In moments of uncertainty, stress and worry, stop and focus on your breath.
That’s the advice from Sarah Driscoll, owner of Breathing Room Yoga in Cedar Rapids, and Andrea Gorsh, owner of Kae’s Apothecary in Mount Vernon. Theirs are among the many businesses who have started offering virtual yoga and meditation sessions to help people find some calm amid the coronavirus shut down and social distancing.
“It’s an anxious time for everybody. There’s so much unknown, so being able to clear your mind, get a little meditation practice, is good,” Driscoll said.
She set up a YouTube channel with videos of yoga classes and has been doing live classes via Zoom. The schedule and class links are on her website, breathingroomyoga.net.
She’s offering the online classes for free, though her website has an option for people to pay what they can.
“I know some of my friends are completely out of work. I’m happy they can get online and do yoga with us and not worry about paying,” she said. “So far, everybody has been really supportive, and I am still getting some sales everyday.”
Her husband, Ben Driscoll, also owns his own business, Driscoll Cabinet and Furniture Makers.
“I worry about small businesses, but I feel like we’ll be OK,” she said, adding with a laugh, “We’re kind of used to living in a pretty broke state anyway.”
Other studios are offering online classes as well. Miranda Meyer of Iowa City takes classes from Downward Dog Yoga in Coralville, which has links to Zoom classes via its website, downwarddog-yoga.com.
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A freelance photographer (she worked for The Gazette in the later 1990s to early 2000s) her business has mostly dried up over the last two weeks. Still being able to do yoga helps her keep a sense of normalcy, she said.
“It has been really nice because it has been a way to stay connected to this group of people who’ve all become friends, and it’s nice to have this community where we still see each other every day or every couple of days. At the end of class, people turn their mute off so we can all chat a little bit,” she said. “I always know when I attend a class I feel better afterward, I feel more relaxed and kind of happier.”
Driscoll said there are cons to not being able to hold in-person classes. She can’t always see people well enough over video to tell if they are doing poses correctly. And she said with children home from school, people’s homes may not be the most peaceful settings. Still, she said her 5-year-old son has been watching her lessons and is picking up the terminology, so there are benefits, too.
Another benefit — she’s had friends and family who have never had the chance to visit her studio tuning in for classes.
“It’s so awesome to have friends from London or Portland join you and then log on and chat a little bit. Older aunts and uncles are proud of me and get to see what I do,” she said. “I’ve had friends that live all over the place who have asked me for years to do videos online.”
Gorsh has had a similar experience with the online meditation sessions she’s been offering through the Kae’s Apothecary Facebook page.
Though the shop is closed to foot traffic, she still is offering curbside pickup and online orders. But with in-person workshops canceled, she wanted a way to keep offering them, starting with the free weekly Saturday morning meditation sessions she’s led out of the shop for years.
On an average Saturday she said she has about 15 people show up. During the first online session she offered March 21, she saw up to 80 people watching at a time.
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“To be honest, that one was really emotional for me,” she said. “My family members live pretty far away from me so I was able to invite them to this meditation. I noticed when my dad popped in, and afterword my stepmom sent me a photo of him in his easy chair, meditating.”
She said meditation — whether it is a few minutes or an hour — is a beneficial practice to help manage stress.
“I think that meditation is valuable all the time but certainly in times like these when we have heightened anxieties,” she said. “Everybody has a certain amount of stress that is unique to them on a regular basis, and now it’s amplified to the nth degree.”
Whether in yoga or meditation, a key is to focus on breathing as a way to center thoughts and calm the mind, Driscoll said. Doing so takes practice.
“We’re really focusing on having people focus on taking time to let their mind control their breath. You’re pushing all the other thoughts to the back of your mind and really quieting them down, and focusing on the breath,” she said. “Just giving our minds a little break, a little quiet, is something we have to work on too, the way we work on muscles.
Gorsh said hosting the online sessions has helped her own sense of well-being.
“I want everyone to know that even though we are sequestered to our homes and some of us are not leaving at all, we’re not alone,” she said. “We’re all in this together.”
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