westside yoga

POSED — Tessa Manning, business manager at Westside Yoga, shows how it’s done. 

Some local services — like therapy — moved easily online after the COVID-19 epidemic hit. Others — like massage or spa businesses — have temporarily closed up shop. Fitness clubs and yoga studios might seem to fall in the latter category – what with all the exercise equipment and hands-on coaching — but that hasn’t been the case.

You can now find many west county yoga classes and some gyms right where you can find just about everything else these days — online. 

Ancient and modern, yoga moves online

Devorah Blum, the owner and director of Yoga Studio Ganesha in Sebastopol, was concerned about how such a high-touch service like teaching yoga would translate online, but she didn’t see an alternative. 

“We’re trying to keep the business going so we can reopen when it's safe to do so,” she said, noting that both she and yoga teacher Ann Austin are offering classes online via Zoom. “It’s a slow beginning but we're trying to make it work … it’s kind of a nice alternative for the moment. People are appreciating having classes.”

Yoga Studio Ganesha offers different types of yoga including Iyengar and Ashtanga, and also specializes in prenatal, mom and baby, and kid’s yoga.

Blum, who has owned Yoga Studio Ganesha for 20 years, said there are advantages and disadvantages to teaching yoga online.

On the upside, now that’s she’s not limited by the size of the room, she can fit more people in a class. On the downside, it’s harder to see what people are doing and make the kind of hands-on adjustments that are common in most yoga classes, especially those for beginners.

“It's interesting,” Blum said. “It's harder to see people and to really correct them, but there's times I just go up to my computer screen and really look at what people are doing and instruct them individually like I'm used to doing in my classes. But mostly they (the students) just put the screen on me so that they can see me and follow me and I talked them through what to do and give some modifications now and then.”

There is a schedule of classes on the website, and Blum advises people to email her or teacher Ann Austin to arrange payment through Paypal or Venmo and then she gives them the Zoom code to join a class.

Though she hopes people will sign up for classes at the regular studio price —$20 a class and a series of eight classes is $135 — Blum said she understands that this is a financially difficult time for many people. She offers the first Zoom yoga class for free and then, for those who are having financial difficulty because of the pandemic, she offers a sliding scale between $5 to $20 a class. 

Across town at Westside Yoga, owner and yoga teacher Erick Thuss never thought he’d teach yoga online.

“We've always felt that the student-teacher relationship in real-time is an essential aspect of yoga, so this is completely new territory for us,” he said.

Thuss said he added online scheduling and online payments to the website “as soon as we decided to close our doors on March 16.”

“We did our best to make it really smooth for our teachers to continue teaching online,” he said. “As far as our teachers go, we've left it up to them whether to go to live-streaming or not, and most of them jumped on it and started live-streaming classes immediately, and others did not and are taking the time off. We did not have to lay off anyone,” he said.

Thuss said he’s been pleasantly surprised by the online teaching experience.

“There are some aspects that are really great,” he said. “For instance, as a teacher, I can see everyone clustered on the screen all at once. When I demonstrate a pose the students can see me very clearly, and I can showcase specific things by zooming in on one body part or another, so visual demos can be very exact. Some other things have been wonderful surprises, like having students join us from all over the world... We've gone from a very local student-base to an international one almost overnight. Also, some students who used to study with us and then moved are able to join again and we are getting many brand new students as well.”

He agrees that there are also downsides, however.

“It has mainly been challenging to not be directly in front of the people I am teaching at any given time,” he said. “So much of the subtle communication, facial expressions, hearing people's breathing, etc., is lost with onscreen teaching.” 

Like Blum, Thuss said he’s being sensitive to people’s altered economic circumstance.

“We lowered our prices for online classes across the board,” he said. “We offer unlimited weekly and monthly passes. We also offer two donation-based classes per week which are as little as $5/class, which is sort of our version of a sliding scale.” 

Move it, move it, move it

What are more traditional fitness centers doing during shelter in place? Coaches Corner in Sebastopol has put all of its members’ gym memberships on hiatus and is offering Matrix home workout videos on its Facebook page. Circuit Fitness, a women’s gym on the south end of town, has been closed until further notice.

At CrossFit Sebastopol, owner Kris Keech, who bought the business a year ago, has moved all his classes online. 

“We usually offer five or six classes a day, and obviously, we’ve had to transfer to doing classes online,” he said, “which has been something I never expected to have to do. It's a whole different thing, but it seems to be working out pretty well,” though he said he’s had to change up the workouts.

“We have weights and different things that we use in CrossFit that people don't have at home,” he said, so he’s had to switch to exercises where people use their own bodyweight for strength building. 

“It's not perfect, but it's definitely working well enough for these people to feel like they're really getting something out of it,” he said. “At first I thought it wouldn't work very well at all because it's hard to coach somebody what with the little, small images on the Zoom screen, but what I have found is that's a small part of what our classes here are.”

In fact, Keech said, the experience has fundamentally changed his understanding of his work.

“It’s been an eye opening experience that has taught me more about what my members are actually looking for in the class,” he said. “It’s not just another workout — it’s the community. They miss seeing their friends and working out with their friends and just having that support, especially in these times. So having this opportunity for them to get together on Zoom, we're still working out together. It's really been helpful for a lot of people.”

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