The only thing hotter than Kerri Verna’s yoga classes on Lake Worth Beach, where sweaty students push-up and plank under a merciless morning sun, may be Verna’s career.
“Set your intention for class today,” she tells the sunscreen-slathered group. “Why is it that you’re here?”
Verna’s purpose is clear, she says. Among the most popular yoginis on Instagram, where her @beachyogagirl account has attracted 585,000 followers and counting, her mission is “to show people at any age that you can change your life.”
At 40, the Royal Palm Beach resident is a living, breathing, backbending example of self-transformation. In her early 20s, there were mornings she couldn’t get out of bed. Doctors eventually diagnosed her with fibromyalgia, and she lives with pain every day.
And although the athletic 15-second videos she posts on Instagram make her look like a lifelong acrobat, she only learned how to stand on her hands a couple of years ago. “Sometimes I can’t even hold a handstand at all,” she says. “But humility is good for the soul.”
Humility is precisely what sets Verna apart from so many selfie-obsessed Instagrammers, says husband Nick, a Kia district sales manager who dubbed his Instagram account “@InLoveWithBeachYogaGirl” (he has more than 17,000 followers).
“A lot of other yoga accounts are ‘I’m going to show you what it’s like to be perfect’,” he says. “Kerri will post pictures of when she falls, and that makes her more real and draws people in.”
Friend Jennifer Martin agrees.
“She teaches from a very genuine and authentic place,” says Martin, owner of Bodhi Hot Yoga in Palm Beach Gardens and Stuart. “She breaks down a lot of obstacles, by holding yoga on the beach where anyone can attend, and sharing parts of her life and practice.”
Lake Worth’s Bill Mildern had never tried yoga before, but now he considers Verna’s class “the best part of my week.”
“Kerri’s fantastic,” says Mildern, the 60-year-old owner of a pool-cleaning business. “She’s sweet, she’s positive, she’s inspirational, she’s very spiritual. She’ll tell everybody, ‘If you’re not where you want to be, don’t get upset. Do the best you can where you are’.”
In front of her class and on Instagram, Verna is her own best advertisement. Tan and toned, she boasts washboard abs, wavy blonde hair and a natural beauty that turns heads at the neighborhood Starbucks.
She comes by her California-girl looks naturally. Born and raised in the Golden State, Verna took every art class offered at her community college: photography, painting, sculpture, she was drawn to it all. But when Laguna College of Art + Design accepted her into its undergraduate program, she froze, afraid she couldn’t make a living as an artist.
“Kerri will tell you that her second passion is her photography, and the marriage of yoga and photography really shines through” on her Instagram account, Martin says.
Verna skipped art school in favor of a steady (but soul-crushing) job in the repossessions department of a financial institution. There, she met Nick Verna, and the two married and moved to Maryland.
Far from the beloved beaches of her youth, Verna put on weight, but the motivation to exercise remained elusive. She got a job at the front desk of a gym, planning to work out when her morning shift ended, but not even convenience provided a cure.
One day, Verna saw a notice for cycle-instructor training. “I thought, ‘If I’m the teacher, maybe I’ll be motivated’.” In the four months it took to earn her certification, she dropped from a Size 12 to a Size 4. And she found her groove.
“The first exercise class I took was the one I taught,” she says. “I wasn’t thinking about me. I was thinking about my students.”
Verna became so energized by fitness that she now holds multiple teaching certifications: spinning, kickboxing, tai chi, Pilates. “I believe everyone has a way to connect with some form of activity, but until you find out what that is, it’s hard to figure out what exercise to do,” she says.
After the birth of her sons, who are now 10 and 8 years old, the Vernas moved to South Florida in 2007. Time constraints forced the busy mom to downsize her fitness routine, and two years ago, she devoted herself full time to her yoga practice — and then to Instagram, where she posts an average of four times a day.
Using a self-timer and a DSLR camera, Verna shoots almost all her photos and videos herself, most of them on Lake Worth Beach. “In the beginning I was looking at it purely as a photo thing,” she says. “I wasn’t too concerned about teaching people anything on Instagram.”
More than 2,600 posts later, she shares not only yoga tips but inspirational quotes and references to personal struggles, whether the subject is tight hamstrings or the “toxic” early years of a marriage that now seems to breathe bliss.
Instagram continues to open doors for Verna at home and abroad. Over Labor Day weekend, she taught two workshops in London, England, and in November she’ll lead a yoga retreat in the Bahamas. Yoga fashion brands regularly recruit her to wear and promote their leggings on Instagram, and earlier this summer, she launched Bitsy Bottom, a line of yoga shorts she designs.
But money doesn’t motivate her, she says. “Happiness comes from within and knowing who you are. I was struggling and in debt most of my life. Now, we’re not rich. We’re not poor. We’re comfortable.”
She grins. “Actually, I’m trying to manifest a beach home, but other than that …”
Opening her own yoga studio would seem a logical next step, but Verna’s not interested. After all, how could she improve on the beach, which already serves as her photography studio and her sanctuary?
“I feel God’s presence there the most, and the sand adds to the challenge of the practice,” says Verna, who often reminds students to embrace, rather than fight, the sand, the wind, the ever-moving beach towel (she admits she’s still working on that last one).
“The beach reminds me of life.”
IF YOU GO
For all the details on Kerri Verna’s four weekly yoga classes at Lake Worth Beach, go to ILoveBeachYoga.com.