Yoga In the Pandemic. Three Major Changes for the Yoga Industry

2020 has been what I affectionately like to call, a “Hella Year.” Chaos sorta sums it up, but can Chaos really be summed up? Deep thoughts.

As an avid yoga practioner for over a decade and yoga studio owner for over 4 years, I have seen my favorite practice grow, change and get deeper every step of the way. This Pandemic is no exception. Just like a personal yoga practice, the Business of Yoga has also changed, significantly, and although I don’t necessarily love the changes (now), it doesn’t mean that it is the end of a “way to teach.”

My studio, Thrive Yoga and Wellness was shut down on March 19, 2020 due to Covid-19. I was both incredibly lucky and also very well prepared (in some ways) relative to other studios. In the 4th quarter of 2018, I started playing with the idea of live streaming yoga classes. This was “novel” for my area, especially since Thrive is considered one of the “smaller” “suburban studios compared to the other 3 downtown Chattanooga yoga studios.

At the time, I don’t think my clients were super excited about it. I know even up to the last few weeks before we were shut down, they didn’t love the camera in the studio. Honestly, I can’t say that I blame them in some ways.

To say the prep work for this was easy would be a complete lie. I had to learn technology (which I loathe), I had to try many different angles, lighting (still haven’t figured that out all the way), and don’t get me started on the total quantities of microphones I’ve tried. I almost gave up several times, but I had some pretty cool mentors that kept pushing me forward so prior to COVID-19, I actually had close to 50 different pre-recorded yoga videos inside Thrive Online ranging from tutorials on individual poses, to beginner and more advanced sequences of varying lengths between 5 minutes to 75 minutes. I was trying to create a library of pre-recorded sessions that would enable people to take their yoga with them no matter where they went.

Leading up to the shut down, I saw studios all around me closing down and losing all their revenue sources. I saw people completely without live classes and I thought I HAD to do something so that my tribe of people wouldn’t suffer like that. About two weeks before the shut down, I started asking my teachers to allow me to record their classes. Almost all of them enthusiastically said yes. Almost all of them agreed to learn the technology.

It took me about 10 days to get all the amazing Thrive Teachers together and ready, but on March 19th at 10 am, when the Mayor of Chattanooga announced all gyms were closed, we were live streaming a yoga class with a handful of attendees in person and online. That night, we went straight to live streaming only all of our yoga classes.

We didn’t miss a single class due to COVID 19.

This is me leading a session from my living room. You can’t see the laundry behind the camera that I folded right after class.

I am so incredibly proud of our “small” studio that was way ahead of the curveball that was COVID 19 and how we never once had to “shut down” our services. The Thrive Tribe was fully connected and ready to roll in this new, online environment.

Now, that’s not saying it all went perfectly.

One day, I had to run to a teacher’s house to help deliver my Ipad to stream a class because hers wasn’t working. The first two weeks, I had NO automation in place to deliver Zoom video links, so I was manually doing that via my phone up to the time of class start time, depending on when people signed up. On the night of Easter, we had an EF 3 (or 4) tornado touch down, literally, in our parking lot, completely obliterating two businesses that are a stone’s throw away from my building.

My building was left standing.

My unit was the only unit with the roof still on it.

We had a TOUGH time. BUT, Thrive Yoga and Wellness was blessed.

We missed a few classes that week because the majority of our members were either dealing with the fall out of that tornado, without power, or helping the disaster relief. However, for the most part, the Thrive Tribe could still practice yoga almost as much online as they had before the Pandemic.

We are looking at being able to open the studio back up this week and I wanted to talk about a few things I think will be forever changed in the yoga business.

The Yoga Business after COVID – 19

Yoga is more important now than ever. With the very real stress and anxiety that is global, people need to find a time to disconnect, move, breathe, and connect with their bodies while disconnecting from the chaos of the mind. Yoga does just that for all people. However, while folks in Tennessee are allowed to go back in public places and gyms, that’s not the case everywhere (and not everyone wants to.)

Top 3 changes in the Yoga Business as I see it.

