San Francisco

Bay Area yoga teachers scramble to adapt as shelter-in-place shutters studios

Large yoga studios including CorePower Yoga, YogaWorks and Yoga Tree have temporarily closed their Bay Area locations due to the shelter-in-place order, requiring all gyms and recreation facilities to no longer welcome students.

Yoga Alliance, a registry of yoga teachers and schools that oversees teacher training guidelines, has also recommended the cancellation of all in-person yoga classes.

The closures affect countless smaller yoga studios that are racing to find ways to keep loyal students in a competitive Bay Area market. 

"I'm very worried that the lockdown will close many small businesses including mine," Bend Yoga studio owner Heather Charmatz tells Hoodline. "The predictions as to how long this will last are too long for most small businesses to stay afloat."

Screenshot: Sangha Yoga/Facebook

"It all happened so fast," Sangha Yoga studio owner Giovanna Romaguera tells us. First, it was no more prop use, then limited classes and the next day it was "nevermind, we are closing down".

Yoga studios set up live classes on Zoom, Google Hangout, Instagram or Facebook Live, as well as YouTube or Vimeo channels, to continue to offer business as usual from the living rooms of the teachers.

Romaguera offers classes on Facebook Live for free and anyone in the world can join, she said. She asks people to keep their membership if they can, otherwise, students can cancel with no fees. She explained that she's now selling spring sale packages that can be redeemed later.

"I don't think that there is a single place that isn't live streaming," yoga teacher Christie Pitko said.

Pitko, who teaches at Yoga Garden SF, tells us she wanted to put classes online for quite some time but it takes time and effort to set everything up just right. She said she believes that it's beneficial to practice online with a teacher you already know from in-person classes.

Charmatz isn't convinced that will be enough. "Online classes will bring in very little revenue and it's not a financially sustainable solution," she explained. She thinks that there are already many online class platforms that are very inexpensive. "I don't see our studio competing with well-established streaming services," she said.

What might work for vinyasa classes doesn't work as well for Yoga Phamily owner Ngan Pham, who offers classes with babies, prenatal and postnatal yoga, as well as childcare. "For us, it's really hard," she said. Many of her students, including pregnant people, come to classes at the studio because of the community. During some classes, kids of the students can play with each other. That can't be replaced online, Pham said.

She tells us that the studio is currently accepting donations for classes uploaded to YouTube, while live classes via Google Hangouts can be paid with the regular membership and require a sign-up via the booking platform Mindbody.

Pham notes that rent and loan payments still continue even when the studio is shut down. The Assembly and Yoga Garden teacher Liz Andolong agrees — she says the pragmatic side of her is constantly asking how she will afford groceries or be able to pay bills in the future. "I've canceled PG&E, water, internet, etc. [for the studio]," Charmatz said.

A lot of yoga teachers had to switch from being independent contractors to regular employment at the beginning of the year after California Assembly Bill 5 went into effect. "Many of my teachers will have to file for unemployment," Charmatz said.

Amidst all the uncertainty, students are finding ways to support their studios, financially and otherwise.

"There are folks who are buying gift cards for reiki sessions or private yoga classes with the intent of scheduling later," Andolong said. She notes that folks underestimate the value of just sending a message to check in, so that she and other yoga teachers know "what I'm sharing and what I'm up to is of value and makes a difference".

For those who'd like to hear more, renowned yoga teacher Judith Lasater is hosting a free empathy session about the lives of yoga teachers and students "in this new Covid-19 reality" on March 25. Registration is required.


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