Yoga studios empty amid coronavirus outbreak, so instructors stream their way to namaste

By Marianne Love Correspondent

If there was ever a time when our country needed to de-stress it is now.

The threat of the novel coronavirus nipping at our heels has sent communities into a panic.

Yoga experts say yoga postures, breathing and meditation are ways to calm and ground the jittery psyche.

The yoga community in Southern California, in particular, see their craft as a welcomed relief to sleeping better and feeling more relaxed and at ease with the uncertain circumstances facing us for at least the next two weeks.

Studio owners have closed up shop, but will live stream their specialized classes in hopes their craft has a quieting effect on the community.

Christine LaMonica has been teaching flow yoga, the moving and linking of breath to the movement, at Prema Yoga for the past five years, although she has been an instructor for many more years than that.

She started streaming free classes daily on Facebook this week.

Classes are open to everyone including her regulars.

Some of the flow classes take place at her Granada Hills location, while other instructors will stream live from home-based studios in cities like Chatsworth, Santa Clarita and Woodland Hills.

“People were starting to get nervous about coming in, and I wanted to offer something to our students who were either nervous for themselves or someone in their lives they didn’t want to risk exposure to,” said LaMonica.

Before the coronavirus, the yoga movement was already leaning toward prerecorded online classes.

Rebecca Benenati, owner of Wellborn Lifestyles in Sherman Oaks, works with prenatal and postnatal women and couples while also offering wellness, meditation and mindfulness classes to others.

“It is more interesting and more important to me to offer classes where people can gather at real time and gather with the same group of people they are usually practicing with,” Benenati said. “And so my yoga community, which has been my community for nearly 25 years, has come together and they are streaming online and get to see each other and be with each other.”

Benenati said she received phone calls from new customers on Monday because they knew they could get a real-time teacher and not prerecorded class instruction.

“I saw this as an opportunity to keep my business going,” she said. “Honestly, I do this and the reason why I love what I do … I have to help people. I need to know that I am helping people feel better in chaotic times, in scary times, in overwhelming times which is why I am also birth doula.”

Benenati said”yoga works wonders for the nervous system and that is exactly what the world needs right now.

“You can get overworked from fear or stress or anxiety,” she said. “We need practices that will nurture our nervous systems and get that fight or flight response to come down and make us feel calm again and make us feel safe again through postures and breathing and meditation.”

Claire Hartley, owner of Rising Lotus Yoga in Sherman Oaks and Newhall, spent last week researching online technology and launched a streaming session on Monday for the first time.

“I think at the end of this, whatever happens, there is definitely innovation happening in a way to reach students,” Hartley said. “(I’m) creating a virtual online studio, because we don’t know how long this is last. It could last a while.”

Hartley, a yoga teacher since 2002, said she had 45 students tuning in on Monday as far away as Kentucky and London on the video conferencing app called Zoom.

“People were crying at the end,” Hartley said. “Everybody is so anxious and said this is what we needed … (and that they felt) so much better.”

Hartley said while some people are in a panic or shut-down mode, yoga breath work and mindfulness, a type of meditation, is a way to cope better.

“Everybody is shutting down and this work will bring you back into a better state of ease,” she said. “This is the way that we boost our immune system (when) coming out of that fight or flight shutdown.”

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