“I have inherited a belief in community, the promise that a gathering of the spirit can both create and change culture.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams
I’ve drafted this email to my yoga studio members:
“When we return to our space, please leave your shoes at the front door, bring your own mat, wear a mask, wash your hands before and after class, and place your mat six feet away from others.”
I’ve read and reread these lines in disbelief. I advocate that yoga changes lives, but I’m equally a practical mother and yogini who is unsure if reopening will happen.
On March 15th, my studio, Alamo City Yoga in San Antonio, Texas, was full of yogis. On that same day, it seemed the seriousness of COVID-19 escalated from another flu strain to something indescribable and new. That evening we, a family of five with two school-aged children, received a message regarding an extended spring break for our children.
As messages filled my inbox, including airport closures and cancelled business trips and yoga retreats, I focused on my balanced chi and ujjayi breath. I waited for an omen as to what I should do with my beloved yoga studio.
That omen never came, so I made the decision to close our studio indefinitely.
The yoga studio space will disappear—for some time—just like the village mentality and way of life has dissolved and been replaced with online streaming and eating alone. We have come a long way in many aspects of modern living, but are now a long way away from home and truth. We’ve moved for jobs, left our children for endless hours, found quaint nursing homes for our parents so we could finally sit with ourselves, alone, and ponder life.
This is less about saving the yoga studio and more about valuing places of sacred gatherings in our communities. My studio is next to a locally owned boutique, which is next to a quilt shop, which is across the street from a tamale restaurant that has been open for more than 30 years. I moved into this neighborhood for these unique shops—these places where memories are stored and passed down.
I think of my children and how they will remember their childhood. Will they remember the six months we stayed inside, studied inside, used one car, and cut our household expenses by half? Maybe. But I do believe they will remember our neighborhood—our neighbors—the local boutiques and restaurants and the owners of those special places who were also patrons at my yoga studio.
That is how our community thrived. It is this precise community that I fear losing.
I come back to Terry Tempest Williams’ quote and the reason I opened my yoga studio in the first place: to offer a safe space and gathering of the spirit. This gathering is the reason I attended workshops in Los Angeles and a retreat in Costa Rica. The peace and joy I found on my mat was something I wanted to share with the entire world. I accepted my calloused feet for over two decades in order to pursue that very dream. I saved my money and cashed in my 401K to create a loving space of song and breath. It would never be a million-dollar project, but it would be a second home to many who seek community.
As the news of the virus continued to develop, I realized my 15 years of teaching and my almost three years of owning a yoga studio did not prepare me for COVID-19. I have hit rough patches as a yoga instructor and as a studio owner before. Summers are hot in Texas and classes are small, so during our teacher trainings and workshops, I set a small amount of money aside for those slow days. I have complemented my yoga studio with a side gig of selling personal care products just in case I was short on rent during a rough month. But COVID-19 was something beyond my grasp and vigilance. An extra thousand dollars would not cover my rent for a month—or two or three.
I received many messages to apply for X grant and Y loan, and so I did. With a minor in English, most certainly I could tackle the grant writing process. Those funds would be used to support my teachers while they taught via Zoom. Those funds would be used to revamp my website so it would be more interactive. Those funds would be used to hire a sitter so I, too, could teach from home and reach out to members and provide tech support and create a new marketing strategy.
Those funds never arrived. And so, as we practiced on our mats, it was time for me to accept and surrender.
Now that over a month has passed, the reality is this: group wellness classes will be put on hold for some time. Hands-on adjustments, breathing exercises while shoulder to shoulder with a fellow yogi, and a space that depends on community, memberships, and numbers cannot be sustained, not while COVID-19 spreads from person to person in our communities.
The moments that are lasting are the personal connections we make in life. The places and smells that trigger memories. The laughter and cries of a friend. The release of breath and heaviness on our mats.
Even this uncertain time is temporary. But do not forget—the gathering of spirit is eternal.