In a peaceful room with a heavy antique sliding wooden door, and comfy floor cushions, mats and pillows scattered about, I share an unpretentious brown couch with Jennifer Guthrie in her newest location to learn more about her life before she first opened Glow Yoga in 2013. As a bonus, I got an unexpected sneak peek into where it’s going next, and it is very exciting for the residents of Gulf Shores, AL.
Jennifer has always fascinated me, the way her bright eyes and calm smile convey not only a warm welcome to those she encounters but also a sense of total acceptance. Her long, wavy red hair flows into her tall, sinewy physique, evidence of her many years holding long, deep poses on the mat that build strength, stretch muscle, and keep the body toned and fit. Graceful and present, when Jennifer speaks with someone, she gives them the gift of her entire focus, which seems to have an immediate calming effect, no matter what that person carried in the door with them. She’s not even distracted in this moment by her Goldendoodle rescue, “Flow,” pacing around, nails clicking on the wooden floors for the first part of our conversation.
Did yoga bring her to this calm centeredness, I wonder, instead asking her to tell me something that other people assume about her that is incorrect. She articulates my thoughts without even knowing. “People think I’m just so Zen all the time, and that I’m not challenged by life’s challenges in the same way as other people.” It is during her frequently held yoga teacher training workshops that she has the opportunity to share her daily struggles with her students, leading them to a better appreciation for how to manage internal states and cultivate their own center. “Everyone struggles. How we carry them, how we respond to them, that’s part of the work.”
But it’s not just yoga. Jennifer is genuinely curious about people. She’s interested in others. “I’ve always cared about other people, picked up on their feelings and energy. Practicing the yoga mindset makes it easier, and being in alignment with my purpose allows me to settle in, to receive people where they are energetically as they walk through the door.”
At the end of 2023 there are easily a dozen yoga studios within a short drive of Gulf Shores but ten years ago, beyond a simple stretch-style class calling itself “yoga” at the local recreation center, there were no dedicated yoga studios.
And in 2013 some people in this area were still mystified by their preconceptions of yoga, including the landlord of Jennifer’s first location on Highway 59. Before he would lease her the space he had to do some research of his own, make sure this “yoga” thing was legit. Satisfied with what he found, and in a stroke of what some would call luck, but for Jennifer was simply more evidence of living an aligned life, the landlord also worked closely with the city of Gulf Shores, and just happened to need some marketing help on the Gulf Shores city vision for 2025.
Was that a coincidence, or divine design? Jennifer’s degree from Elon University in North Carolina and prior work experience were both in marketing, and she could really use some additional income as she worked to breathe life into the small building that would become Glow Yoga.
Prior to moving to Gulf Shores in 2012, Jennifer had begun her career in fashion with Saks Fifth Avenue in New York where, as an intern fresh from college, an opportunity “fell in her lap” to run the Christmas Shop, and she didn’t hesitate. “I figured if I could make it in NYC then I could make it anywhere,” which is why she went there in the first place, intentionally venturing “as far from Texas as possible.”
Born in Corpus Christi, Jennifer and her family moved to Austin when she was in grade school, and that is where she grew up. A pleasant childhood as a self-described “tomboy,” her father, a career salesman, was the athlete in the family, and with his support Jennifer discovered tennis. When asked how she landed on tennis, she conveyed a sense of self-reliance, something that has served her well in life. “I loved that it was all up to me out there,” she recalls, and even though she got started in the eight grade, “a bit later than others,” she became nationally ranked, landing her a college scholarship.
Raised in a large family of strong, independent women, self-confidence was instilled in her early with abundant examples of what women can and do accomplish when they decide to go after something and make it happen. Saks was an obvious choice, one you could say was “in her blood” since her mother, aunt, and others in her family all worked for the luxury department store chain.
An art major, Jennifer was drawn to fashion early in her life. Her grandmothers had taught her to sew, something she still does today, enjoying the thrill of finding fun items at thrift stores and then fixing them up.
