Associate Spotlight: Paola Knapp
by Gertrude Mann
Ocean Reef is a community of people with fascinating life stories. This is true for Members and Associates alike. I sat down with Paola Knapp, a young woman who teaches yoga at the Member Fitness Center, to learn about her years of international travel in search of self-awareness and purpose.
Discovering Yoga at MFC
As a high school graduate in Fort Lauderdale, Paola had no plans for her future. She fondly remembered many summer visits to the Florida Keys, and at her father’s suggestion, she applied for a job at Ocean Reef. In 2014, Luis Bracamonte, then-Manager of the Fitness Center, hired her as the fitness desk coordinator. Soon she met Darlene Daniels, a yoga teacher at ORC who introduced Paola to the Ashtanga style of yoga and encouraged her to pursue her love of the practice. Paola searched online and found a yoga retreat of international students in Bali. Having never traveled abroad, she ventured to Indonesia in 2016 where she learned and practiced Ashtanga yoga for a month. She explains, “In Bali, I learned psychology, meditation and emotional control in this very special community. In this sacred space, I could feel myself growing and becoming more self-aware of my own courage and abilities.” It was here, that Paola became determined to fulfill her dream of becoming a yoga teacher.
After Bali, Paola returned to Ocean Reef to teach yoga part time and work as a concierge at the Inn. Soon, the travel bug once again took hold. In 2018, Paola returned to Bali and then moved on to Thailand to further her yoga studies. This was followed by journeys to Amsterdam to visit family and to Spain where she worked as an au pair in Madrid. Paola gravitated to a local Mysore community to practice her yoga every morning before work. The Ashtanga practice in the Mysore is based on a discipline of proscribed postures. Ashtanga Yoga students are expected to memorize a sequence and to practice in the same room as others. The teacher guides them and provides adjustments or assists in postures. This practiced discipline taught her a courage she never before felt and allowed her to navigate her independent travels. Although she was never intimidated by the different customs and cultures in places she visited, Paola relied on other women travelers as a source of support and companionship.
Continuing Her Quest
After Spain, Paola moved on to India, where she found a personal Guru who encouraged her to continue her quest. Always a vegetarian, Paola felt at home in India where cows are revered. She leaned on her newfound courage to conquer the crowds and traffic. India made her feel brave and strong. “It was the real deal,” said Paola. Returning to Indonesia, she recalls participating in rituals of praise to honor Gods and Goddesses by lighting paper lanterns and tossing them into the air. The crowds rushing to the river in reverence scared her but added to her heightened sense of awareness.
New Discoveries Foster Innovation
Paola’s last stop on her journey found her in Brazil as a volunteer with Forest Fund, a group that works to counter deforestation. “The majority of deforestation in the Amazon is to create livestock pastures to meet the world’s demand for beef,” Paola explains. In Brazil, Paola taught yoga and advanced English in a small town for three months before having to come home because of the global Covid pandemic.
Upon returning to the States, Paola knew she had to do something to help combat the plague of global waste she found throughout her travels. The place to start was obvious – her father, who produces beach umbrellas for resorts, offered her his scrap material to repurpose into a useful product. Paola now has a business called Revined by Pao where she resews the scraps into totes to use for grocery shopping or beach bags. They are waterproof and mold resistant and come in a variety of styles and colors. She is donating a portion of her sales to benefit the Forest Fund. Paola is seeking new avenues to introduce her creations to markets in South Florida.
After years of international travel, Paola has come full circle by returning to the Ocean Reef Community to share her love of yoga. When I asked her what this practice can offer a new student, she energetically responded, “Yoga is full of benefits and is a great way to increase flexibility and strength, relieve stress and anxiety, help with one’s balance, and generally promote a healthier lifestyle. I’m happy to meet with anyone, beginner or experienced, who wants to give it a try.” Come by the Fitness Center to meet this extraordinary young woman who is eager to share her zest for life.