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Stretching to fit the times

Yoga studios adapt to change caused by the coronavirus

by Olivia Murray

Local yoga studios have undergone significant changes to not only the number of students permitted in their classes but how their classes are conducted, and even the demographics of  clientele — all as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Three yoga studios in Morgantown — The Mindbody Center, Morgantown Power Yoga and Inner Life Yoga Studio — have all been affected by the pandemic, though the ways in which the virus has impacted these businesses differ. 

Chase Hyson, owner and operator of The Mindbody Center, offers a variety of services, including massage therapy and life coaching, in addition to workout programs and yoga classes. Hyson said  while some services offered at his studio have changed in compliance with COVID-19 regulations, others have remained almost unaltered. 

“[Yoga has] definitely been impacted because I’m not using the studio as much,” Hyson said. 

Hyson’s studio can host 20 people during a class, but the number of people allowed in the building at once decreased in accordance with social distancing. As the pandemic wore on, students began to feel uncomfortable with in-person attendance, further contributing to the decline in people attending classes at the studio. 

“People weren’t able to consecutively get their classes in, and people kind of just stopped coming altogether, except for maybe one or two people, and at that point, it’s not conducive to keep the class for one or two people,” Hyson said.

Hyson explained the difficulty of altering his style of teaching in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines. He can no longer physically help his students, adjust their positions or perform Thai Yoga Massages on them during class. “It’s changed the dynamic of the classes for sure,” he said.

Hyson said he doesn’t teach yoga online. However, Hyson’s business has still been functional as its other services have become more prominent. These services, particularly massage therapy, haven’t drastically changed,  Hyson said.

“A lot of [massage therapy] surrounds universal health care precautions and safety measures like clean linens, [the cleaning] of equipment, not touching a human body and then touching my face, washing of hands, clean nails, things like that. People wear masks for massages, and I offer a little paper mask that are easily disposable, and I think maybe those are the easiest to breathe in,” Hyson said. 

It is because of the other services offered through Hyson’s multi-faceted business that The Mindbody Center has been successful despite the hardship of COVID-19 on the Morgantown area, he said.

“Surprisingly, I actually have thrived this year. My massage and coaching have went up because people are now more stressed,” Hyson said. 

While The Mindbody Center may have managed to survive the difficult situation, another local yoga studio suffered.

Suhil Zia, owner of Morgantown Power Yoga, said  his yoga studio was a large, older building that lacked the potential for expansive ventilation, and  he made the decision to close his studio in March to protect himself, his teachers and his students. 

“It would not have been wise to practice yoga during [the outbreak of] a respiratory virus,” Zia said. 

Though Zia anticipated  the pandemic would be under control  quickly, he does not regret his decision to close his studio. 

“I would not have minded if I got sick. I just wouldn’t have felt good if I gave it to somebody else and they got hurt significantly or very seriously, so that was the biggest part of the decision-making,” Zia said. 

Since the closure of his studio, Zia has stayed involved in the Morgantown yoga community and has  been able to use his knowledge and expand his skills by offering online classes and working with Inner Life Yoga Studio. 

The transition to online classes was difficult for Zia. “It didn’t feel natural to me; it didn’t feel organic … it was very different,” Zia said. 

He said he did  acclimate to the new online teaching environment. 

At Inner Life Yoga Studio, Zia teaches Thursday classes that differ stylistically from what he taught at his own studio. Inner Life uses the Iyengar yoga method, an innovative form of yoga developed by B.K.S. Iyengar. 

“I was actually a student of their studio for the last two years. I’ve been taking their workshops. I just really love that place, I love the Iyengar method,” Zia said. 

Kimberly Williams, CEO of Inner Life Yoga Studio, said she and her co-owner husband are trying to make the necessary changes to their studio to keep their business afloat. The studio now offers online classes in addition to  onsite classes and has expanded its teaching staff to include styles of yoga supplementary to the Iyengar method the studio was founded on. 

“We brought Iyengar Yoga [to Morgantown] … we were students of [B.K.S. Iyengar] and we teach his style of yoga, or at least we did for the last 25 years,” Williams said. 

The studio offers courses in mindfulness, meditation and yoga therapy in addition to  traditional yoga.

Inner Life, too, experienced a shutdown in March due to the statewide stay-at-home order  implemented by Gov. Jim Justice. During the shutdown, Williams and her coworkers conducted classes over Zoom, which she said about “one-third” of her clientele attended. 

The studio has since been able to reopen, though there has been a significant loss of loyal but high-risk, older students and the retirement of three teachers. Since reopening, the studio has been adhering to COVID-19 guidelines by requiring face masks, social distancing, temperature checks and symptom screening for students upon arrival, and handwashing before and after classes.  

Williams said the process of replacing Iyengar Yoga instructors is difficult because the method requires five years of practice prior to beginning training as an instructor as well as an exam to gain certification. The training and certification process can sometimes take an additional five years to complete. 

The owners of Inner Life were forced to examine ways in which they could keep their passion for yoga  and their livelihood  alive. Their landlord has been willing to accommodate the owners, who did receive a West Virginia Cares Grant, which they used to pay off some back rent, while they reevaluate their business.

“We decided, ‘OK, we want to reach out to a younger population.’ A lot of the young people are doing what they call Vinyasa yoga … it’s more of an athletic workout, but it’s also something that young people like to do. We teach that, but it’s not our main thing,” Williams said.

To attract a younger clientele to the studio, Williams realized that meant incorporating more styles of yoga and bringing in younger teachers.

Bri D’Alessandro, a student of Williams and an instructor of Monday classes at Inner Life, expressed gratitude for the staff at Inner Life for mentoring her.

“I’m so lucky I’ve got an opportunity to work with Kimberly and be a part of the Inner Life teacher team and staff. There are a lot of amazing people that have helped support and allowed us to stay open despite COVID-19,” D’Alessandro said. 

Inner Life Yoga Studio has  incorporated  discount offers. Students of all ages — middle school, high school and college — are  eligible for a 25% discount. Teachers are also encouraged to take advantage of the 25% discount through Jan. 31, 2021.

“Trying to get the word out, that’s the challenge,” Williams said.