There are few things more satisfying for a yogi than those first steps into the studio. The smell of sweat and essential oils is invigorating, and the music — which, depending on the instructor, can range from the rage of Metallica to the chilled, synthesized vibes of Four Tet — reinforces the promise of physical revitalization and wellness that adherents keep coming back for.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has thrown all of that for a loop: Given how the disease spreads and its lifespan on physical surfaces, gyms and yoga studios have now been rendered incubators for an illness the U.S. finds itself unequipped to address.
Luckily for health-minded Miamians, several instructors have stepped up to act as a ballast against the despair of not practicing warrior sequences amongst our peers: They've taken to livestreaming classes so the yoga community can keep up its regimen of feel-so-good workouts that may stave off physical pain as well as cabin fever.
Cybele Chamas, the owner and founder of Downtown Dadeland's Corpo Yoga, tells New Times the studio held its last in-person class at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 16. "By Tuesday, we were already offering online classes with our local teachers," she says. "It hasn't been full schedule, but we're offering four to five classes a day at different times."
The studio — which has been open for more than a decade — is offering an array of virtual classes, including sessions on ashtanga, restorative, vinyasa, and yoga for kids.
Would-be participants can sign up for classes via Corpo's website. Afterward, they'll receive an invite through the increasingly popular video-conferencing app Zoom to join in the session. Although current members can take unlimited classes, newcomers or people who'd like to drop in for a standalone session must pay $15 to take part.
Katrina Bilanchone, Corpo's veteran instructor, taught four virtual classes last week.
"As a teacher, it feels very different, of course, because I don't have my students in the room," Bilanchone says. But, she notes, "the sense of community is still there."
"Everyone is so cooperative and being creative with us — it's a very interesting relationship," she adds.
Chamas says livestreaming has had the unexpected effect of bringing in crowds who either don't live in Miami or reside too far away from the South Miami studio to attend in-person sessions regularly.
"A lot of our friends who have left Miami are actually reconnecting with us online and taking the classes," she shares. "We had a longtime student who moved to Mexico join in on a class. It was awesome to 'see' her after nine years."
Traditional yoga studios aren't the only ones taking their conscious practices online. For the last few years, downtown Miami nightlife institution Club Space has been offering free "4:20 Yoga" sessions at the titular time every Saturday afternoon. The weekly gathering began with only a few yoga stalwarts; by the time the coronavirus' impact was felt in Miami, the classes — which are held on the after-hours venue's Terrace and accompanied by a DJ playing session-appropriate tunes — were hosting nearly 100 participants each.
Tiffany Levy, who leads the Space class along with a growing group of instructors, held the first of what she hopes will be regular livestreams from inside the near-empty club on Saturday, March 21.
"There's going to be five or six of us — including the DJ — doing the class, and you participate from the Club Space live feed," Levy explains. "We still all meet at 4:20 p.m. on Saturday and spread as much good energy and life that I can think of to help us all get through this. We're all a big family; it's all about supporting each other."
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The transition to livestreaming may be initially awkward and require some fine-tuning, but Bilanchone remains optimistic about its potential for the era of social distancing.
"There's always been virtual classes, but we've had such great responses and feedback because you get to practice with your teacher," she says. "And for those that have been teaching for years, we have many loyal students who we see every week. So we're trying to keep that solidarity and community. I was worried, but there's been a great turnout. People are excited to see their teacher again and be in a virtual room with their peers. It's about keeping up the sense of community."
Life will only get more uncertain as the days go by, but one thing is for sure: These instructors are putting their feet firmly on their mats, and they intend to stay there regardless of what comes next.
"I always wanted to take on a livestream approach for Space Yoga," Levy says. "We have a huge audience, and I feel like people now really need us. I know it's a huge letdown not to be able to go to our studios. I never thought the camera was my thing — and now I'm forced out of my comfort zone and able to help more people. We're not going to stop! We're going to keep doing this even if I have to do it from my living room." Namaste.