Following her internship with Saks she moved into a high-profile advertising gig for De Beers. While sharing a cramped NYC studio apartment with her best friend, she went to work for a real-life version of “The Devil Wears Prada” boss, focused on marketing diamonds. Reminiscing about the life of Matthew McConaughey’s character who came up with the slogan “Frost yourself” in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” she smiles, recalling the thrilling days working on the diamonds campaign, then pauses before adding: “This was also when ‘Blood Diamonds’ came out, and we had to manage the PR that went with all of that too.”
Soon after, Jennifer was ready to bring her experience with New York life to a close and slow down a bit. She and Drew chose a small town 20 miles from Asheville, NC, and moved there. Because she was one of the few people who could work well with her boss, she was able to continue working the same job remotely, while Drew got another job cooking in a restaurant. They were living in a beautiful town called Lake Lure in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but the distance from Asheville had deceived them, since the drive over the mountain pass meant they were actually an hour away, from nearly anything.
Drew proposed the weekend they moved there and they married six months later. Feeling a bit caged in this town with fewer than two-thousand residents, they moved as soon as their year-long lease ended. Jennifer glosses over the year they stopped in Spartanburg, SC, during which time her advertising firm lost the De Beers account and she lost her job as a result, before they landed in Nashville. Here Jennifer landed a new marketing job and found yoga, having heard it could help her migraines. Drew got a job in a deli but working lunch hours so, for the first time, their schedules lined up.
The yoga studio she joined ran Bikram classes, held at 105 degrees, and she loved it. She studied with world-class yogis there, and got her teaching certification. Through her personal yoga journey, Jennifer learned to identify the triggers for her headaches so she could get a handle on them. She also went through her first self-study, where she was asked about her dreams. Jennifer realized she hadn’t even thought about that in a long time, and had been operating on autopilot, so she started to reflect and consider. During this time, she and Drew decided they were both unsatisfied with their jobs, ready to find deeper meaning and also ready to expand their family.
She got pregnant in Nashville, they bought a fixer-upper, and Drew learned how to do home renovations. During their many backyard conversations, they decided to put their home on the market and it sold in twenty-four hours. While packing up and playing with ideas of what they might do next, they decided to just take everything with them when attending a family reunion in Gulf Shores, where they simply moved in with her parents (who had left Austin for the Alabama coast years prior). They now had a destination, but no jobs and no certainty about what they would do next.
“I didn’t know what was next. This is where trust and faith come in. I just trusted it would work out.” Jennifer teaches this to her students when they’re in some stage of limbo. “Everyone wants it all to be crystal clear and it’s usually not that way. Sometimes it’s better not to know because what you don’t know may just blow your mind.”
When they arrived Jennifer and Drew knew two things. One was they would be their own bosses from now on, the other that they would either open a restaurant or a yoga studio. Additionally, they’d caught the home rehab bug in Nashville, so they bought a home in Soldier Creek that was “not livable” as Jennifer tells it, but with Drew’s new home improvement skills, they made it that way.
Soon after the decision was made, and Glow Yoga was born, Jennifer throwing herself into making her vision come to life, while also working on city planning projects. “What I’ve learned the most in the past ten years has been my challenge with this intense work ethic and wanting to be the best all the time.” Jennifer has taught herself the definition of “enough” and that it’s okay to let go of some things, which has helped her to grow, to become happier with who she is. “If you’re awake and in tune with things, you’ll see what you need, and this has helped me feel so in tune with the parallels of what other people are going through externally and how it is experienced internally.”
“Don’t think, just do.” Her mind wanders back to her tennis days and the mantra her coach instilled in her. “It’s up to me. I hold myself accountable. At the end of this life if I enjoyed it or not, it’s up to me.” Speaking of things up to her, Jennifer began setting new “hairy scary” goals for herself and checked each one of them off. From becoming a Lululemon ambassador to bringing yoga to the Hangout Beach Music Festival (where she led nearly 200 people in a class during the four-day spring event that brings nearly forty-thousand visitors to Gulf Shores each year) to making the “40 Under 40” list for Mobile Magazine, which she landed at age 39. She wanted to show other people that alternative paths can be viewed equally as successful as traditional business paths. She definitely did that. There isn’t much that Jennifer decides to do that doesn’t seem to happen.
