“This is practicing yoga in the time of COVID-19.”Nick Combs, co-owner of M3Yoga in Athens, Georgia

As a result of the ongoing pandemic, yoga studios are one of many establishments deemed “non-essential” by Georgia’s statewide shelter-in-place ordinance, forcing local Athens studios to reevaluate how they will service their membership without physically congregating. 

On March 14, 2020, weeks before Gov. Brian Kemp would announce the executive order, M3Yoga Studio announced on Instagram that the studio would be closed until further notice. Nick Combs, co-owner of M3Yoga and a registered nurse, had been monitoring the pandemic closely. 

“Despite trying to keep everything clean…I could no longer say that I could keep everyone safe with the way the pandemic was trending, so I made the decision to close the studio,” Combs said via phone call. 

Two days later, Shakti Yoga also announced it would be closing its doors until it was safe for members to return to the studio.

Both studios have since rolled out virtual options. 

“We kind of took two trajectories: one, pre-recorded content, we have over 100 classes on our on-demand platform now,” Combs said. “And we’re offering 33 live classes a week, which comes as a part of our current membership plan, and there’s also our virtual membership plan.” 

Shakti Yoga has offered virtual alternatives since 2019 with Shakti @ Home, offering audio classes and meditations to members. Emily Unwin, community connections manager/instructor at Shakti Yoga, said the expansion to a wholly virtual studio is facilitated by a new member who donated technology and equipment to the studio free of charge. The donor helped set up the professional grade equipment within 24 hours of the studio closing.

 Why It’s Newsworthy: Local studios have since been given the green light to reopen on Friday, April 24 but are continuing to operate virtually until the severity of the pandemic subsides. 

 

Both yoga studios are offering memberships for whole households. At M3Yoga, the per household membership is new—a direct response to social distancing and self-quarantining. 

“In order to not complicate things for people, we wanted to offer the platform to households so people could practice together to encourage community and a sense of connection amongst the people they were potentially self-isolating with,” Combs said. 

Shakti Yoga continues to offer their per household membership at a reduced price. Membership prices operate on a sliding scale, relying on donations from those who are able to cover costs of other memberships. Some pay as little as $10 a month, Unwin said. 

 

On top of learning new platforms and facing jammed bandwidth, both M3Yoga and Shakti Yoga said another hurdle has been controlling the environment during class time. 

“Part of what we struggle with is getting the music just right, getting audio just right…It’s hard, too, being a yoga studio that prides itself on connection, because it’s a different kind of connection that happens over an online platform…I have to be more intentional with creating connection,” Unwin said. 

Shakti Yoga instructors set up their virtual studio in preparation for class. (Photo Courtesy/Shakti Yoga
From left to right: Ruby Chandler, Maggie Scruggs and Emily Unwin lead virtual yoga classes for members to tune into at Shakti Yoga in Athens, Georgia. Unwin said the three instructors have been self-quarantining together. (Photo Courtesy/Shakti Yoga)

Despite the setbacks, there have been unforeseen benefits to a virtual studio. Waitlisted classes are no longer an issue, with online video calls facilitating class sizes larger than the capacity of either studio. Combs at M3Yoga said the virtual livestream classes can facilitate up to 100 people, whereas the studio started waitlisting classes after 40 people. 

“We’ve also had a lot of people leave the area, but the virtual membership has allowed them to continue to practice. Even those who moved away six months ago or a year ago, that are now jumping onto our virtual membership because they miss us. Which has been really amazing to see some students that have moved for whatever reason,” Combs said. 

Combs said the studio will continue to offer virtual memberships “in some capacity” once the pandemic subsides. 

“Shakti’s always been a smaller studio…I’ve had to practice in the hallway a couple times” Unwin said. “It’s been cool to get anywhere from 30 to 50 people in a class. We have less classes in a day so that allows for bigger numbers.” 

Unwin said membership has remained steady so far. 

“It felt like a challenge, and at the same time, really hopeful and beautiful that our community is still so strong despite the barriers.”Emily Unwin, instructor at Shakti Yoga in Athens, Georgia

Yoga has proven useful for reducing anxiety and depression and elevating mood, and online yoga classes are a useful tool to scratch our itch for social interaction while self-isolating. In the midst of this pandemic, both Unwin and Combs offer insight on the value of yoga during uncertain and stressful times. 

 

 

Lilly McEachern is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, minoring in art history in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences with a certificate in museum studies at The University of Georgia.

Editor’s Note: We have removed a phrase from the previous headline that was culturally insensitive to those who use the greeting. Grady Newsource regrets the error.

 

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