Brynlee Kelmanson

antmandela Long Form Wellness Interview, Uncategorized, Yoga

File Dec 12 2023, 12 31 43 PM
Long-Form Wellness Interview Series with Yoga Instructor Brynlee Kelmanson

Actionable insights and practical advice for your life, health, and business.

In this interview:

  • Founding a health-yoga-nutrition business
  • Overcoming chronic pain and debilitating illness
  • Unique classes—Glowga; Floatga; Yoga + Wine
  • Creating a yoga community
  • Vinyasa influences and teaching style
  • Jungle yoga retreat; writing a smoothie book
  • Entrepreneurship & mindset: help others, find pain points, solve a problem

Brynlee began practicing yoga at age fifteen and felt an immediate passion for how it made her feel. Her mission is to spread the word about yoga and to help others find balance and peace within their bodies, minds, hearts, and lives. She graduated from the University of North Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics and is a 200 RYT certified yoga instructor. 

Brynlee’s pursuit of knowledge in the field of nutrition/dietetics along with her love for the practice of yoga led her to found Coastal Yoga and Nutrition (Ft. Lauderdale, FL). Discover the best ways to nourish your body & soul, bring peaceful relaxation to your life, and strengthen your muscles through the ancient practice of yoga. She lives her personal and professional lives through the following quote by Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Brynlee's WELLNESS JOURNEY: Building a business, creating a yoga Community, and overcoming health crises

Anthony Mandela (AM)

Hey Brynlee, thanks so much for taking the time to chat today! Let’s jump right in with a creativity-related question. It seems like you put together a lot of unique events like Vino & Vinyasa in the park, Full Moon Glowga (Glow yoga under the Full Moon), disco yoga + themed brunch, Sunset yoga, Sound Bath Healing & Wine on the beach, etc. How do you come up with your ideas?

Brynlee Kelmanson (BK)

Well, one of my strengths is outside-of-the-box thinking; I always try to put together something that's super fun that involves community and connection with nature. My classes always have something to do with water whether it be along the water (park or beach) or even in the water (paddleboard or Floatga).  Even though I have people tell me that some of my ideas are crazy, or that I can’t do everything, I try to maintain an open mind—if I have an idea, I like to at least try it out. Also, in my business I have never said no to a new opportunity even if it scared me.  By experimenting with lots of things, you can better understand what works and what your clients want.

“A consistent theme of mine has always been centered around building a beautiful and genuine community.”

AM: Do you have an event you've hosted recently that has been a highlight—perhaps something you were especially pleased with?

BK: I partnered with an upscale location, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood/DAER dayclub. They have a beautiful outdoor rooftop space overlooking the beautiful guitar building as well as the fancy pools. I have hosted several events where we did yoga on the roof deck, went downstairs for brunch afterward, and then partied together at the Day Club to see Zedd and other famous DJs perform. I was also on TV recently for “Floatga” which is short for Floating Yoga. We start out cruising to the sand bar, dock and do yoga, and then party together and enjoy fun floaties and activities. I love yoga and enjoy a good party, but a consistent theme of mine has always been centered around building a beautiful and genuine community.

AM: That's fantastic. Are you doing anything in the corporate space?

BK: Yes, I have hosted many Lunch & Learns as well as corporate yoga and mediation. I really enjoy bringing peace and intention into the busy workplace.

“I almost died because of a health collapse…my health would deteriorate in cycles.”

AM: How did you get your start in the wellness space? Could you speak about your story and journey?

BK: Absolutely—I have a pretty crazy story... you wouldn’t know this from meeting me, but I grew up with a LOT of health challenges and serious problems. No doctor could figure out what was going on.

Because of some bad experiences with medical professionals, I began to develop a mistrust of doctors because I perceived them as having no interest in getting to the bottom of what was causing my issues. It often seemed to me like they thought I was OK because I looked fine on the outside. Unfortunately, I had a number of invisible illnesses that were difficult to diagnose. So, I kept getting undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

One of the early warning signs for me as a young kid was that I couldn’t eat pizza or ice cream without becoming violently ill afterwards. Even though I wasn’t into nutrition at that point, I noticed that I would feel at least marginally better when I didn’t eat certain types of foods. So, I started experimenting with healthy foods like salads and smoothies, which wasn’t normal for a kid!

