With its emphasis on relaxing stretches, calming breathwork, and meditation, yoga is arguably the perfect antidote to the stresses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet like gyms, pools, restaurants, theatres and most other gathering places on the planet, yoga studios have been closed en masse, leaving aspiring practitioners — as well as yoga veterans invested in their communities and adrift without them — scrambling for alternatives.
Tammi Henke knew she had to fill the void. Though the owner/instructor of the fabulously named Om On the Range had no choice but to close the doors of her yoga studio in rural Water Valley, Alberta in early March for safety reasons, Henke was determined to improvise.
“COVID-19 reminded me of why I learned what I learned over these years. In the studio, people feed off each other and the energy in the room. I needed to recreate that. I never wanted to teach online; I was always wedded to the idea of being together and part of a community.
“Now,” Henke laughs, “I am eating my own words.”
With the assistance of her “techie” kids and a friend well-acquainted with the wonders of teleconferencing platform Zoom, Henke was able to offer classes to eager students online.
“I threw myself to the wolves, but everyone was patient,” she says. “I did that first class on a Friday and said, ‘OK let’s meet back here on Monday.’ And people were so happy, they had something to look forward to.”
Like yoga teachers across the globe, Henke found a way to, if not exactly reconstruct the communal vibe of a yoga studio, then at least guide people through alternately soothing and invigorating sequences while self-isolating at home.
Henke confirms the classes are especially helpful for people with chronic pain or other persistent injuries who may be struggling to manage without the aid of masseuses or chiropractors. “Nobody comes to yoga because they are in great shape,” she says. “They come because that’s what their doctor recommended.
“But they stay because they enjoy all the benefits. Plus, our breath is connected to emotion. You know how you breathe when you are excited or just finished with exercise? The same thing applies when you can slow your breath down. I am leading pranayamas that are particularly good for building our lung capacity. The benefits of having calm and peace of mind are worth it.”
Henke says the feedback about the thrice-weekly classes, which are given live and in real-time, has been positive. “Though my dogs might wander in,” she laughs. “One time my mother called while I was teaching. But people love the live-ness and get a sense of community from it that way.”
There are even students in Mexico following along based on a recommendation. And while Henke is requesting $30/month from those who can afford it — offering taped segments of sessions for playback at a more convenient time — anyone who wants to access the classes can, for free if needed.
“I can honestly say this is probably the most fulfilling of all my yoga teachings,” Henke says. “Even as odd as it is to teach online and to talk to myself for 90 minutes three times a week, I really feel I am giving back the knowledge I have gained over the years. You learn to share. And,” she laughs, “I might just continue doing this.”