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Yoga In The Time Of A Pandemic

Yoga in the Time of a Pandemic

Thoughts from Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher, Jennifer Zelmer 

We’ve been navigating new territory over the last few weeks, leading the World Health Organization to describe COVID-19 as a pandemic on March 11th. While as of now (morning of March 15th), the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to assess the risk associated with COVID-19 as low for the general population in Canada, they note that this could change rapidly. They also flag that there is increased risk of more severe outcomes for older adults, those who have compromised immune systems, and those with underlying medical conditions.

Yoga students, teachers, and studios are making decisions about how to respond to this evolving situation, just as others in our community are. I’ve written this note in the spirit of mutual support and sharing lessons learned from the approach that we are taking in my day job at a national health-related charity. I hope that you find it useful and that we can collectively share and learn from our experiences as a community in this difficult time.

Local, provincial/territorial, national, and international public health authorities are issuing advice regularly. This includes:

  • All of us should be practicing good hygiene precautions, such as regular hand washing and practicing respiratory etiquette (poster with four key tips here)
  • People at higher risk should be taking additional precautions (scroll down to the summary table on this link)
  • There are proactive steps that businesses and community organizations can take, whether or not the virus has arrived in your community yet (more here)

What does this mean for yoga studios and teachers? Based on this advice, clearly:

  • Anyone with even mild symptoms should not be in class
  • Anyone at higher risk (older adults, underlying conditions, etc) is being advised to undertake protective self-separation when the virus is circulating in their community and so should not be in class
  • Anyone with a travel history outside of Canada (including the US) is being asked to self-isolate for 14 days and so should not be in class

Public health authorities are also increasingly advising social distancing more generally. This strategy has been shown to be effective in other countries. For instance, China reported just 18 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, lower than Canada’s total for the day.

Jarvis Chen, a senior teacher from the US who is also a social epidemiologist has written an article with advice that is specific to yoga classes. It includes concrete suggestions for reducing risk or for cancelling classes. In addition to the points that Jarvis raises, you may wish to consider how quickly and reliably you or public health authorities could contact students should there be an exposure in class.

Some Canadian studios and teachers have already cancelled classes. If you haven’t done so and don’t already have a plan for doing so, now is definitely the time to create one. This is not something that you want to have to do on the fly! For instance, think through what your criteria would be for cancelling, draft a notice to your students, know who will send the notice out and how, and how you will physically shut the studio (e.g. notices on doors).

It’s also a good time to think about how we can come together as a community to support each other. Some ideas to get the conversation started:

  • Practice, as we know, is an important contributor to wellness. Could we collectively send out a practice of the day to support students who are practicing at home, perhaps for the first time?
  • Yoga communities offer support and connection for many. Are there ways that we can ‘buddy up’ to support each other even if we’re not physically seeing each other in class?
  • Many yoga teachers and studios are dependent on income from classes, which will be reduced during an outbreak. Are there opportunities for those who are able to do so to contribute to a fund to ensure the resiliency of our Iyengar yoga community?

I look forward to hearing others’ creative ideas. Together, we’ll get through this.

Jennifer Zelmer is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher, living and practicing in Ottawa. She has also held leadership positions in the health sector in Canada and internationally for more than 20 years. 
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