After 13 years at 59 Main St. East, Huntsville, Ahimsa Yoga Room has closed its studio door. But with 20 years as a local business, that doesn’t mean Ahimsa has stopped providing yoga classes to its dedicated and supportive following.
The announcement, released on Ahimsa’s Facebook page on May 30, came after weeks in which the studio space was closed following provincial restrictions due to COVID-19. Ahimsa had already pivoted to a format of offering online classes, however, like many small businesses facing viability issues during this time, owner Allie Chisholm-Smith had to predict the future.
“From a business perspective, I could not afford rent and expenses if classes were to be half the size,” she said. “I looked at the next two years and saw limited class sizes, increased resources needed for sterilization, clients needing to bring all of their own props—mat, bolster, blanket, pillow, strap and eye bag—and lastly, I couldn’t easily offer them a cup of tea.”
The potential drastic changes did not sit well with the studio’s mission or philosophy. “Ahimsa is a place for people to create sanctuary and I didn’t see that happening with masks, gloves, and personal distancing. That didn’t feel like sanctuary to me,” said Chisholm-Smith. Instead, according to their post, they decided to “take away the stress of overhead and put that energy into creating” by looking for “a resilient path forward that allows all of us to connect.”
True to the spirit of Ahimsa, Chisholm-Smith doesn’t see this as an ending, but rather as a rebirth into another form. “Closing the studio was a huge, life-changing decision—it was a painful decision—but the right one.”
Chisholm-Smith wasn’t sure how her clients would react to the necessary shift to an online platform in March, but has been surprised and pleased with the response. “So many of our clients came with us to the online format, even though it meant a steep learning curve,” she said. “They were so relieved that we showed up really quickly and created a forum to reconnect.”
She described the eerie quiet of the early days of quarantine and the lack of socializing in classes: “One of the really stark things [during] the first phase of this quarantine was that we all felt like we didn’t exist. There wasn’t anyone to say hello to,” she said. “So Ahimsa got up and running on Facebook and Zoom pretty fast, and it was like everyone inhaled again.” There were even clients showing up more frequently onscreen from far-off places. “We have clients in Ecuador, Australia, United States, BC, and Europe.”
Still, the changes have been difficult for some—particularly those with poor Internet service, or with screen sensitivities or burnout. “Not all of our clients have shifted. Some with weak Internet have struggled a bit more, but we are trying to meet them with audio-only recordings. Others just can’t handle the screen, and it just doesn’t feel like yoga to them.”
There have also been surprising positives with these changes, providing ease and comfort in uncertain times. “Many people miss the in-person aspect of our business, but there are equal amounts that prefer the online format, where they can just pop onto their computer for one hour instead of driving into town. We also offer a recorded version of our classes, so people can choose when to access that link as opposed to having to make a time fit in their schedule,” she said. “Some have also said that they just feel safer being able to do this from home. To be able to see people from afar is still really positive.”
Currently, Chisholm-Smith along with Wendy Martin of Sacred Breath Yoga offer daily, hour-long online classes through Ahimsa from Monday to Saturday, ranging from Gentle, Restorative, and Moderate, to Fascial Unwind. The daily, recorded classes keep it fresh with new experiences, content, and connection. Drop-ins as well as packages varying in length are available on their website.
Despite losing their physical studio space, Chisholm-Smith observes that the necessity of change can foster unexpected growth opportunities. “Online offers unlimited potential for growth,” she said. “I am planning courses and programs on yoga philosophy and Ayurvedic medicine that will be podcast-based, and Wendy has a whole slew of workshops up her sleeve that she will also be able to create.”
Of course, there are many things that Chisholm-Smith will miss about having the Ahimsa studio downtown. “I miss the people, the interaction, the community,” she said. “I was looking back at a Zoom recording of a class to make sure it worked, and the last two minutes contained shots of people’s faces filling the screen with big smiles, saying thank you. That was bittersweet because I miss those faces so much.”
There are changes in the works as the province plans to safely reopen. Ahimsa is looking to respond accordingly, and has consulted with the Town and Veda Yoga to offer outdoor classes when it’s feasible.
“The Town has been amazing,” she said. “I wrote to all of the councillors—including Mayor Terziano—and they all responded to me within the day. Sarah Shaw, from Veda Yoga, had originally approached me with the idea to collaborate on outdoor park/dock yoga and, of course, I said yes right away. [Council] agreed to let us teach in the parks under the agreement that there was no territoriality.”
There are still details to work out. “It is going to be tricky because of the maximum gathering numbers [of 5],” said Chisholm-Smith. “But as maximum numbers become more plentiful, and bugs less plentiful, we will be there.”
Where does Ahimsa go from here? “COVID is a time of ‘yes-and’, which is very Yogic. I feel grief, yes, and I feel tremendous hope for what is to come. Can we hold the clarity and realizations that this time is giving us and can we mourn for our losses?”
Chisholm-Smith has hope for what the future will bring. “We will teach live again in a space with walls, but it will be different—maybe even better.”
For information on Ahimsa’s classes, visit ahimsa.ca.
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