By Sabrina Liguori
BURLINGTON, V.T. — Kathy McNames breathes in deeply, holds the air in her lungs, and breathes out again, plugging one nostril at a time with rhythmic continuity. She leads a group of yoga practitioners through her usual Sunday Pranayama session, a branch of yoga that focuses on controlled deep breathing. But this time, her students are not in the room with her.
McNames’ studio, Yoga Vermont, is one of the 20 yoga studios in Burlington forced to suspend in-person services amid the COVID-19 Pandemic. Yoga Vermont has been conducting its classes through Zoom, a video conferencing platform, since Governor Scott suspended non-essential businesses two weeks ago. Since then, McNames has been spiritually guiding her students from her home. Though this idea is largely new to her, she says it has provided new opportunities for Yoga Vermont.
“Zoom will always be part of the studio now,” she said. “We have students from every era of our past showing up – people who have moved away are able to practice [with us] again. It is very sweet to connect this way. I am loving it.”
Yoga Vermont charges members monthly with no minimum requirement. Practitioners can pay anywhere from five dollars to one million dollars, McNames said. However, since the studio began conducting classes online, its sessions are available for free.
“If free is all you can afford, that’s fine,” she said. “And if you can afford more than free, then people end up signing up.”
McNames is not the only studio owner who’s adjusted her payment model since moving yoga sessions online.
“We were very much a pay per class type [of] studio,” Margaux Miller, a yoga teacher at Hot Yoga Burlington, said. The studio switched to a donation-based model in lieu of its previous payment method to cater to practitioners who may be struggling with their finances, she said.
Laughing River Yoga, located in northern Burlington, is also offering reduced rates for online classes. Despite making changes like these, owner Emily Garrett said the studio’s transition online has gone rather smoothly.
“I think the process actually works very well,” Garrett said. “We found it just a really nice way to stay connected to the community.”
In addition to Burlington residents, Garrett has seen past Laughing River students tune in to the studio’s Zoom sessions, some of which have moved across the country.
“I’ve seen a lot of students who I haven’t seen in years,” she said. “Both in Vermont, but also on the west coast and in New York and Philly.”
The convenience of online yoga sessions has helped practitioners maintain their yoga practice without having to leave their homes. Some are even practicing more frequently as a result of the transition.
Burlington resident and Sangha Studio member Britt Sperber has been doing yoga daily while in isolation.
”Exhausting my body physically has been helping me rest better and manage the anxiety,” she said. “I will hopefully take that into my everyday life, like, practice at least six days a week, if not seven days a week.”
Staying in touch with others is important during isolation, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist at the University of Vermont Medical Center, Dr. David Tomasi, said.
“[Interacting online] creates a sense of community and closeness that, while not the same as the real world, is nevertheless useful, because you feel that people are there for you, that [they] listen to you,” he said.
In that vein, Yoga studios in Burlington are providing an online outlet for people to communicate, de-stress and come together in a time when in-person gatherings are unachievable.