I've ditched nights out for yoga on a cold Scots beach

Paula McGuire - Beach yoga
The beach yoga takes place every Sunday on Irvine beach [Paula McGuire ]

The term "beach yoga" is perhaps not something you would associate with Scotland.

The rain, wind and bracing temperatures might just put most people off.

But for Paula McGuire, it was a lifeline in her recovery from a mental health struggle.

In an effort to escape drinking culture and find more wholesome activities, she set up a class on Irvine Beach on the west coast with her personal trainer friend, Kimberly McPhail.

No confidence

Paula, from Maryhill in Glasgow, started yoga when she was struggling with her mental health.

She faced lots of big life changes and lost her self-esteem after she went through a long-term relationship breakup.

Paula decided she needed to put herself out there, otherwise she would continue down a "dark hole" of no confidence and anxiety.

At the time she couldn't find activities to improve her situation that did not involve drinking alcohol.

Paula McGuire
Kimberly and Paula set up Soulfit combining fitness and yoga [Paula McGuire ]

She said she had never seen herself as a "yoga person" - but after attending a couple of outdoor sessions she decided to set up her own venture with her friend Kimberley.

"In Maryhill there’s nothing like that, there’s nothing wholesome out there," she said.

A qualified yoga teacher since June 2023, Paula wants to help other people through exercise, particularly woman who have experience similar struggles to her.

'Soulfit', as it's called, is a combination of a workout and yoga on the beach.

Paula's goal is to make the class as inclusive as possible, aiming to create a space where woman can feel empowered and supported.

She says the support of the strong woman in her life allowed her to keep going.

Paula McGuire
Paula runs another event on a Saturday that involves cold water therapy and yoga in Luss [Paula McGuire ]

"Sometimes I think the fitness industry in general can be a bit unwelcoming for people," she said.

"You might feel like if I’m not fit enough I can’t go to that or if I don’t look a certain way I can’t do that."

Paula says 80% of classes spent on the beach have been "gorgeous, sunny mornings".

"I think the weather doesn’t put people off when the views are so good."

She added that they "regularly" have windy experiences, but facing the opposite direction of the wind makes it bearable.

"It also adds to the sound of the waves during the relaxation which is amazing. Even when you’d typically think of the weather being 'rubbish', when you’re there experiencing it, you actually embrace it."

Paula McGuire
Beach yoga takes place each Sunday [Paula McGuire ]

Paula, who attended an all-girls school, feels social media has been a big help in increasing the popularity of outdoor activities.

She said: "For girls, especially meeting new people, they kept having the conversation with me saying their boyfriend will go and do a hill walk with his pals or go to football and he has loads of friends.

"I thought it was a shame that there wasn’t as many things out there for girls. I felt like it's harder to actually meet new people."

She also believes that more coverage of women's sport in media has helped encourage women to exercise.

Paula says during summer months, beaches in Ayrshire can be a draw for underage drinkers.

So why was this her location of choice? For Paula, it is the views that make it.

She said: "I feel like Irvine Beach is absolutely stunning, the views that you get there.

"I think when you’re from Glasgow or even the west, Ayr beach, Irvine - these beaches can be associated with people going there for a wild day out drinking.

"Whereas actually, if you go in the morning or night and you see the sunrise, you actually appreciate how beautiful it is. I just always feel so good when I’m there."

Mikaela Pollock is a counselling psychologist based in Edinburgh.

For the last four years, her work has focused on the intersection of physical activity and mental health.

Before she studied psychology, Mikaela was a person trainer and yoga instructor.

She feels yoga is a great form of exercise for the mind and body.

"That’s why I wanted to marry the two because I found that physical activity, yoga in particular, helped me slow down and pay more attention to being present and to my thought and my mood," she said.

Recently, she came across a study which discussed the comparison between outdoor and indoor exercise.

Although it is hard to tell which is more beneficial to your mental health, the findings nodded towards outdoor exercise.

"I think there’s probably a lot of other benefits in terms of sunlight viewing, which we know can affect immune function and hormones. So I would imagine, from my perspective, that any kind of exercise would be beneficial from a mental health position.

“I think any sort of movement, any sort of mindfulness is going to be beneficial and if you combine that with something intentional like yoga, something where you get the benefit of green spaces and outdoors and fresh air, it’s all the better really."

More on this story