  1. Live Stream Yoga is here to stay. Although many traditional teachers are loathe to come to terms with this (as a LOT is missed in live-streamed classes vs in person classes), but live-stream classes will remain a necessity for yoga and wellness studios around the world. I know nothing will replace the attention a teacher gives you inside his/her class, but if the very real threat of a life-taking virus is at stake, virtual sessions makes sense both for the student and the teacher.
  2. Hands On Assists will be fewer and farther between. This breaks my heart to write as I absolutely LOVE to be assisted and I LOVE to assist people. I am from a very old school training where teachers don’t practice while leading a class, they may demo part of a sequence, but otherwise, the teacher is supposed to be walking around, teaching, watching, and assisting. In this new live-stream or virtual world, teachers HAVE to lead by doing. Teachers that can lead a class with their words and only supplement the session with their example, those are magical classes because the teacher is able to be fully aware of what is going on in the class and can modify the session based on the energy of the room, the participants in the class, and so many other factors. In a more virtual, hands free class room, teachers will be leading by doing which isn’t the best way for the teacher to know what is going on with their students.
  3. Many Yoga Studios will close. I hate saying this, especially when my own business is so precariously perched on the line of “making it or not.” However, the cards aren’t stacked in boutique studio space favor. Between “best practices” that require insanely hard to come by sanitation practices that are expensive in an already low profit margin business, combined with limited class sizes (again, in an already tight profit margin business), and very high Commercial Lease rates. It is a scary place to be right now; leading a boutique fitness studio. (this is coming from a studio owner that has tried diligently to diversify services and product offerings as well as someone that has tried to stay ahead of “the curve” in terms of boutique studio online offerings.

How Your Personal Yoga Practice Post Covid – 19 Will Change

Across the globe, personal gym or studio practices are going to have to change right along with the businesses that provide those services. Some of these changes aren’t necessarily a bad thing perse but they aren’t exactly all great either. I am primarily an Ashtanga Yoga practitioner, with teachers that have always advocated home practices (personal or self-led practices), but I realize that most people aren’t taught this way, or familiar with this practice so here are the 3 main changes that modern yogis are going to find themselves facing.

  1. Students will embrace a home practice. This was tough for me. It took me 5 years to prefer a home practice more often than not to a studio practice. I mean, who wants to look up and see the pile of laundry or dirty dishes staring at them during a particularly challenging sequence? (I know I still don’t love that part.) Students also have to fight for mat space with dogs and children and there’s nothing quite so relaxing as a 3-year-old naked bottom streaking across the room with a delighted squeal (or appalled, depends on the day.) However, when class sizes are limited, potential shutdowns are looming, or in all seriousness, the inevitability of closure of many boutique facilities because of reduced class sizes increased cleaning costs, and decreased in person demands, the likelihood of small studio survival just got lower and lower. Students will become more comfortable with online programming, online teaching and they will embrace it because they know how important it is to move, breathe, and continue to try to stay healthy.
  2. Hands on Assists will be fewer and far between. Just like above for businesses, this is probably more of a bad thing for students than teachers. I can’t tell you how many asanas I have conquered with the help of my teacher placing their hand in just the right place at the exact right time. The teacher/student relationship is so sacred to me, and the loss of this physical component breaks my heart. Hands on and verbal cues help teach the student better body awareness and improves the mind/body connection. In this new virtual world, the student is left with listening to the cues a teacher gives (while also practicing) and the student hopes that the teacher experiences similar sensations (or is knowledgeable enough to know about these) in the poses to be able to provide verbal cues that may help.
  3. Students will have to be prepared. Because class sizes are limited, so reservations are required, last minute attendance may be a thing of the past. Students will have to commit to their class time, and be willing to pay a fee if something comes up and they can’t make it (something generally not seen in smaller markets.)

These lists are by no means exhaustive, but the ones I think will be the biggest changes for studios and clients. What do you think? Is there something I may be missing? Of course, I hope I am wrong in some of the changes (I can’t wait to assist my students again –and be assisted!) and I certainly hope boutique studios can make it. However I am excited about the global audience that online streaming offers. Perhaps, when this is all said and done, we will be able to gather in a full class, breathe, sweat, smile and move along with the camera and countless homes around the world AND 1-3 classroom assistants. That would be the sign of a Thriving Yoga Community in my book.

If you would like to talk, feel free to send me an email, I’d love to hear your thoughts.