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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

The Future of Yoga in Hudson Valley

Aug 29, 2020 10:19AM ● By Sarah Matteo
As they continue to navigate a changing landscape, yoga studios and teachers are finding new ways to connect with students and discovering opportunities to rethink what it means to “do yoga.” It’s safe to say that some of the changes they’ve made will be here long after Covid-19 goes away.

At press time, New York State had announced that yoga studios would be allowed to open in September. Studio owners’ plans going forward, like the adjustments they’ve already made, vary widely throughout and beyond Hudson Valley.


Make Room or Zoom

Many studios have decided to wait to reopen until next year, if they return to in-person classes at all. David Hollander, studio owner and director of teacher training at the Yoga Society of New York, recently made the decision to close his private studio, having determined that the only way to continue was digitally.

 “We’re in this transition for the long haul,” he says. “Getting back to normal goes beyond a vaccine, because people are going to need to get comfortable being in a packed space again, and that’s going to take time.”

Studios that are continuing with in-person classes are dealing with standard constraints: Classes capped at reduced capacity, hands-on adjustments discouraged, props less likely to be provided. They’ve also gotten creative to accommodate for social-distancing regulations, moving classes outdoors to a public space or even to a studio member’s backyard.

While Hollander says he misses assisting students in a crowded class, he’s enjoying forging a sense of intimacy in this new medium.

“There’s something very powerful about broadcasting from our homes with our dogs and cats and kids running around in the background,” he says. “We’re not putting on a public face.”

Hosting classes online has also allowed some teachers to establish their own video library of live-streamed content.

 “When this all started, I built my own website and made my own YouTube channel, so now I have a ton of free content,” says Gina Callender, meditation teacher and board member of Hudson Valley’s Yoga Teachers Association. “You can do a five-minute meditation or an hour-long yoga class, and it’s free.”

Like Hollander, Callender is confident that some of the changes studios are making aren’t temporary—and sometimes that’s for the better, she says.

 “Some sort of virtual presence is going to stay, because [teachers] have taken that time and effort to develop an online audience,” she says. “So why not keep cultivating it?”

Both predict a hybrid model because the strong need for human connection will always favor shared physical space.


Supporting Community

It’s safe to say yoga has been initiated into a process of change, and a potentially new age altogether. The focus for many teachers in this challenging time is to strengthen the yoga community and keep it vibrant and accessible.

 “I think it’s going to change how we think about things a little bit and gives us the opportunity to widen our audience and presenters,” Callender says. “I just did a three-day workshop with one teacher from Los Angeles and another from Boston, and students attended from all over the country.”

Hollander shares this prediction. “There’s a chance for geography to not be an issue moving forward,” he says, noting that some of his former students who had moved away are now taking his classes online.

Yoga’s arguably growing accessibility in this time of restriction isn’t just benefiting out-of-towners. Working parents who don’t have time for an in-person class might be able to squeeze in Zoom session. And people the pandemic has rendered unemployed can often find an online class at a reduced rate.

Some yoga teachers, like Callender, are offering a “pay what you can” structure in response to the negative impact the coronavirus has had on the public’s general spending power.

 “Yoga should not be a luxury,” she says. “It’s a necessity for our health and well-being.”


Go with the Flow

All things considered, teachers and studio owners who use this time to consider the changing needs of practitioners, and work to evolve with them, may have an advantage moving forward. Lila Lolling, international yoga philosophy teacher, climate activist and author based in and beyond Hudson Valley, is on the frontier of this movement.

 “Many owners I know and consult with have expressed an interest in restructuring the yoga studio business model to make it more viable, sustainable and resilient,” she says. “Right now we are at a collective precipice of change, whether or not we are aware of it, and whether or not we are ready for it.”

From a holistic stance, yoga is a powerful lens through which people can more peacefully experience what is happening around and within them. At their roots, all yoga traditions remind us to keep opening, to accept and invite change and to follow the current of life, no matter how uncertain. COVID-19, while no doubt harrowing, invites the ever-evolving yoga community to navigate this challenging time with grace, hope and uncommon creativity.

Sarah Matteo is a spiritual counselor, educator and freelance writer for various health and wellness publications. Contact her at [email protected].