How My Small-Town Yoga Studio Survived The Pandemic

This morning I read an article in the Washington Post called Science of Forgetting: Why we’re already losing our pandemic memories by Richard Sima.

Sima says that without cultural artifacts—books, movies, statues, museums—we will forget Covid, just like we forgot the pandemic of 1918.

That’s part of the reason I want to write this post. I want to remember and document what happened to the yoga studio after it closed for a year and a half due to Covid. 

Oddly enough, I’m finding it harder to remember how the studio was before Covid than how it is now.

I definitely was on autopilot before Covid. The studio had that amazing moment in 2008 and grew steadily from there.  

But after 2010, the years blur for me. 

 April Yoga Challenges continued as big annual events, but I had to rein them in because they became too unwieldy: too many people and classes a day. 

Between 2010 and 2020, the market for yoga here in Tioga County stabilized. Anyone who wanted a yoga class knew where they could find one: Main Street Yoga. 

I wasn’t attracting new people anymore. I had exhausted any potential market of the interested or curious. My people were my people. The population of Tioga County is 40K and has been 40K for the last ten years. People aren’t moving here or leaving here. 

The population trend line of Tioga County is flat. 

My offerings had stabilized, too. Every week was anchored by three core classes: Power, Gentle, and Happy Hour Yoga, and seasonally I would offer specialty classes like Core or Yin or Meditative Posture Flow.

Much to my delight, some of my students got certified to teach, and I would give them opportunities to run classes on particular nights or mornings.

I ran this whole operation off a Rolodex filled with punch cards. I took cash and checks. I printed up monthly calendars for people to take home and hang on their fridges.

MindBody, a popular yoga scheduling software company, would hound me mercilessly to try their system. I did try it for about six months, but my people rejected it. They didn’t want to book and pre-pay online. They wanted to walk up the steps, hand me a ten-dollar bill, and be done with it.

The most high-tech moment for the business came when I got a Square register which allowed me to take credit cards.

The reaction of my students was, “Woo-hoo! look at you getting all fancy!”

I had Power people, Gentle people, and the Happy Hour crowd. And they all knew one another. Yoga class was where they came to practice and schmooze. 

They had their favorite spots in the room, too, and god forbid if someone new would unknowingly unfurl their mat in the spot of a regular. 

And this was how things rolled until March 13, 2020. 

At first, I thought I’d be closed for a few months until we flattened the curve. 

I closed on March 13th, 2020, and didn’t re-opened for in-person classes until September 13, 2021—545 days. A year and a half. 

When I realized this thing would be big, ugly, and long, I desperately needed to stay connected to the Power people, the Gentle People, the Happy Hour people, and everyone who subscribed to the newsletter even after they moved away.

I loved these people, and I felt their love for me. And all yoga-doing aside, I didn’t want us to lose each other in this. So I needed to find a way to keep us connected. I had to build a channel, create a portal, or find some other way to string our soup cans together so we could navigate this very weird, unsettling time.  

So with Marie Forleo’s mantra of Everything is Figureoutable as my guide, I set out to learn everything I didn’t think I was smart enough to learn: software, editing, lighting, and audio.

I learned it from YouTube videos and Skillshare classes.

I bought a ton of stuff: a reliable video camera, tripods, box lights, and a teleprompter and adapters.

I even learned to ignore the intense feelings of self-loathing I experienced every single time I watched myself on camera.

 I learned to smile at the little red dot on that camera and talk to it like a person. I swallowed my natural tendency to make jokes and snide remarks because I discovered that stuff is not funny on replay.

And miraculously, this rocky boat weathered the storm.

Today, people who eight years ago flatly refused to book and pre-pay using MindBody are now scheduling, registering, paying, and logging in to live streams like it’s nothing. 

My love/hate relationship with the video camera has resulted in a library of over one hundred pre-recorded classes to practice with at home.

Power, Gentle, and Happy Hour classes have returned to the studio, but now you can join them remotely from wherever life finds you: Florida, Wisconsin, Alabama, and recently, even St Johns in the Virgin Islands. 

The other night four souls braved the sleet and cold to come to the studio, and another ten joined remotely from their cozy homes.

And while I miss the energy of a big room full of breathing, moving humans, and hope they will soon return when the weather improves, this new way isn’t bad.

It saves time, energy, and gas, which can present huge barriers to practicing.  I love that there are now so many more options. 

Before Covid, if you wanted to practice you had to move your molecules into the practice room at 5:30 or not practice at all.

Now you can come and spread your mat out in the studio and enjoy the quiet ambiance of its blank walls, wooden floors, and towering skylights, or log in from your deck or bedroom and see your friends on zoom and in the room.  You can even fire up a pre-recorded class at 6 AM and get your practice in before work. 

It’s not the same as before.

Nothing is the same as before. 

The only thing that’s the same as before is that we’re still here together, moving and breathing and appreciating one another.

And that’s truly remarkable.. We met the moment and we owned it.

Bravo to all of us!

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