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PERSPECTIVES: Yoga studios change with the pandemic

Sue Parsley of Lenox Yoga believes the pandemic is an opportunity to learn to trust and let go of our preconceived notions.

Your favorite yoga studio is changing. As the pandemic goes on, and we go on, studios are altering how they serve their clients. In-person classes have pivoted into a new kind of yoga experience and it’s reshaping the future of studios.

When the pandemic hit, Sue Parsley, owner of Lenox Yoga in Lenox, Mass., revamped her entire business plan. “I knew I was going to have to find a new way to do business if I wanted to stay open,” she said. She moved all her classes to an online platform called Patreon and reduced her rates.

Lenox Yoga outdoor class at Lilac Park in Lenox, Mass. during Covid.
Photo credit: Sue Parsley

For $17 a month, which is about 50 cents a day, you can access an array of Parsley’s yoga videos anytime for your personal use. “I wanted to make it accessible to everyone,” she said. The model is panning out well so far. “It works for the community and also helps to support a small business like mine.” Parsley said it’s helped her to weather the Covid storm and keep her business viable.

She’s also holding classes outdoors with social distancing spacing and has recently resumed indoor classes. Indoor classes are limited to 8 people with 6- feet social distancing spacing; masks are worn for the more vigorous breathing classes; for the gentle stretch classes masks may be removed but are required to and from your mat. There are no hands-on adjustments — so your triangle pose won’t be tweaked by the instructor.

Students are required to bring their own mat and props. Hand sanitizer is provided and all surfaces are wiped down before and after classes.

“People are really suffering from sitting indoors,” Parsley said. “They’re craving human connection and miss talking to and seeing others.” With her offerings, she’s striving to build a sense of community and a way for people to connect.

Parsley believes the pandemic is an opportunity to learn to trust and let go of our preconceived notions of what we think the outcome should be. “It’s about letting the river take us where we need to go,” she said.

Yoga Great Barrington pre-pandemic indoor class. Photo: Elaina Mortali

Emily Pearl Alfano, founder and director of Red Barn Wellness  in Great Barrington admits she was initially resistant to Zoom (the now-popular video platform) and went online “kicking and screaming.” “I really didn’t want to do the technology,” she confessed. But now she’s glad she did. The Great Barrington studio owner has since seen an increase in class size. “I’ve been able to expand access and reach people who wouldn’t have come into the studio.”  She’s considering hosting outdoor classes but hasn’t solidified plans yet. Yoga is breath-based, Alfano explained, and some people still feel uncomfortable, even outdoors.

Alfano stopped charging for classes when the pandemic began. “Yoga works on such a deep level to promote health, and especially during a health crisis like this, I feel strongly about offering it for free,” she said. Science backs up the benefits of the practice and doctors prescribe it, she added. Yoga changes the structure of the brain and strengthens the brain’s neurotransmitters, which induce calm and well-being.

“The pandemic has really made us face ourselves,” she pointed out. “We’re stuck in our houses, learning new things about ourselves. It’s about trying to love what you see and not judging it.”

This is a challenging time for brick-and-mortar studios, admitted Alfano, who poured her “heart and sweat” into her studio and is now rethinking its future.

Gillian Gorman, owner Yoga Great Barrington in Great Barrington, had never even heard of Zoom until Covid. “I didn’t know anything about it until a friend told me,” said Gorman. In an effort to sustain her business, she decided to try it. “Yoga Great Barrington is one of the oldest studios in Berkshire County (it was originally Berkshire Mountain Yoga, founded by Karen Allen) and I wanted to keep it going.”

Yoga Great Barrington outdoor class at the Prairie Whale during COVID. Photo: Gillian Gorman

Now, she says Zoom has saved her studio. “It’s allowed us to livestream our classes and continue our craft,” asserted Gorman. People who previously drove from Columbia County, New York and other places, no longer have to commute; people can tune in from anywhere. “I think online classes are here to stay.”

In addition, she’s offering classes outdoors at The Prairie Whale in Great Barrington, Mass. and TurnPark in West Stockbridge. Outdoor classes are livestreamed as well. Costs for Yoga Great Barrington are $12.00 – $13.00 per class.

Gorman is aiming to start in-studio classes in September but said it depends on the direction in which the crisis is headed.

The pandemic has shaken up our lives, she said. Daily routine things that we took for granted as normal have changed significantly. “I no longer take anything for granted now,” Gorman affirmed. “You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone.”


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