Later on down the road, in college, I had a health crisis and almost died because of a health collapse. I had to go to the ER, and my health would deteriorate in cycles. It was during this time, while the doctors still couldn’t figure out what was going on, that I turned my focus to nutrition and yoga. Yoga helped to reduce my anxiety, stress, and insomnia, and the nutrition aspect lowered my pain and helped me be able to get out of bed. I decided to eliminate all gluten and dairy from my diet and began a deep dive into nutrition and yoga. This was also the period in my life when I was completing my B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics at UNF (I specialized in Sports Nutrition & Entrepreneurship for my Dietetic Internship in Boston). I was reading and researching a ton for class and because I was looking for what could heal me.

At first, I was able to manage many symptoms through nutrition and exercise, but unfortunately, the symptoms progressively got worse, and my health deteriorated. For example, my fingers would swell up (I’d later be diagnosed with arthritis) and my stomach would bloat—it looked like I was pregnant all the time. Serious debilitating pain. I was finally diagnosed with endometriosis, along with five different types of autoimmune diseases. These were tough diagnoses to handle, but at least I felt a sense of relief to know, finally, what I was up against.

AM: Wow. Did you ever end up finding a doctor that could help you?

BK: Thankfully, I did meet a holistic doctor who was excellent. He helped uncover the diagnosis and set me on the path to healing, including completing a rather intense protocol for leaky gut. In coordination with his advice, and a renewed focus on nutrition and yoga, I began to see my body start to heal itself. It wasn’t 100%, but I could function again, without waves of pain wracking my body.

AM: You have written publicly and in detail about your health journey. Can you talk more about your decision to share so transparently?

BK: I think I decided to do it because I noticed a pattern of chickening out when it came to talking about anything related to my health. From a young age, I was taught that you should put on a good face and smile. No one really cares if you are in pain or what you are going through, so, just pretend to be fine.

My health got so bad that I had to cancel my classes for an extended period; people were asking me what was going on. I had a decision to make—I could hide from friends, family, and clients and bury my pain, or I could share openly and ask for support. This was so hard for me, but I felt such a sense of relief when I wrote out and shared the details of my story.

I won’t go into everything here, but I can say that I opened up to how I felt like I was dying because of my intense pain. I described my multiple visits to the ER and my misdiagnosis of a cancer scare. I also had a botched surgery during this time, compounding my issues, which I wrote about. I described the raw emotions I felt while navigating this arduous journey and shared how I had finally been diagnosed with severe endometriosis and ulcerative colitis…bear in mind that this was on top of the previous diagnoses I had of neuropathy, nerve pain, and arthritis in the joints.

I remember being on 15 different medications and crying hysterically. I couldn't teach. I couldn't be with my friends. I couldn't walk; I couldn't even take care of myself.

“I had to shut down my business because of my health and decided to make the difficult decision to restart in 2017. I relocated my company down to Ft. Lauderdale.”

AM: How did you make it through?

BK: I attribute a lot to my favorite doctor whom I met during this time. He sat down in the patient room with me for a full hour and calmly stated that we were going to get to the bottom of things. He was the one who ordered the tests I needed and delivered the definitive diagnoses of my health conditions. This is what spurred me to eliminate a lot of acidic and irritant foods from my diet, which in turn jump-started my path to recovery.

Another turning point for me was my move from Jacksonville. I had to shut down my business because of my health and decided to make the difficult decision to restart in 2017. I relocated my company down to Ft. Lauderdale. Saying goodbye to my clients was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I eventually rebuilt everything here, and it has been a great thing. I have more months of the year when I can offer classes outside, and the warmer climate has been better for my health, too.

AM: Did you notice any kind of shift after you shared your story publicly?

BK: I shared my health details when I was at a low point, rock bottom. When I came to grips with the fact that being honest wasn't a weakness and that I wasn’t looking for sympathy or pity, I put pen to paper and wrote out the details of my journey.

