As we prepare to re-open the shala for in-person practice, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons this past year has taught us and how we can integrate them as we take small steps forward to creating a new normal. Over the last year, I’ve watched numerous yoga studios shut down entirely and marveled at our “little shala that could.” I had the choice to let go of our physical space but I chose to keep it, trusting that this opportunity for rebirth would come. Now here we are, thanks to all of you. Truly. Without your enduring support, we wouldn’t be here. Many of you have continued to contribute financially throughout the pandemic, believing in our mission to make ashtanga yoga accessible to everyone. And so many of you have continued to practice under the strangest of circumstances- on Zoom, at parks dodging flying basketballs, in the courtyard while being bitten by mosquitoes, on carpeted floors, in laundry rooms, with kids and pets crawling on top of you. As we move back into the shala, this is exactly the type of community I’m interested in cultivating- a community of practitioners that is simultaneously autonomous and interdependent.
We have been interviewing midwives to help us birth our second child (yes, I’m pregnant!) and one of them reflected that she doesn’t feel like she did her job well if the mother says to her after the birth, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” Rather, she wants to hear a mother say, “I did it.” Last weekend, I read this beautiful essay about a father and his sports-challenged son and was struck by this reflection- “When he leaves you, when he does something because he wants to do it and not because you want him to – that is success. You have done it right when you make yourself irrelevant.” I believe we’ve always fostered this quality of autonomy at the shala, but over the last year, I’ve had the honor to witness how truly irrelevant I am. I don’t mean this in a self-deprecating way. I mean that the practice is yours. Those of you who have stuck around have done so not because of me, but because of the intrinsic benefits you experience through the practice. As we transition to sharing physical space again, I see my role as one of providing support infrastructure- physical adjustments, verbal feedback, a silent and joyful presence alongside you, logistical and organizational efforts- while getting out of the way and making room for the creativity and freedom that has blossomed this year. In a practical sense, that means I’m going to be “teaching” less hours per week, practicing with you all more often, and continuing the behind the scenes work required to keep our community vibrant. This will also allow me to break out of the conventional notion that ashtanga teachers have to wake up before 5am! One of the gifts of this past year for me personally has been waking up with my daughter and getting her ready for school. I’d like to keep some of that ;)
So why gather at all if we are all autonomous practitioners? Because we are also hardwired to be together. Though some of us have grown comfortable in the isolation brought on by the pandemic, most of us have realized the importance of connection. Valuing independence above all else is not our natural state of being. Rather, we are designed to be interdependent, to care for and be responsible for each other. It’s been interesting for me to watch yoga practice go virtual this past year. Many well known teachers have attracted large crowds and others seem to be constantly on the hunt to expand their reach online. Our little community, however, has stayed mostly hyperlocal. While we’ve welcomed a few wonderful students from around the world, most of our students are the same ones who’ve been with us for years. There is something special about breathing and moving with familiar bodies, saying casual hellos and goodbyes, watching each other’s children grow up, sharing meals. This intimacy feeds us, and gently folds in new members, whether they are joining us from another time zone via Zoom or IRL. Gathering together again at the shala not only gives us the joy of practicing together, it gives us an essential opportunity to practice being in relationship with one another.
Caring for each other during this time means tending to our various needs while taking precautions to keep us healthy. It also means, for me, leading with reason rather than fear. While the threat of severe covid outcomes is not gone by any means, we can be hopeful that we are turning a significant corner. In the coming months, as more of us become vaccinated, it’s time to be courageous and (quite literally) step outside our bubbles. The second-order consequences of this virus have been far-reaching and I do believe it’s our responsibility to begin to remedy them. Which leads me to the nuts and bolts:
-The best thing you can do right now to reduce your risk of severe illness due to covid, and to protect others, is to get vaccinated. The vaccines work. Not only do they effectively eliminate the risk of death and hospitalization due to covid, they also quite likely reduce transmission by a significant amount. I am not going to require proof of immunization to attend in-person practice at the shala, nor am I going to ask anyone about their immunization status. If you would like to offer this information to me, you’re welcome to. I received my first dose of the Moderna vaccine on March 19 and will be receiving my second dose on April 16.
