Virtual yoga classes

Wishing Tree Studio co-owner Jo Temte teaches virtual classes to keep the business afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Classes at the Wishing Tree Studio have taken on a different look in recent weeks.

Instead of a dozen yoga students practicing postures on mats inside the studio in downtown Oregon, students are now scattered all over town, bending and twisting in front of their computers, while on screen, teachers give instructions from their houses, pets occasionally wandering into the shot.

With the threat of COVID-19 raging around the world, Wishing Tree Studio co-owners Jo Temte and Kelly Scholz have been using remote classes as a way for their students to stay in touch with a community of yoga practitioners during the quarantine.

Temte told the Observer she has family members in the medical field. As a result, she began hearing about the spread of the novel coronavirus in China earlier in the year.

“Once it erupted in China, we were concerned,” she said.

As more cases of the virus began to appear in Wisconsin, Wishing Tree Studio began following similar procedures to other gyms and fitness studios in the area – spending more time sanitizing the space and no longer sharing any equipment.

Yoga classes, which usually take places indoors with groups of people, could potentially be in a highly hospitable environment for virus transmission, Temte said.

Students are often close together, and equipment used for yoga practice, like mats and blocks and straps used for support, are often shared between students at a studio.

But with the virus spreading, Temte and Scholz made the decision to shut their doors on March 14.

“We have a fair number of members who are older and we were really concerned about them,” said Temte.

Technical difficulties

Shortly after Tempte and Scholz closed the studio, they began seeing others offering digital classes, and got feedback from their students — saying they would also be interested in remote offerings.

But handling the logistics around the classes was a special challenge.

Wishing Tree is using Zoom video conferencing software to livestream classes and allow students to join in, which means both the instructors and students had to learn their way around the platform. Some are technical, while others have been more basic, including just finding a space to set up a camera.

“I live in this old Victorian house; a good size house but very small rooms,” Temte said. “Getting the camera far enough away to where people can see me is a whole thing.”

She said while students can have their cameras on and she can see them doing yoga on their cameras, she can’t see what they are doing closely.

That’s difficult when teaching yoga, which involves positions where even small adjustments in the muscles can make a big difference. Because of that, Temte says Wishing Tree instructors try to keep the classes extra gentle when going remote.

“That’s what people need right now. People need to be gentle with themselves and you know, keep moving,” she said.

But she also says she’s learned new things as a teacher as a result of the new set-up. Having a video to playback has allowed her to notice things about her teaching she’d like to change.

Keeping a routine

For Kate Mason, who has been practicing yoga for about four years, digital yoga classes have been a welcome respite from the anxiety produced by COVID-19 news.

Mason said she has taken five of the remote classes so far, and usually shows up for Scholz’s Friday yin yoga class. Yin yoga is a slower-paced style of the practice that combines postures held for longer periods of time and some of the principles of Chinese medicine.

“It’s nice because it’s the same time I always used to do it,” Mason said of the class. “I really rely on the class to just be somewhere else.”

She said remote classes aren’t quite the same as the ones she used to take at the studio, because she can’t see the faces of instructors as easily and it can be hard to disconnect from what’s happening in her household.

But, she enjoys the ease and comfort of doing the classes in her home. Mason said the ability to log on via Zoom and have the instructor see her keeps her more accountable to her yoga routine than just working with pre-recorded yoga videos.

Staying alive

Despite federal social distancing guidelines extended to April 30 and Wisconsin’s “Safer at Home” order likely to be extended as well, Temte said she still thinks her business will survive.

She’s offering her digital classes for free for now, but she said she’s had many students offer to keep paying for their memberships.

Tempte said the studio has also applied for government small business relief programs, and is fortunate yoga studios generally don’t have a lot of overhead costs.

But she said the studio has benefitted from the common experiences of other yoga instructors who are dealing with similar challenges.

“Yoga teachers all over the world are helping each other figure out how to do things with these online platforms,” Temte said. “It’s been amazing to see.”

Renee Hickman can be contacted at renee.hickman@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @ReneeNHickman