When I could see the timeline of what I had been through right in front of me, I realized how strong I was—fighting disease every day, running a business, managing my eating habits, and for the most part maintaining a functional life. I think a lot of people would have given up. I almost gave up several times. I am so grateful that I never did.

This was a powerful mindset shift. I acknowledged what I had been through and how hard it was. And I committed to focusing on seeing the positive of what I had overcome so far. My community was also so supportive, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. I felt heard, seen, loved, and understood.

AM: You’ve been through a lot, Brynlee. What have you found to be most effective in managing your health conditions?

BK: Definitely yoga and meditation. I also use a full-body heating pad every night, which helps reduce pain and helps me sleep better. Another thing that helped was consistent chiropractic visits along with massage and acupuncture.

Nutrition is the biggest component—I'd say about 80%—and fitness is the other 20%. This is one of the reasons why I wrote a book on smoothie recipes, Smoothies for Health—I realized how impactful juicing and smoothies can be for transitioning to a more plant-based diet, and I wanted to share my discovery with others. The smoothies are fun and different, not your typical recipes. There is a different recipe for each day of the month. Even recipes for savory smoothies, such as a yummy gazpacho, and dessert smoothies (my favorite is Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup).

Although I don’t think I’ll ever be able to live a “normal” life because of my health concerns, when things are going well, I can live without a constant focus on my pain. This is so liberating. When the pain returns, I'm still able to do many things, whereas before I was bedridden. It's also easier for me to be grateful, something I try to focus on as much as possible. I really do have an amazing support system of family and friends.

“My primary influence has always been vinyasa. I love to flow, I love fluid movements.”

AM: Let's chat a little bit about your teaching style. What types of classes do you like to teach, and what are your influences?

BK: Well, I teach a variety of classes and have many influences. I teach a sunset class at the beach and a class at an outdoor park in Ft. Lauderdale overlooking the water, surrounded by beautiful old trees and stately mansions. Every full moon I teach a GLOWGA class (a rejuvenating yoga class with glow sticks, fun upbeat music under the majestic full moon) and numerous other fun and unique classes.

I also teach a paddleboard yoga class that challenges balance. I love the serenity of the water. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I offer a Sunset Vino & Vinyasa class (yoga with a little wine and conscious conversation afterwards). Kind of a fun rewarding treat. Every Saturday I host an Intentional Slow Flow class with affirmations & reflections at 11:11am in the most magical park on the water.

With regard to my influences, I love a lot of different styles of yoga, but my primary influence has always been vinyasa. I love to flow, I love fluid movements. I'm an all-level teacher and have had a lot of experience with mixed classes. I taught for many years at La Fitness, Crunch and several other gyms where I would often have large classes of 50+ students at all different levels, some quite experienced and others who had just walked in for their first yoga class. For example, once I had an older lady in her 90’s with a cane in class next to another lady who was doing handstands. This type of extreme mix can be a difficult challenge, but I learned so much and got really good at offering several modifications so everyone felt comfortable.

My classes will push you—I believe that you can get an amazing, well-rounded workout and feel good in your body through yoga alone. It can be great strength training; it can be fantastic for your cardiovascular system; and it’s amazing for flexibility and muscle endurance. I am honestly in better shape now, from having a consistent yoga practice, than I was when I did a lot more of the other activities like running, weightlifting, etc.

I also teach a Bodyworks plus Abs class, another class I love, and it is perfect for all levels. It’s a balanced workout that challenges you from head to toe! You target every muscle group while moving non-stop to the beat of the music. A slow burn that kind of sneaks up on you throughout the class.

“Yoga is for everyone. No matter what shape or size, everyone can do it, and everyone can feel amazing in their bodies. It’s not a competition.”

AM: I do think there’s some misconception out there where people think yoga is just for flexibility and stretching. But, as you mentioned, it can be an incredible full-body workout and it’s great to hear about your focus on this. I'm curious, if you were to be asked to lead a workshop on any topic— this could be a one-day or weekend workshop—what would you choose?

BK: The slogan for my company is Bending over backwards for you and your health. This is something that defines my business. It has a dual meaning: yes, going above and beyond to meet my students’ needs, but also in a more literal sense because I love heart openers and backbends. I think putting together a “Bending over Backwards” workshop would be amazing. The workshop would celebrate the importance of taking the first step, trying new things, and pushing our comfort zones. Celebrating  progress at all levels and how far we’ve come as students would be integrated into the workshop.

