As the morning sun rises over Miami Beach, April May Gardner leads a class of up to 200 people in a yoga practice by the ocean.
Inspired by her own recovery from injury and fueled by a drive to promote health and mental wellness in South Florida, Sunrise Yoga has evolved into a lifetime passion for Gardner. Anyone can get involved.
Gardner, 31, grew up in Colorado and California. Her interest in yoga began at age 19 as a dance major at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She quickly took notice of the physical demands that ballet had on her body.
“Growing up as a ballet dancer, I was always telling my body what to do and yoga has provided me a way to actually listen to it,” she said.
She began doing yoga each day just a year later. She worked as an e-commerce intern at Manduka, a top yoga mat brand. In her three years in that role, she toured the nation taking classes from experienced professionals.
She is trained in various styles, including Ashtanga, which follows a structured practice of poses and combines all eight limbs of yoga, as well as Vinyasa, which links movement and breath.
She also is trained in Power Yoga, which builds endurance and improves muscle strength, Sculpt, which tones and incorporates high-intensity cardio, Myofascial Release Yoga, targeting tightness and pain through gentle massages, and Aerial Yoga, with acrobatics on ropes.
Gardner has been teaching yoga for seven years. She is also part of Ms. Lauryn Hill’s team, working as that artist’s Myofascial Release bodywork and stretch therapist, using body rolling techniques to release hard or tender areas in the body, freeing up movement in the body.
While teaching at Sol Yoga and Mimi Yoga Studio, she felt a craving to connect with nature – that’s how the idea for Sunrise Yoga emerged.
After dislocating her shoulder last year, Gardner could no longer practice yoga, just teach it. She felt she needed to hold herself accountable for waking up early and connecting to the sun.
One Thursday, she posted an announcement on Instagram that she would be teaching on the beach the next morning. Eight students arrived and Gardner noticed the impact it had.
“We all loved it. We all needed it. I noticed how much joy my students got from it as well so it just continued,” she said. That is why I like to keep Sunrise Yoga born from a place of authenticity.”
Gardner leads the Sunrise Yoga beach session every Friday at 7:30 a.m. in Miami Beach and has been at it for a year, fostering a community built upon connection to nature, body, mind, and spirit.
Since the event is on a public beach, there is no fee. However, a $10 donation is encouraged in order to subsidize expenses.
Gardner prides her practice in authenticity, partnering with businesses very sparingly and with a cause. Partnerships include nonprofit organizations, such as the Little Lighthouse Foundation to help underserved children in Miami. Alo Yoga sponsors every last Friday of the month.
“Partnering with Sunrise Yoga impacts everyone involved because it allows the community to open their hearts and minds on how they can make an impact,” said Caroline Malloy, events and fundraising coordinator of The Little Lighthouse Foundation.
This month, all donations from Sunrise Yoga go to the Children’s Halloween Party on Saturday, Oct. 28.
“I find at times when partnering with businesses it may come off as less meaningful and more of an promotional event, which takes away from the beauty of Sunrise Yoga, so I try to be as simple and real as often to my students and local businesses,” Gardner said.
The main goal is to make Miamians more mindful no matter the state of mind you wake up in. Gardner creates a space that allows people to come together in an environment that is “welcoming, relaxed, casual, and consistent.”
A frequent Sunrise Yoga attendee, Sophia Soler, said “April shows you different ways to modify a pose to your ability so that you still get the full experience no matter the level. The best part for me is that you’re waking up your body with the sun and the calming sounds of the waves just a few feet away. It’s the perfect way to close out your week and start your weekend.”
Gardner credits her followers for its continued growth and success.
“It’s the energy the community provides and the ability to make new friends that keeps the community growing. Sometimes it’s not even about the physical yoga practice,” she said. “It’s the energy that people love and are inspired by.”
To Gardner, that means being present when the sun rises over the ocean – the ultimate reward of her week. She plans to retreat and be a wellness master by traveling the world, hoping to continue to inspire the practice of yoga and mindfulness.
She also plans to open her own hot yoga and aerial yoga studio, LIBRE, in Wynwood by the end of the year.