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The Unlocking Of Yoga Classes & How Best To Protect Yourself

Ganesh with mask

"With the opportunity to go back to class, I feel we can find the ability to rise up and address the challenges we face together" 

(Read time approx. 11 min. 30 sec.)

As a locked-down stir-crazy yoga teacher, I thought it might be interesting and perhaps even useful to try and get a sense of what a post-lockdown yoga world could look like. Although I don't have a crystal ball, one thing I can say for certain is that when we all eventually get back to class it won’t be anything like what we’ve experienced before.

All yoga classes, whether in a local church hall or an exclusive members club won’t officially be able to resume until the health and wellness sector has been given the go-ahead by the UK government - which at the time of writing thankfully feels like it’s just around the corner and could be as early as mid-July.

Clearly, not everyone’s experience of yoga’s “new normal” is going to be the same, but I’ve tried to come up with an overall vision of what to expect and how to protect yourself when you finally get the chance to return to a yoga class.

I’ve broken my predictions down into three categories:
1. What you can do to protect yourself in class.
2. What to expect, or even suggest, when you return.
3. New trends in yoga we might see as a result of COVID-19.

How to Protect Yourself In Class

The challenge as I see it is that, for the most part, yoga classes take place in a confined space, with a large group of people, over a long period of time: basically all the things you want to be avoiding in the middle of a pandemic. But let’s assume you’ve made an informed choice and you’ve decided to go back to class, the question then becomes - what can I do to protect myself? 

Mask or No Mask

I suppose the logical place to start would be to decide whether or not you want to wear a mask. Although wearing a mask is definitely not conducive to yoga and would have been totally unthinkable just a few short months ago, I feel it’s definitely worth thinking about now.

As much as it still remains a personal choice, the advice in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, is to consider wearing a face covering in enclosed public spaces where social distancing can be difficult.

If at this point if you’re not sure, it might be worth just having a mask with you, in many cases that might be all you need to give you the confidence to enter a class environment again.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with wearing a mask in any situation as I feel it’s not only one of the most effective ways of cutting the infection rate but also demonstrating we are committed to other people’s health as well as our own.

I actually have a feeling that wearing face masks could become a new fitness trend with many of the big sports brands producing their own versions of PPE especially designed for athletes. Of course, if you have any questions about any type of face coverings and how it might affect your practice it would be best to seek advice from your yoga teacher.

Hygiene of Studio Mats

Although most of us in the past have become used to rocking up to class and grabbing the first mat we see, that now comes with its own set of risks. According to a recent study in the Lancet, Coronavirus can last on some surfaces up to seven days. Although I’m sure every studio and gym will make hygiene a top priority, bear in mind that there is a big difference between wiping a mat clean and disinfecting it.

If you have any concerns regarding the effectiveness of any of the cleaning products available in class or even how they might affect you, I would definitely talk to your teacher or enquire with a member of staff in advance of the class.

Yoga mats

Because the coronavirus is spread through infected droplets that are either inhaled or that land on surfaces, along with mask wearing, having your own mat or towel might be one of the most effective ways to protect yourself in a class.

If you don’t own a mat and are thinking of investing in one for hygiene reasons, it’s important to understand that yoga mats fall into two basic categories, porous and non-porous.

Many of the new types of yoga mats with improved grip have a porous top layer that absorbs moisture from the surface. This is great when it comes to grip, but it also means that these types of mats are hard to clean thoroughly.

On the other hand, because non-porous mats don’t absorb moisture, they are generally much easier to wipe down and clean, but if you’re using them for a hot or dynamic class, they won’t give you as much grip.

Yoga Towels

Ok full disclosure on yoga towels. I’ve created what I consider to be the best yoga towel on the market - the Gecko Touch. But having said that, this is exactly why I felt I wanted to create it in the first place. I got to a point where I had become tired of having to use what I considered to be unhygienic studio mats and I wanted something that not only would be easy to keep clean but would also give me great performance and grip - and there was nothing out there that did that.

What I’ve always loved about using a yoga towel is that not only are they easy to fold and take to class, but once I’ve finished, I can throw my towel in a washing machine and it dries in no time. They work well on practically any surface and act as a perfect protective barrier when placed on top of a studio mat.

Because I’ve been conscious of using something hygienic to practice on for a while, I’ll often use a combination of my own mat and towel. Not only does using my own towel on top of my mat make my mat last longer, but I can always guarantee that I have at least one totally clean surface to practice on.

Things to Keep In Mind

I know it should go without saying, but please avoid going to class even if you have the slightest suspicion you might be unwell. Also, as it is best to avoid touching your face, you might want to have a small hand-towel with you in class. You might also want to have a small bottle of hand sanitizer just in case. Oh... and if you do end up using a contact tracing app you might want to have your phone on silent beside your mat as well.

What to Expect When You Return to Class

It seems like the phased exit of coming out of lockdown is going to be a lot harder than going in. It breaks my heart, but my fear is that many excellent yoga centres will have gone out of business. However, although it’s going to be slow at first, there will be studios that will re-open – just expect things to be very different.

Social Distancing

Perhaps the most noticeable difference and the hardest challenge facing any yoga studio is going to be how to run classes while having to comply with social distancing. I’m sure at some point we’ll see a reduction of the 2-meter rule but even if we do, it still means that, at least to start with, most classes will only be able to operate at somewhere between 20% to 40% capacity, which is nowhere near enough to sustain a business.