Yoga is for everyone. No matter what shape or size, everyone can do it, and everyone can feel amazing in their bodies. It’s not a competition. This is one of the reasons why I love facilitating classes outdoors in nature. You can focus on the beauty around you, and there aren’t any mirrors.

Costa Rica Retreat, Advancing your practice, yoga myths, sources of inspiration

AM: You're going to absolutely love Bodhi Tree when you are there next summer for your retreat because it's so deeply and intimately integrated into the surrounding jungle and natural environment. I'm glad we were able to connect and make this event happen!

BK: I think it’s amazing how everything came together. I’ve visited Costa Rica a couple times and have wanted to lead a retreat there for the longest time. It’s one of my favorite places. The experience of being surrounded by the jungle, just steps away from the beach, is a wonderful feeling, and it left a major impression on me. One of my major goals is to travel the world teaching what I love and what has healed me, and this is a big step on that journey.

Every year since I started my company in 2015, I have told people I would lead a retreat. Then the year would end, and I’d tell folks it would happen the next year. I can be a perfectionist, so I think the organizational details required to successfully pull off an international retreat left me feeling overwhelmed or thinking I would let people down, so I postponed. Some of my students called me out—they were like, “You always say you are going to lead a retreat, but you never do, and we’re still waiting.” I realized they were right! It’s so much better to take a leap and take action, even if you feel scared, than to not do anything at all.

AM: Absolutely. It’s also an interesting coincidence that I only work with venues in Costa Rica that offer a jungle and beach combination. It's hard to explain what is so special about having those two forces come together, but it is powerful.

BK: Yes. There’s a strong energy, and it’s an environment that's especially therapeutic for people who struggle with chronic pain. When you are in pain, depression can easily creep in. Nature helps combat this: being outside, by the beach, in the jungle, traveling, and exploring the world. All these things can help alleviate feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety.

“The code I try to live by is progress over perfection…every person is on a different journey, so never compare yourself with others.”

AM: Switching gears a bit, if you were to talk with someone looking to advance their practice, is there anything that you would share as a piece of advice?

BK: The code I try to live by is progress over perfection, so that is what I would share as the first thing. Every person is on a different journey, so never compare yourself with others. Wherever you are at, keep up with consistent practice and don’t give up. It may be hard at the beginning or at other times in the journey, but you will see progress, and it will be worth it in the end.

AM: Are there any “yoga myths” you’ve noticed? Something that you’ve heard or seen in the field that you would say is not true?

BK: That yoga must be 100% about yoga all the time. Or that you can’t combine something fun or “not healthy” with yoga. For example, one of my more popular offerings is a wine and yoga class, and I’ve been told before that I shouldn’t combine yoga with alcohol. I realize this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine, but there are a lot of people out there who really like this kind of offering.

There are many varieties of yoga, and I would encourage people to sample widely until they find a teacher and style they like. There is not just one set way to practice yoga. It’s more important to find a good teacher and develop a practice you enjoy. Personally, I feel like life's too short to be so serious all the time; it’s important to have fun, smile, and laugh.

AM: You mentioned earlier that creating human connection is an important part of what you do. So, particularly within that context, a yoga and wine class makes perfect sense to me.

BK: Think about it for a minute: if I taught a yoga class and then just asked people to hang out in a community circle afterwards, chances are the majority wouldn’t be all that interested. If I crack open a couple bottles of wine, many more people will choose to hang out after class and chat with others. It’s a little trick to help people open up and be willing to form a connection with others in the community. And it can be something that you modify over time.

For example, at a second vino/yoga class, I might hand out affirmation cards and use that as a springboard for more structured conversation. Now you have people sharing their stories and you are giving them a platform to connect with others without judgment.

AM: What do you think is a unique skill you possess that has helped you be successful in your field? Clearly, your passion for what you do has played a big role. Anything else come to mind?

