Editor's note: This story is part of an ongoing series taking a look at how local businesses have adapted to the COVID-19 crisis. Check back regularly for more stories highlighting local businesses who have shifted to e-commerce, analysis from officials on how this has changed the local economy and more.
As health and wellness facilities across Alamance County scrambled to support their clientele in the wake of COVID-19 shutdowns last year, Feel Better Yoga in Burlington was one of the first to start offering services online.
More than a year later, the hot yoga studio is still embracing the changes brought on by the pandemic, offering online-only memberships and changing up the studio space to meet practitioners needs.
The studio closed down about a week beforeGov. Roy Coopermandated it and started uploading pre-recorded class videos to Vimeo. The content was free and sharable.
According to owner Shelley Roupas, this tactic kept many long-time studio members engaged.
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They were able to continue their practice at home and I think they just felt that it was a needed response for them because it happened so fast, and then the more we added videos, it was like then they were able to see, 'Like, OK, we can do yoga at home. We prefer to be in the studio, but you know we can do it at home and it's OK,' Roupas said. I feel like it was a really good move on our part for them.
The free videos also brought in some new yogis.
We have people from all over the country doing our videos because … a lot of places were sharing yoga videos but you had to pay for them. So we found that a lot of people were just sharing them … with, you know, their mom in a different city or their college roommate in a different city or whatever, Roupas said.
Seeing the success of the videos, Roupas started thinking about charging for them, but said that idea just didnt sit right with her.
Our mission has always been to share yoga because we believe in it so muchand ... it just seemed like the right thing to do is to just keep that free, she said. I believe in the power of reciprocity, where what you give, you get.
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Instead of charging for videos, the studio has started offering an online-only monthly membership for $39. This option allows clients to continue their yoga practice at home in live classes held over Zoom if theyre not yet ready to return to the studio.
The live classes have the element of presence and community and connection because it's a live class so there are actually people in the class and on Zoom. Every class we teach now is in person, and on Zoom, Roupas explained.
The response to the online offering has been positive, with Roupas saying many long-time, in-person members have started taking advantage of it.
We get a lot of people that are just continuing to do the (online classes). They might have elderly parents and so they just don't want to take a chance or they don't have their second vaccine yet and they want to keep up their practice ...for their mental health, so they just keep doing it at home, she said.
Free pre-recorded videos will continue to be uploaded on top of the online live classes. The studio is also offering a buy-one, give-one special, where clients can nominate a friend or family member to receive a free online membership.
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The adaptations spurred on by the pandemic dont stop there.
Oh my gosh, I mean everything is different, Roupas said.
In addition to the online classes, the in-studio experience has also changed. Pre-COVID, the studio held up to 75 people at a time. Now, Roupas said FBY has cut class sizes down to 34 to give clients more space for their practice.
A blessing of all this is ... I don't think that then I would have ever just said, 'Hey let's just cut our space availability down by, you know, 70% because that doesn't really make sense financially.' However, people love it. They love all the space they get, and so I don't think we're going to shift from this for a while, she said.
Roupas said the changes made during the pandemic were unexpected, but essential in keeping the studio and its members going through unprecedented times.
It showed us that ...to survive, you have to be willing to take risks and you have to be willing to not just talk about doing the thing, you have to actually do the thing. So that means you offer free yoga or ... create this new model of sharing yoga, and it's just taught me more than ever that you got to be willing to actually do it and not just think about it, she said.
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I think over the past year we've seen very clearly that people need yoga and yoga is about seeing the stories and the stress and the anxiety that is very real, but we make it way bigger than it is with what we tell ourselves ... in our mind. … Over the past year, our team has needed yoga, we've seen that people really need a way to deal with stress and anxiety and what-ifs, she added.
In an effort to continue providing space for that practice, Roupas said the online classes and additional space in the studio will stick around for quite a while.
Really that is the practice of yoga," she said. "It's about figuring out life as life is happening."
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Elizabeth Pattman is the trending topics reporter for the Times-News in Burlington, covering business, COVID-19 and all things trending.Contact Elizabeth (she/her) at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm also available on social media @EPattmanTN on Twitter or @burlingtontimesnews on Instagram.
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