How did Covid-19 affect your practice?

I first heard about Covid in January 2019. Until December 2019, I went to Asia every three weeks. I had tickets to fly there in February, right after Chinese New Year. I did eight doubles in January as part of the 60 Day Challenge to make up for the trip ahead of time. The trip was postponed every week and finally never happened! In a lot of ways, I’m fortunate to have delayed that trip. Even when Covid was making headlines in Asia, we were still doing the yoga as there were no known California cases. I finished the 60 Day Challenge!

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. Were you able to plug into any of those things?

I was registered for the 8:30 pm class on March 16 with Ashley. Even with all the travel I do, I’m a creature of habit, so the Monday night 8:30 class had become routine. It was heartbreaking to show up and read the notice that said: “class canceled.” Since I didn’t have to travel, I was doing yoga every day and was hoping for a 365-day challenge. Then my friend Michael Krauss sent me a note and said, “here is a YouTube link to an audio class from Bikram himself. You can practice at home with this.” I used that audio class for a couple of days to practice in my bathroom with the shower and a space heater running. Then Michelle started sharing audio classes on Google Drive; it was perfect timing. Next, Michele led the Karma class on Zoom. We did not know then that it would become a new normal. I could not join the daily live Pranayama breathing because it was during working hours, but I would replay the video later in the evening. Everything BYSJ did to help us keep it together during these tough times was just amazing!

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?

Given the YouTube buffering issues, I recorded the audio and saved it as a song on my iPhone to do my solo yoga. The Facebook Group “BYSJ Everywhere,” with its back bending challenge and Matt’s informative exposé on the poses, was terrific. I came to classes in the parking lot regularly. It was the closest we could get to feel the group energy. In the first class, I felt cold. I started finding the right place in the parking lot to be in direct sunlight the entire time. By this time, I was mixing it up between the Zoom classes on days I could get to it, parking lot class on the weekends, and if neither were available, I’d play one of the “songs” in my Bikram Yoga playlist to do the class. Matt, Sarah, Michelle, Jessica, and Dawn were doing most of the “singing,” with occasional guest appearances from Chris, Deborah, Emmy, and Bikram himself. I also got to take a class from some guest teachers on Zoom, which was great!

Sundar in Awkward pose

Sundar practices his Awkward pose during an online class from home.

Bikram Yoga is known for its heat and humidity. Do you practice with extra heat or humidity? If not, how is it going?

I did cry happy-tears when we resumed classes inside the hot room and managed to do nine classes during those two weeks. I was very impressed by how BYSJ followed every safety protocol. I see a lot of angst in folks who are not doctors or nurses, quick to judge and react to the ever-changing protocols. Covid is a new virus. It takes time to understand it, react to it, and play it safe to minimize risk.

It was hard to wear a mask while practicing yoga during those two weeks; we adapted once again. I used a mask insert to keep the material off my face, so the yoga class doesn’t feel like a waterboarding exercise. A wet mask makes it more difficult to breathe. It’s more challenging in hot yoga than it is for folks wearing a mask while running or jogging. The social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing, and the honor system of notifying others of infection made it feel safe. Knowing you are with others who would not knowingly put their fellow yogis and friends at risk was reassuring.

The heat and humidity make a big difference. Nothing I do at home (wearing a plastic poncho, using a space heater, etc.) comes close to the hot room’s controlled conditions. Given the new normal, though, if I can, I do a class in the parking lot when the outside temp is above 46F. My guest bedroom/office/photo studio, which is now also my yoga room, is perfect! The room gets to 85F, and I am grateful for that. It is a dry heat, though, and that can be a challenge. I’m also not allowed to sweat on the hardwood floor. My wife’s protocols for using the room for yoga would make Sarah Cody’s Santa Clara County Covid rules look easy. I am happy to do yoga every day, even if by myself or with fellow yogis on Zoom.

These are unique times, and your journey is most likely one shared by many. Any of your insights are so helpful to our community.

Folks who have practiced yoga for a long time will benefit the most from all the online options. Bikram Yoga uses heat and humidity as a safety net for beginner yogis. While the heat and humidity might make them feel uncomfortable, it is also the very thing that makes sure they don’t push themselves too hard and do any damage. That’s Bikram Yoga in a nutshell: It’s not the easiest thing, but it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.

In the past, when a friend wanted to try hot yoga, I would have taken him/her with me to BYSJ, introduce them to teachers, and attend a few classes with them until they are comfortable with it. I would also urge them to attend the Bikram Basics class that Matt and Sarah provide to new students. A big challenge with Covid is getting folks who are interested in trying out this yoga to get started. Recently one of my neighbors wanted to try Bikram Yoga. She has done other yoga before but has never tried Bikram. I invited her to join me for an audio class; she loved it and joined BYSJ. She’s now a regular on Zoom classes; that alone gives me hope.

If a new student can come in, pick it up, and become a regular, then experienced students can do a Zoom class. I’ve seen the attendance go from 7-8 students in a class two weeks ago to around 15 now; that is also encouraging. My teachers are getting better and better at knowing how camera angles distort the images and correct me from a thumbnail view. In turn, I have become better at providing them a good view by adjusting the camera during class so they can see me at all times, be it while standing or on the floor.

While it is true that our yoga practice will not be the same during the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, we are dealing with a virus that is very good at what it does. We have to be the best we can be to prevent, detect, contain, and cure so that we stand a chance of beating it. We are all in this together. Even if the protocols and studies are evolving to keep up with the virus, it is in our best interest to take the science seriously, take the right precautions, and not put our frontline workers under additional stress.

Doing yoga helps keep me sane during these troubled times. I hope it does the same for you!