This brings me to Jennifer’s newest goals, some audacious ideas poised to create better and healthier lives for the people in her entire community. Jennifer set a goal to turn the city of Gulf Shores into a Blue Zone, long before the Netflix documentary popularized the idea.
Blue Zones were established by Dan Buettner and modeled after the places in the world with the healthiest, longest-living populations, from Japan to Italy to Greece and California. The first discovered, Sardinia, Italy, contains ten times the number of centenarians as the U.S.
What was it about the people and the places that enabled such curve-bending health and longevity? Jennifer began to read, learn, and instantly started working to bring the best of this knowledge to her hometown, including the schools her children now attend.
Easily rattling off the consistent themes, Jennifer explains these communities have:
- Shared principles
- Ways of downshifting and de-stressing
- Faith in community
- Abundant access to move about naturally (walk or bike to school, work, stores, etc.)
- Happy hours – they drink, but do it socially
- Sense of purpose
- Healthy diets
“We have all of those things!” Jennifer’s enthusiasm grows as she explains what Gulf Shores most needs is support from infrastructure. Back to the early days of Glow Yoga when her landlord brought her in to help work on the Gulf Shores city vision for 2025, Jennifer had met some key players, developed a relationship with the mayor, and then four years ago a new neighbor (planning director for the city) invited her to be on the planning commission.
Again she jumped at the opportunity and has been on the commission ever since. She also began working with the schools on the wellness committee, her efforts hearkening back to her passion for helping people live healthier, more aligned lives.
She’s quick to give credit to the people working for the city of Gulf Shores, acknowledging how hard they work to better the city every day, and how much of that goes unnoticed, or worse, yields an endless litany of complaints.
What Jennifer feels she does well is build a bridge between the city and the city staff, proactively reaching out to identify programs like Blue Zones, and a fresh perspective to help get things done, from wellness initiatives and new menus in area schools, to biking and outdoor classes. She is helping the city find ways to implement pedestrian infrastructure and city programs that enable people to make healthy choices every day, influencing how they eat, move their bodies, and interact with others in the community.
At this point in our visit Jennifer, aware of the audio recorder sitting between us, drops nearly to a whisper and leans in as she shares her next “hairy scary” goal is to run for Gulf Shores city council next year! That goal may set her tummy rumbling, but the determination in her eyes as she shares it looks strikingly similar to when she spoke earlier in our conversation about her decision to open Glow Yoga, an unquestionable success for this community.
Indeed, she’s already helping spearhead projects to support her Blue Zone goal. In January, the city is embarking on a program to build safe paths to schools. “Only three percent of our kids walk or bike to school now and the entire radius is only seven miles, so this should really be doable.” Jennifer makes an excellent point – we have to create the paths that enable the behaviors. Gulf Shores, like many other communities, has the space and opportunity, but it takes foresight, vision, focus, and dedication to develop and implement the plans that grow healthier populations.
When they first got here, the Guthrie’s were still thinking of where they might go after Gulf Shores. Within a couple of years that was no longer a topic of conversation. There’s no question Gulf Shores is their home and Jennifer wants to be in service to this community. I’d argue she has been since the day she arrived.
When describing the growing number of rental properties they have bought and rehabbed, it becomes clear Jennifer and Drew consciously select opportunities that ensure they are making a positive impact, and creating real improvements to the community in these homes, not just income generators.
One of the reasons Jennifer and Drew moved here is because it’s such a great area to raise a family, and to be somewhat removed from the stress much of the country has, but they recognize there’s so much here that needs to be protected and maintained. “It would be so easy to get sucked into the stressful lifestyles of other cities.” Jennifer wants to help teach our kids to become leaders and embrace healthy communities.
It’s so true. Communities with healthy infrastructure didn’t trip onto it, they have intentionally created it, and that required fresh ideas, foresight and planning. This is where Jennifer comes in.
Jennifer’s plan is to serve the city of Gulf Shores as a councilperson and to make Gulf Shores a Blue Zone, the latter of which is a rather breathtaking goal that will require decades (if not more) to fully implement. Given her pattern of achieving what she puts her mind to thus far, however, I wouldn’t bet against her. On the contrary, I’d vote for her, next year in fact.