By Larry Barszewski
Groups doing yoga on the beach may find serenity and a sense of community in the surroundings and a relief of stress from the exercise, but Delray Beach officials say the sessions aren’t allowed on the city’s public beaches.
Yoga instructor Pedro Luna, contacted by The Coastal Star, said he received a letter April 10 from city code enforcers ordering him to cease the meet-up classes — both full moon and weekend sunrise sessions — he has held on the beach near Atlantic Avenue since June 2019.
“We’re just here to try to help bring people together,” he said. “Community is everything.”
City officials are concerned about the size of such gatherings, instructors collecting donations similar to what buskers do, the use of amplifiers for some classes, the safety of sea turtles and other issues.
At an April 18 City Commission workshop about special events, Assistant City Manager Jeffrey Oris said city staff plans to address beach event issues, but it first wants to finish updating event policies for other areas, especially the downtown, which were last revised in 2018.
“We started to go there and then we realized, there’s people doing yoga on the beach after hours. How do we police that? How do we make sure that they’re not disturbing turtles?” Oris said. “How do we make sure that anybody that’s on the beach isn’t doing an event that they go into the water when we don’t have lifeguards on duty?”
Oris said staff needs more time to consider what to propose.
“We want to make sure this is thoughtful considering the things we’re now finding out are happening on the beach,” Oris said. “There are some things that we didn’t know were happening out there that we’re finding out about now.”
Vice Mayor Ryan Boylston suggested that smaller groups, say fewer than 15 people and operating at off-hours for the beach, be given some leeway.
“I mean, if we could put some guidelines together like that, that says, ‘Hey, you know, we do want organizations to come out and enjoy our beach in group sessions, but we don’t want it to turn into mini-events and we obviously don’t want businesses running on our very small, limited footprint.’ I would be open to something like that,” Boylston said.
Mayor Shelly Petrolia expressed caution about how active the beach should be.
“One of the most important parts of our city is our beach. And one of the reasons it’s so loved is because it isn’t active,” Petrolia said.
“When my colleague was talking about yoga, I get it, if it’s smaller groups and before hours, I tend to agree with you. I’m open to that as long as it doesn’t open the door to everything else that could possibly come in. And if it does, I say we do nothing. It’s better I think to err on the side of caution.”
Beach yoga class participants complained at the regular commission meeting immediately following the workshop that they’ve been stopped from having their gatherings while the beach policy is in limbo.
“There’s no permit that they can apply for, because it doesn’t fit any of the criteria,” said Heidi Dietrich, who had been a regular at Luna’s classes. “If there’s any way you could allow our classes to continue until you work out these issues, it would be greatly appreciated.”
Brittany Lynch said there’s a reason the city may not have been aware of the yoga programs earlier: “because we haven’t harmed anyone.”
Cindy Smernoff Voloshin told commissioners she moved to Florida from Connecticut, where she was also able to do yoga on the beach. She sees the classes as good publicity for the city.
“When I moved to Delray Beach and found it, I was so excited, because that was something that helped my wellness,” Voloshin said. “I would just hope you would make sure the policies work for us to continue to have yoga on the beach.”
Luna, who publicized his classes through social media as meet-up events, told The Coastal Star he had been holding sunrise classes on Saturdays and Sundays that attracted between 30 and 50 people, and a monthly full-moon class that had anywhere from 150 to 320 people participating.
He said he accepted donations from participants for the classes, but told city officials he would be willing to have the classes for free if that’s what it takes to continue.
“We’re willing to do it for no compensation. We just want to continue gathering,” Luna said. “It makes yoga accessible by making it donation-based or free.”