As a way of maintaining the appropriate distance between mats, I think we are likely to see some kind of markings on the floor that delineate the space around each mat. I know we’re a friendly bunch that love to hug, but please bear in mind that you’ll also have to social distance if you have to wait outside a class before it begins. 

First Come First Served

Due to the reduction in the number of people able to attend a class, I would imagine that most classes will be run on a first-come-first-served basis, which might also mean you will have to book online or over the phone.

Shorter Classes to Accommodate More People

I have a feeling that a lot of popular classes will over subscribe and as a result we could start seeing shorter classes to accommodate more students. For example, a 1.5-hour class could be replaced by two separate back-to-back 1-hour classes with the same teacher. 

Traffic Flow System

A top priority for a studio will be trying to avoid congestion at busy times. As a result, I think we’ll see some studios using traffic flow systems, similar to what we’ve been seeing in supermarkets. This will help to guide people to and from class as quickly and safely as possible.

Face Masks for Staff

I imagine that most gyms and studios will adopt a strict mask-wearing policy for all staff. As for yoga teachers, I’m not sure. Personally, I realise I might not be able to wear a mask the entire time I’m teaching but as long as I’m social distancing I suppose I’ll just have to play it by ear. I will however make sure that I’m wearing a mask when I enter and leave the room.

During the Class

Of course, each teacher has their own way of teaching and we will all be affected differently by mask wearing and distancing. The main difference will be that teachers will no longer be able to do any physical adjustment, which means there is likely to be less emphasis on one-to-one instruction and perhaps more explanation through demonstration.

A Big Emphasis on Hygiene

Naturally, we are bound to see yoga studios adopting increased levels of hygiene with floors being washed and yoga mats being wiped down on a regular basis. We are also bound to see hand sanitiser at the studio doorway for use on the way in and out of class. I would even think that as a way of instilling confidence in the students some studios will go as far as producing visible lists of all the increased measures they’ve put in place.

Reduction in Amenities

Although washbasins and toilets may or may not be in use, I’m fairly sure that to begin with, changing rooms will be out of bounds. Which of course means you’re probably going to have to wear as much of your yoga outfit as possible and use the bathroom before leaving home.

I would also think that any water fountains will be out of use, so also make sure you bring a water bottle. It’s also possible that any snack areas will be closed and seating removed in places where people tend to congregate.

Teachers Who Have Antibodies

I’m not totally sure about this and it could end up becoming quite controversial, but I feel we could see some teachers who have developed natural antibodies using that as a way of promoting their classes. I hope not, this would only divide teachers into two groups, and I don’t think we want to go down that route.

Everyone Will Be Feeling The Pressure

Although everyone will be itching to get back to class, naturally some people are going to be feeling less confident than others. The onus is definitely going to be on the gyms and studios, not only to safeguard everyone’s health but also to ensure a quality of teaching under what can only be described as very challenging conditions. As much as they might only get one chance to get this right, I also feel that we in the yoga community have a role to play by supporting our favourite teacher or studio with our continued presence.

New Post Lockdown Trends in Yoga

Lockdown has hit the yoga industry extremely hard with studios and gyms anxious about remaining in business and yoga teachers losing most if not all of their regular income. On top of this, it looks as if the restrictions on yoga will be eased at a time when we could be entering one of the most significant recessions in years. As a result, I feel studios and teachers are going to have to re-imagine a new future for yoga with new and exciting ways to engage their students.

Restructuring Classes and Times

Because of the forced reduction in class size we could start seeing some studios trying to spread people to classes at quieter times in the day by introducing special rates and offers.

In-Person and Online Classes

As well as being a lifeline to many teachers the biggest innovation to come out of lockdown has been the rise of the Zoom yoga class. These live online classes have become extremely popular and like working from home I feel is a glimpse of the future of yoga.

I believe coronavirus has forced us into a whole new era of yoga and as a result we will start seeing well-known yoga studios from around the world begin transitioning into a hybrid lessons by offering both in-person and on-line classes in parallel. In fact, I’m aware of several big studios that are already fitting out their yoga rooms with cameras and mics with the ability to stream regular live classes. 

Outside Classes

Especially now the summers here were bound to see more and more teachers teaching yoga classes in parks. These pop-up style open-air yoga classes are clearly a great way of getting people together in relative safety.

Although it seems to be only small groups at the moment, I could also see with the right organisation and the right amount of space one-off lager outdoors event with a roster of teachers and even live acts and DJ’s. Maybe it’s just my wishful thinking but something like this could be great way of celebrating coming out of lockdown and getting everyone back into yoga!!  

The Healing Power Of Satsang

It’s in uncertain times like these that I feel we all need and value our practice more than ever. Even though many of us have been fortunate enough to continue practicing throughout lockdown on our own or via zoom, we are a community, a community that finds strength in coming together to be social and to practice alongside one another – this is what in yoga is known as Satsang.

The purpose and power of Satsang seem to be particularly poignant as and when we can return to class, as the coming together of spiritually like-minded people with similar aspirations is considered to be a way of not only encouraging kinship but is seen as an important role in overcoming hardship and suffering. We were not asked to be in the situation we find ourselves in but with the opportunity to go back to class I feel we can find the ability to rise up and address the challenges we face together.

Take care and take care of each other.

Useful Links

Howard's Online Zoom Yoga For Stress Class

Howard's Blog
Can Yoga Really Boost Your Immune System?

UK Governments Guidance on Coronavirus

World Health Organisation Coronavirus Information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Coronavirus Updates | WIRED



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