also are several obstacles vying for your attention as you try to maintain focus on the beach. Distractions are everywhere. Take the seagull foraging for breakfast near your flip flops or the clanging truck of the beach sweeper prepping the sands for a busy day ahead. Chatty joggers may pass by right at meditation.
Then there’s the occasional greenhead.
Naturally there’s nature to contend with, too. A particularly hot and humid morning makes for a not-too-pleasant practice. Same thing if it’s too cold. Wind can blow sand in your eyes. Rain will take the class inside.
“The hardest challenge is the weather. ... I choose not to cancel until the last minute,” O’Connor said. “I say, change your attitude about weather like you change attitude about life.”
O’Connor knows all about change. The former dental hygienist fell into yoga “reluctantly,” only taking classes to prevent slouching. She immediately disliked it, finding she had no patience for being still or quiet. However, 15 years into her second career, she now feels she can be an example to others who have “labeled themselves out” as too fidgety or not flexible enough for yoga.
“I think because I hated it in the beginning that I really have a passion now. I want people to know that yoga is inviting and accessible,” said O’Connor, who epitomizes her company’s motto “ride, rather than resist, the waves” and can’t imagine retiring.
“I’m just getting started in life,” she beamed.
Aside from her morning beach yoga classes, when the newly risen sun radiates down and salty breezes kiss one’s skin, O’Connor offers full moon beach yoga in June, July and August for free. It’s her way of giving back to Sea Isle. The wildly popular event that scores yogis a glorious view of a bright and giant moon elevating above the horizon, can have up to 350 yogis on the sand at 29th Street.
Working with the chamber of commerce, designing T-shirts and continuing with her training either locally or in places such as India, Bali or Australia, is how O’Connor spends the offseason. She also stocks up on clam shells, on which she writes inspirational messages for her beach yoga students to take at the end of class.
“It’s been so rewarding for me,” said O’Connor of this tradition. “Teachers have told me they place them out on their desks, people send me photos and share memories. It serves as a reminder — ‘I was in a happy place.’”
Maureen Renzi of Abington, Pennsylvania, owns a house in Sea Isle with her husband, Ron, and can be found at O’Connor’s beach yoga every Friday in the summer.
Last week, she took off from her public relations job, so she was there even more. Renzi has been collecting O’Connor’s inspirational shells for years and keeps them in a jar at home for guests to take. Renzi revealed that O’Connor’s classes have become a “big part of my beach experience.”
“This is the best way to start your day,” Renzi said. “And it’s truly one of the best parts of having our beach house.”
As class ended on Wednesday, the soundtrack of the ocean continued to play as O’Connor playfully advised her students to ignore anyone who brings up the “F-word” — fall.
“It’s still summer,” she added heartily.
At The Shore Editor Pamela Dollak has frequently taken yoga classes with Teri O’Connor, including a beach class for this article. She’s a big fan and loves the practice-ending ritual of picking a seashell with an inspirational message from a blue beach bucket. The shell she picked for this class? “Spread sunshine.”