BK: Well, I’m an extreme empath. If I see someone who is upset, I'll often cry for them and with them. I've always been that way. In some respects, I absorb emotions from others, which is not always the best thing, but I feel like I can relate to anyone. There's never been anyone I couldn’t relate to. I think human connection is so important, and I'm pretty great at building connections and communities. This is a cornerstone value I apply to my life and business.

AM: Could you talk about someone or something that you look to for inspiration in your life? Could be a teacher, mentor, other…

BK: My grandpa was a huge influence in my life. Reflecting back on things, he’s one of the people who first sparked my interest in entrepreneurship. He started a company, Olympia Lighting, and designed one of the first poolside lights. Unfortunately, he didn't patent it, so one of the big-box hardware retailers just copied the design and began selling it at scale. I worked for him when I was young and saw firsthand how he handled difficult situations, which inspired me to have that same kind of tenacious spirit and determined mindset.

Lightning round: favorite resources, business advice, tips, tricks, and tools of the trade

AM: We’re at a good spot to move into a lightning round style of Q&A, a series of short questions I like to ask all of my guests. Are you ready?

BK: Yes!

AM: What is an absurd habit you have and/or something unusual that you love?

BK: Being in a band and having the chance to travel is something unusual that was also a lot of fun. I was the female drummer! Another fun fact is that I used to rock climb a lot and worked as a rock wall instructor at a gym in Jacksonville.

AM: Have you had a teacher (or teachers) that have played an important role in your life?

BK: I had one in Jacksonville that was amazing. She was so inspirational, very understanding, and a lot of fun. I want to inspire others like she inspired me.

“It’s best to get your nutrients directly from the source instead of from a pill or powder…you don’t need a specialized supplement.”

AM: Any other resources you’d like to share? This could be a book, a podcast, or anything else that you’ve found to be helpful in your life.

BK: Kimberly Snyder of Solluna is an author, nutritionist, and entrepreneur in the wellness space I really admire. I’ve enjoyed some of her books, too, especially Recipes for Your Perfectly Imperfect Life and The Beauty Detox Solution. The books motivated me to investigate smoothies and incorporate more raw vegan ingredients into my diet. Her approach impacted my nutrition planning and influenced how I help others think about nutrition.

Here’s a tip from Kimberly’s writing and an excellent piece of advice: It’s best to get your nutrients directly from the source instead of from a pill or powder. For example, if you need more choline in your diet, eat eggs; you don’t need a specialized supplement.

AM: How about a project or upcoming event that you're particularly excited about?

BK: The retreat I’m leading in Costa Rica this summer is the biggest thing I’m most excited about right now!

AM: It is a big deal, and I’m really looking forward to working with you on this project! I know we are still pretty far out in the planning process, but do you have a vision for the retreat? Anything you’d like to share with folks who may be considering it?

BK: We’ll be creating a beautiful space in the jungle, next to the ocean, where people can connect with each other and their surroundings and support and encourage each other in a safe space. We’ll enjoy healthy, delicious food and drinks and have some fun optional excursions, like surfing, horseback riding, waterfall hiking, ziplining, etc. And, of course, I’ll be leading a couple yoga classes or workshops on different topics each day.

AM: Amazing, and I’ll also add that guests will be staying at the amazing Bodhi Tree Yoga Resort in Nosara (Nicoya Peninsula), Costa Rica, one of only five “Blue Zones” on the planet.

“The greatest reward is helping others reach their goals and make progress in their lives…help others, find pain points, solve a problem.”

AM: Reflecting on your journey of entrepreneurship so far, do you have any advice or thoughts to share that might be applicable to others who are interested in entrepreneurship and/or have started (or are thinking of starting) their own business?

BK: I won’t sugarcoat things; it’s a lot of hard work. A LOT of hard work...sometimes you’ll feel like you are working all the time. But you're going to be doing what you love, which makes it all worth it. The responsibility for making things happen rests with you, and it’s very rewarding to see something that you've created grow over time. For the work I do in my business, the greatest reward is helping others reach their goals and make progress in their lives. I think this can be true for any line of work or small business. Help others, find pain points, solve a problem.

