Pandemic lessons for an aerial yoga studio

March 12, 2021
March 12, 2021 Katharine Scalora

How many of you think the phrase “hindsight is 20/20” has a whole new meaning now? I’ve been seeing and hearing many people, like myself, reflecting back on their pre-COVID selves this week, as we all recall where we were, what we were doing, and how we behaved before the virus took over our lives. The one-year mark seems like an appropriate time to consider how much and how dramatically things have changed for our aerial yoga studio. So, here it goes.

Looking back at ourselves in early March 2020, I want to shake my head gently with a pitying smile on my face. We had just moved into our new, private, permanent space on February 27. Our capacity was 17 students per class and our adult, teen and kids programs were thriving. We were just getting going, finally out on our own, after 10 months of sharing a space with another company. It felt like we were starting our business all over again, because in many ways we were—new rigging, new insurance, new lease….lots of responsibility.

Shelf full of yoga props

I remember this week of 2020 vividly. Lora and I spent an entire day building a shelving unit to hold all of our yoga props: blankets, blocks, bolsters, straps…negotiating over the best arrangement, the best placement, struggling to get it all to fit. Little did we know that just two days later, we would be closed, and shortly thereafter, we would be selling off all of those props. The storage unit now lies fully disassembled in my basement, gathering dust.

This silly anecdote is just one example of how we never really know what the future holds. That day, building the storage unit seemed all-important. Two days later, it was pointless and obsolete, as were all of the items it housed. Suddenly, the yoga tenet of non-attachment sounded like pretty valuable advice!

When we first closed down, we had no idea what we were going to do. Unlike most other yoga studios that could quickly pivot to online offerings, we couldn’t as easily adapt our aerial yoga classes for at-home practice. Having an aerial yoga silk in your house requires a professional contractor, aerial rigger or structural engineer to come into your space (definitely not advised during the early stages of lockdown), and we certainly didn’t want our students jerry-rigging things. Stand-alone rigs are huge and, at the time, were like toilet paper—sold out and very hard to find—as the aerial and circus community had to transition to in-home training and practice.

Kat teaching functional aerial yoga flow from home with a chair

We designed virtual classes that incorporated household furniture into silk-less variations of aerial yoga.

But necessity is the mother of invention, right? (I feel like that could be the “positive spin” catch phrase of 2020.) So we got creative. We designed new virtual classes that incorporated anything from household furniture to playground swings into silk-less variations of aerial yoga. We came up with strength and conditioning series to maintain our muscle memories, while our studio doors remained shut. And we continued to offer these and all of our traditional yoga classes online, for free, as long as we could, because all we wanted to do at that time was to keep the flame of our community alive.

After the first couple of months, despair started to set in. We had just taken a massive leap of faith, signing a brand new five-year lease and spending an exorbitant amount of money outfitting and rigging a new space, only for our entire operation, as we knew it, to grind to a screeching halt. What’s worse—we had no idea when and how it would end. But we kept sending our positive thoughts into the universe and planning for a reopening. And, luckily, our students kept showing up and supporting us financially, so that we didn’t go under.

Lora hanging up an aerial yoga silk

We engineered and reengineered our point placements to ensure everyone would be spaced out 14 feet apart and able to see the teacher. Photo credit: Rose Wine.

In the run up to reopening, we spent weeks exploring the best ways to safely manage a shared space in a time of Covid. We came up with a plan to rent and sell our fabrics, so that each of our students would feel comfortable practicing in their very own personal silk. We engineered and reengineered our point placements to ensure everyone would be spaced out 14 feet apart, as required by the state, and staggered in a way that would allow them to see the teacher. We created a laundry list of new safety and cleaning procedures and retrained our instructors on how to follow it all, whenever the time came.

Aerial yoga class at Earth & Aerial Yoga in Hudson MA

When we reopened in July 2020, we welcomed everyone back with open arms, and they came flying in through the doors. Photo credit: Rose Wine.

Finally, after a full four months of closure, we reopened (at 30% capacity) in July 2020! We welcomed everyone back with open arms, and they came flying in through the doors. Almost instantly, our classes were full, with waitlists, that didn’t let up even as we later added two additional points in our lobby space. Our kids and teens program grew from two to seven classes per week, as parents and children sought out healthy, productive ways to manage stress and expend energy, while many organized sports were cancelled. When a nearby studio postponed their Lyra program indefinitely, we recruited their teacher and added Lyra to our studio offerings. When students didn’t feel comfortable coming to group classes, we expanded our private, semi-private and small group offerings to accommodate their needs.

I’m sure the experience of living through a pandemic has impacted each and every one of us in different and unexpected ways. It’s certainly been a test of our resilience as a boutique yoga studio, as business partners and as a community of individuals who prioritize health and wellness. We have surprised ourselves with our creativity, adaptability, inventiveness and flexibility, and we are better business owners now that we have had a chance to flex all of those muscles. Like many others, we learned to pivot, and our business and community are stronger for it.

Katharine Scalora

Katharine Scalora is the co-owner of Earth & Aerial Yoga in Hudson, MA. She is an E-RYT-200 and a certified aerial yoga teacher and trainer. She loves teaching both mat and aerial yoga classes, and her passion about the benefits of both grows as her knowledge deepens. Her classes are playful and exploratory. She will encourage you to take risks and see your practice expand in ways you might not anticipate. Her teaching style has been influenced by studying yoga biomechanics with Jules Mitchell and apprenticing with Jacqui Bonwell.