Staying balanced is what Purna Yoga East has been doing with its students in the heart of downtown Clayton since 2009. When COVID-19 swept across the globe and forced everyone into lockdown, studio owners Catharine Eberhart and Bob Maiers knew exactly what they had to do...go live online.
“If my studio is closing down,” Catharine thought, “how can I keep the business afloat and still provide a service?” Fulfilling memberships was the driving force behind starting online classes, so on March 14th, the first day of lockdown, this dynamic duo woke up and jumped into action, teaching their first class on Zoom.
Having participated in an online national training just one month before, “It was kind of terrifying,” Catharine laughed. That first class had 30 students, including other yoga teachers who were trying to figure out how to navigate this new normal. “No one knew what to do,” she said.
Catharine and Bob went full steam ahead offering nine Zoom classes per week. However, not only had the venue changed but the way they taught changed as well. “Keeping our students safe is always at the forefront of what we’re doing,” Catherine said. They didn’t know some students. Others didn’t have all the props from a studio, such as blocks, bolsters or a yoga wall. “We went to fundamental practices,” she said.
They offered donation-based classes for anyone who wanted or needed yoga. The feedback was all positive. Students told them how beneficial the classes were during such a chaotic time. “It (Yoga) anchors you in the moment,” she said. Recordings of the classes were made available and used by some nurses and doctors that weren’t able to commit to scheduled time because of long hours during the pandemic.
In September, another shift came when Purna Yoga East was allowed to open their doors again under tight restrictions and social distance protocols via the Governor’s orders. Once again, these two got busy. When asked how much time and brainpower went into that transition, Catharine told me there was “a lot of staring at one another.”
After a lot of measuring and mapping out different footprints, she and Bob created a safe, socially distanced studio to accommodate six students per class. Each student was given a “pod” equipped with everything needed for a proper Purna Yoga class, one of which is the Great Yoga Wall.
In addition to wearing masks throughout the class and social distancing, there came a deeper level of saucha, or cleanliness, and organizing. Students were asked to wash their hands once they entered the studio and before they left. Props were cleaned after each class and some were swapped out and put into a resting phase, like blankets and bolsters.
With help from a small business grant given to Purna Yoga East by the Clayton Chamber of Commerce, they were able to purchase HEPA filters, cleaning supplies and fans to blow air out of the windows for better ventilation.
When the first in-person class began, “I was in tears, I was so happy” Catharine told me. She and Bob appreciated being able to teach live people and see bodies which is an essential part of Purna Yoga, an alignment-based practice.
Today they continue to offer Zoom classes, in-person classes as well as massage therapy. Catharine and Bob plan to continue some online classes because there are folks who still aren’t comfortable with in-person, or like one student who is a COVID nurse and cannot attend live classes.
Catharine and Bob have worked hard to provide yoga to the community so, as Catherine put it, “Use it (yoga) when we don’t need it so that when we need it, it’s already there.”