-Until vaccines are available to all adults who want them, we will continue with the following safety protocols:
- wearing face coverings inside the shala except when practicing on one’s mat
- limiting capacity to 5 students at a time
- adhering to pre-taped mat spaces
- maximizing ventilation by keep all doors open and running the air purifier and HVAC system
- using consent cards to let me know whether you would like to receive physical adjustments or not
- chanting quietly to ourselves instead of as a group
- breathing with our mouths closed, which we should all be doing anyway!
-Once vaccines are widely available, I anticipate that we will be able to let these restrictions go. Remember that it is unlikely that covid is going to disappear entirely in the foreseeable future. What we want to reduce is the risk of severe outcomes. The shala cannot be a risk-free space but I feel confident that it can be a low risk space as we approach herd immunity.
-On Mondays – Thursdays, we will have two shifts of morning practice each day, 7:30-9am and 9:15-10:45am. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I will adjust during the first shift and practice with the second shift. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will practice with the first shift and adjust during the second shift. Students coming during the first shift should make sure they either have a key or the lock box code, as I may arrive closer to 7:45/8. First shift students are welcome to arrive earlier than 7:30. Signing up ahead of time for a practice space ensures that you will have one. However, if you forget to sign up ahead of time, you’re welcome to come and see if there is space for you. I think this schedule will work nicely, fostering autonomy among practitioners while also giving me the opportunity to offer support in such a way that it does not become a crutch.
-On Fridays, we will continue to hold virtual led class at 8am via our Zoom room. This has become a joyful and important part of our weekly flow, and it allows us to stay connected to friends around the world :)
-While many of us wait for our turn to get vaccinated and there is still a need for a virtual practice space, the Zoom room will remain open for self-practice. I will log in from the shala on Mondays and Wednesdays.
-The physical shala will be open for individual self-practice during times that it is not being used for group practice.
-Obviously, do not come to the shala if you are sick. In any way. Eventually, we will stop freaking out about getting a cold but we’re not there yet ;)
-At the same time, please refrain from shaming anyone at the shala for sneezing, blowing their nose, etc. It is allergy season. Also, this baby is giving me a serious case of pregnancy-induced nasal congestion so you can expect some sniffles on my end. What a joy!
-Do wash hands regularly but there is no need to engage in hygiene theater by rubbing hand sanitizer on yourself every five minutes. I am also not going to be obsessively cleaning props or shared surfaces. You are of course welcome to bring your own props and whatever else you need to feel safe.
-For now, keep distance and assume that people are not comfortable being hugged or physically greeted in close quarters. This will change but we must be patient. Till then, elbow bumps work nicely :)
-As mentioned above, your financial support has been invaluable over the last year. Our flexible monthly fee structure will not change. It’s at the heart of how we do what we do.
-Moving forward, our suggested drop in rate will increase to $20 and our suggested 10-class package rate will increase to $150. This will bring us in line with market rates and help us keep up with inflation. Of course, if these rates are prohibitive, simply use the old rates and make a custom contribution with a note attached. Our goal remains to make this practice accessible for all dedicated practitioners, regardless of financial resources.
-As I committed to when we turned 5 years old, I will be transparent about our finances. I’ve updated our year to year records to reflect all of 2020. We also received a second round PPP loan in the amount of $7,440 at the beginning of 2021.
-We received a bit of a break on our rent for one year, which is due to expire in August of 2021. I will try to extend this rent relief for a few months since we were shut down much longer than expected, but I have no idea if those efforts will be successful. I’ll keep you posted.
I’m so looking forward to hearing each other’s breath again, to the plentiful laughter that fills our room, to being in physical contact with you. I’ve perhaps missed that more than anything- the non-sexual yet profoundly intimate physical touch that is the essence of the trust-based relationships we’ve cultivated. It’s how I let you know, without any words at all, that I care for you. This process of returning to a shared space will likely move in fits and starts. We’ll make missteps and adjust based on the lessons we learn. This last year has given me rock solid faith that our community can handle any bumps and stumbles that come our way. Whenever you feel ready, join us.
TLDR; We’re back. I don’t want to go back to waking up at 5am. Get vaccinated (or not, but do consider it). We got this.