Know that you are going to be faced with a lot of difficulty, but you can get through the difficulties and become a more confident and capable person. I definitely think the struggle is worth it. The reward will come back full circle; it will probably just take more time and effort than you originally thought.

AM: Thanks, Brynlee, for such great advice and an excellent reminder. On the flip side, is there any advice that you've heard floating around out there—this could be general advice, life advice, yoga advice, or business advice—that you think is bad advice? Something you’d tell people to ignore if they hear it?

BK: If someone says you can’t do something and lists a bunch of reasons why, be suspicious. Also, you don’t have to put up with crap, mistreatment, etc., just because someone tells you that you have to deal with it. You always have a choice; you can leave. Sometimes it is just hard to see a way out when you’re in the midst of a tough situation. How about you? What do you think?

AM: My suggestion would be to mostly ignore general advice, especially if you didn’t ask for it. Unless you are requesting specific feedback from a trusted friend or an expert in the area you are researching, advice will usually be of low value to your unique situation because it’s meant to appeal to the masses.

I'm a big believer that you should do the hard work and dig into your own life to uncover your purpose and then pursue that. This will take trial and error. Start something, take action, and then iterate. I think you can easily get off track by listening to other people too much or when you place too much emphasis on the opinions of other people.

BK: That’s a good point. It makes me think of all the times others doubted what I was doing or asked me if I was sure I wanted to make a certain decision. It’s easy enough to doubt yourself on your own, so don’t listen to other people who say you can’t do something—stay away from the doubters. Within certain parameters, I think if you set your mind to something and really believe it, then you can do it and you will achieve it. The mind is such a beautiful, powerful thing.

AM: What you just said reminds me of a favorite quote: “You can do anything in life, but you can’t do everything.” The power of focus and determination, right?

BK: Exactly, it IS possible to be a pioneer or create something new, different, or unique. A lot of people thought I needed to choose either yoga or nutrition and that I couldn’t do both. But I firmly believed the two are inextricably linked; they go together. Most importantly, the two are literally the glue of what's holding my body together, and it’s what I am most passionate about sharing with other people.

AM: It makes perfect sense; the two aspects complement each other. I love the integration you have in your business, and I think it's something you are doing much better than many of the others out there. Keep up the great work!

“I love my affirmation cards. It sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly life-changing to read and repeat positive statements back to yourself.”

AM: Are there any products in your industry that you love? Something you can’t live without or tools of the trade?

BK: Well, on the marketing and design front, I use Canva a lot and love it. And I obviously can't live without my yoga mat. My preference is Manduka because their mats are of such high quality and last forever. I have a few of them; the oldest is probably over 10 years old, and it’s still in good shape, never shredded/deteriorated. Since I have severe joint pain, I like their thicker PRO mat.

AM: Yeah, I agree on the Manduka mat. They last forever and are very impressive mats!

BK: Oh, I also love my affirmation cards. A friend gave me a set for my birthday, and they've just been so impactful. It sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly life-changing to read and repeat positive statements back to yourself. It’s something I thought was strange when I was younger, and now it's something that's like second nature for me. I think affirmations are beautiful because they transform self-criticism into self-love. You’re not thinking about what you wish you had or what could be different; you are focused on gratitude.

AM: How about one of the best or most worthwhile investments you've ever made? This could be an investment of money, time, or energy.

BK: Walking away from a stable paycheck and pursuing my business full-time was a huge investment in my future. I had a lot of people view that decision with skepticism, but I’m so glad I did it. Another big investment has been in my health; moving to a more plant-based diet, with lots of juicing and healthy smoothies, has made a huge difference.

AM: What do you think was so important about walking away from a regular paycheck?

BK: The mindset shift—committing 100% to something—yanks away the safety net and forces you to focus. I started to see the difference with the companies I was partnering with and in my events and classes. I didn’t have the capacity before to handle everything, taking the leap of faith opened a lot of doors.

AM: Brynlee, this has been a fantastic conversation. You’ve had quite the journey, and I want to thank you for honestly sharing about your life and business. What's the best way for people to get in touch with you or follow your work?

BK: My Instagram is probably the platform I use the most and where I post the most content @yogabrynlee. Also, Facebook and my website, Coastal Yoga and Nutrition.

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