Yoga Locked down

Yoga Locked Down

Should yoga studios be classified as an essential service? Yes, says YogaVenue co-founder Caroline Falce Gozzi

The only time I leave my house is to come to a yoga class at the studio. I don’t know what I will do this lockdown without the studio?”

“I have rheumatoid arthritis, my body seized up last lockdown and the pain was intolerable. How will I cope this lockdown without hot yoga? This is the only thing that removes my pain and I don’t want to have to take medication again”

“Yoga helps manage my anxiety; I am not sure I can cope if the studio closes again”

“My severe asthma means I cannot exercise outside, practicing yoga has helped me manage my asthma as well as helped me become healthier, I don’t have good wifi, I can’t do online yoga, what will I do?”

These are some of the comments I received as a studio owner after the announcement from the Prime Minister of Lockdown 2.0 requiring all yoga studios and fitness facilities to close again for a minimum of one month, starting last November.

Covid-19 has certainly shaken up the world. It has taken lives, separated families and friends, negatively impacted physical health and mental wellbeing and caused economic devastation more than any of us could have imagined. It is now 10 months since the first lockdown in March and yet, again, in November and into December, yoga studios across the country were forced to close their doors. Those that can have been offering their students online classes.

No one wants to get ill or see their loved ones suffer, but is closing the sector that can support and help improve physical health and mental wellbeing the answer?

Fitness & health
Evidence has shown that being fit and healthy better positions us to fight Covid-19. The Prime Minister has stated publicly that had he not been overweight, unfit and unhealthy, his own battle with Covid-19 would not have been life threatening. But as a nation, we are one of the unhealthiest in the world. Over 60% of our adult population is classified as obese, 6% of our population suffer from an auto-immune disease (the third largest disease group after cancer and heart disease) (ONS data), and mental health illness is at an all-time high, with one in every two adults saying their mental health has declined during the previous lockdown (Mind).

There is no time like now to improve the health of our country and encourage the British population to get healthy. Getting outside and exercising, which was allowed as part of the Lockdown 2.0, is only part of the solution. Practicing yoga, strength training, cardio and other forms of fitness are just as important, perhaps even more so during the winter months.

The fitness sector, (in particular yoga studios) is essential for the health of our population and I believe should have remained open during Lockdown 2.0 — and any subsequent planned lockdowns. There are numerous studies that outline the physical and mental health benefits of a regular yoga practice in a studio environment with expert well-trained teachers, some of which include:

  • Improves flexibility and strength
  • Boosts your immune system
  • Builds your focus and concentration
  • Helps to manage stress and anxiety
  • Aid with weight management and muscle tone
  • Improves your cardiovascular and respiratory systems
  • Provides the foundations for a healthy life
  • Provides a sense of community

The list is endless and if you are reading this you probably started your own practice to help with one of these reasons above.

Community space
Research from UK Active supports the view that yoga studios and gyms are safe environments to attend and exercise in and there is no reason for their closure. Extensive measures are in place to ensure each facility is Covid secure, which include temperature checks, social distancing, deep cleaning, among others. Also, unlike bars and restaurants, the number of people who use these facilities are tiny. We also have minimal equipment; everyone brings their own mats and towels, so issues with high touch points are significantly reduced.

Recent research by SAID Business School in Oxford found that prior to lockdown less than 0.001% of the British population had a yoga studio membership. Since lockdown this number is probably 50% lower.

The positive impacts on the quality of the lives of the people who attend studios for classes and physical and mental health is huge, much greater than the potential risks of catching Covid-19 from these facilities.

I’ve also heard people say: “Why do people need to come to a yoga studio anymore? You can practice online now?”. This is true and online classes have helped many people keep and deepen their practice as well as help keep some studios stay afloat by generating cash flow. However, yoga studios offer more than just teachers giving instructions for yoga poses which, yes, we can do over zoom.

Yoga studios provide support, encouragement, feedback, group energy and not forgetting a vital sense of community. These things don’t translate so well online.

I think we have forgotten that we are naturally social beings and we like to be with other people in person in groups; this is part of our natural make up. We weren’t made for sitting in front of a computer all day on our own.

Keep studios open
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the government takes note of the lobbying happening in the health and fitness sector. I’m hoping it keeps gyms and yoga studios open regardless of what happens with future lockdowns and also provides us with support to allow us to continue to do what we do best — help people become and stay healthy physically and mentally.

Yoga studios have taken a battering this year. Like all footfall-based businesses we have suffered; many studios have gone out of business and lots of yoga teachers have lost their jobs.

Even operating under the restrictions we are required to have in place makes it extremely challenging and not all studios can make it work as we have seen.

Those of us that are battling through it are doing so because we really love what we do and want to continue what we set out to do, which is help people lead the best lives possible through the practice of yoga.

If you feel the same way please contact your local MP and ask them to recommend that the fitness sector, including yoga studios, be exempt from closure during lockdowns and be classified as essential to enable the sector to continue to support the physical and mental health of our population.

Caroline Falce Gozzi is the co-founder of YogaVenue and the Spiralling Crow School of Yoga in Oxford (yogavenue.co.uk)

LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK
We’d love to know your thoughts on  this subject. Has your local studio been closed during the lockdowns and how has it affected you personally or professionally?
Email: editor@ommagazine.com

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