When was the first time you heard about Covid-19, and what was your initial reaction? Did it have any bearing on your yoga practice at that time?

We had a planned trip to Asia in mid-February, so as early as January, I was monitoring the news on Covid-19. My brother is in Hong Kong and warned us to cancel our trip because this virus is quite potent. I diligently studied the information that I could get on Covid-19 because our trip meant so much for me – it was my 45th high school reunion, and we had plans to travel to different locations; it was a much-awaited trip. Our US doctors told us that the risk was low as long as we don’t cross into China, but the more I got to know about this virus, the more uncomfortable I felt. After much struggle, we canceled our trip. It was the best decision we made. We had friends who traveled to Manila and got sick and stuck; one even passed away due to Covid-19 contracted during a cruise.

As you know, Covid-19 has an impact on all aspects of our lives, including yoga. An enclosed room with open-mouth breathing and proximity to other classmates wasn’t an issue pre-Covid-19 but became one of the leading causes of viral spread. Even before BYSJ closed, I already stopped attending classes. I don’t remember the last time I participated in a yoga class at the studio; maybe it was early or mid-February, but I did not feel comfortable anymore.

BYSJ closed the studio on March 16 and immediately started up an online presence with some Zoom classes and a Facebook group called BYSJ Everywhere. The group kept members together with live breathing each day, a back-bending challenge, and lots of conversation about the yoga that we don’t usually get to cover in a 90-minute class. Were you able to plug into any of those things? If not, what did you do once the county imposed the initial Stay at Home order?

I’ve been practicing for 11 years, so I did not want to stop practicing even if we had to stay home. The mental, emotional, and physical benefits of this yoga were too much to give up, most especially when we needed to stay healthy and keep our immune systems strong. So stopping my practice was not an option.

So I created a practice at home. I practiced quite regularly using YouTube audio and video classes. Early on, there were very few Bikram videos, so I kept using the videos I liked most. Since I’m familiar with the poses, I found audiotapes useful too. I quickly found my favorites and attended a few live online classes that you offered when my schedule permitted. The class times were limited back then, so I tried to participate when I could. I only attended one breathing session; I didn’t think pranayama alone was enough for me. I preferred the full 90-minute class.

I monitored my weight, ensured that we ate healthily, and informed ourselves how to stay protected. We were early adopters of masking, social distancing, and isolation because my husband had a quadruple bypass in October 2019, which placed us in a very high-risk category. We only went out to the grocery and pharmacy.

Liza getting set up for Triangle pose
Liza in Tree pose

BYSJ established a library of pre-recorded audio classes, and we offer these complimentary through our YouTube channel for folks around the globe. In August, we started outdoor classes in the former Orchard Supply parking lot, adjacent to BYSJ. Were you able to take advantage of these? It became more concerning and stressful as we adapted to a lost sense of normalcy. It’s helpful to all our members to share how you handled this time; it went on longer than we all thought.

I am so grateful that I had time to develop a stronger spiritual life. I reconnected with friends, and we studied the bible together. I recite the rosary daily with my sisters. We prayed for all the sick, the dying, and those who passed on due to Covid-19. We lost friends, some who traveled, and had friends who were very ill due to Covid-19. To pick me up during those difficult early days, I turned inward to pray and studied more deeply about God. It has been a tremendous source of comfort. I think the universe as it is today is perfect, and life as we know it will continue. Therefore it is our job to adjust to it and to keep ourselves safe. I feel for all the small businesses that continue to suffer as a result of this change.

I tried to keep a steady, consistent yoga practice of about 3-5 times per week throughout these months. If I do not practice, I feel off mentally, emotionally, and physically. I get tremendous relief through our yoga. I have two space heaters, monitor my heart rate, and use the mirror in my bedroom to practice. It’s not ideal, but it has become a good solution. I try to make my surroundings beautiful, just like our studio, to encourage me to feel good during practice.

On November 2, BYSJ re-opened indoors at 25% capacity with 22 classes a week. That lasted two weeks, having to close again on November 16. All 22 classes are now online, and we still offer two outdoor classes on the weekend. Have you been able to take any of these classes? If so, what was the process of getting to this place? What are your thoughts about it today? There’s nothing like being together live and in-person, practicing as a community, but many have developed a home practice. Looking at it now, if you have a home practice, what are your thoughts about it? What are your feelings about taking a virtual class, with the teacher watching you through the camera lens? Bikram Yoga is known for its heat and humidity. Do you practice with extra heat or humidity? If not, how is it going? 

I have gotten to love my home practice. I was tempted to go to the outdoor class, but I was not that comfortable using a mask during yoga practice and didn’t want to be directly under the hot sun, so I opted to stay at home and practice online. To find my ideal spot, I tried different parts of my house to find where I am most comfortable.

When live online classes came back, I was ecstatic! I see the teachers live, and they get to see me practice. I’m in my third practice area at home, and so far, it’s the best for live, online practice. It’s the smallest room in the house and faces the sun in the morning, so I get the added heat. There’s a mirror in front of me, and I turn on one space heater ten minutes before class, have warm water, and wear sweats and socks for the first couple of poses until I feel warmer. I also tried different camera positions to ensure that the teacher can see my poses because I love it when I get corrected.

I decorated the room with plants and removed all clutter to ensure that my mind is ready to practice when its time. It’s been a week practicing live online, and I feel amazing! I attended six times the first week and plan to do the same this week; a minimum of five times per week is my goal. My body has this tingling stretch, but I am so happy and energized that I’m back regularly with a live teacher. I happily receive the benefits of being corrected. Last Friday, Yi-ting corrected my toes! I don’t think this ever happened inside the studio. The camera is like a magnifying glass, and it’s amazing what the teachers can see and correct.

Please share any other thoughts that you feel are worthy of including. These are unique times, and your journey is most likely one shared by many. Any of your insights are so helpful to our community.

I have always thought about BYSJ and how difficult it must be for all the teachers, especially Michele. While I continue to pray for BYSJ and the students, I accept what is to come. I am aware that life and the universe needed to change, and in God’s desire to see a change in the world, he allowed Covid-19 to happen. Without warning, without our consent, the world just changed, almost overnight. I think it’s going to continue to evolve; I don’t think this is over. So what does this mean for yoga practitioners?

  • I see more and more online classes where we can practice in the comfort and safety of our own home, without risk of spreading or contracting the disease.
  • I would love to see one-on-one tutorials or small group classes to ensure we don’t develop bad habits as we practice. I noticed I did some poses incorrectly because I had not been corrected for months.
  • I would like to see more yoga tutorials, clinics, and Q&A sessions with Michele and the BYSJ staff on Zoom.
  • A 60-day challenge online in January would be great!

There are countless ways to keep the community engaged beyond what we used to do. BYSJ has successfully built this community, and I am confident that we can create new norms.