To open or not to open? That is the question.

At the beginning of April I wrote I missed seeing the students in person. Today I write and I am still missing them. The classes are still online and I don’t know when we will be back together at College Hill Yoga. Believe me when I say: I would rather we all be together, in the same room.

The past three months have been a roller coaster for everyone. Last March, per the governor’s orders, most all the businesses in my neighborhood were required to close. It was like watching a slow moving car accident as the close down orders came in. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Such an event never entered my consciousness as a possibility. I was completely stunned.

Right after the shutdown I found a way, using Zoom, to gather the students together. We were all reassured and felt relieved. “Zoom Yoga” wasn’t as bad as I thought but I was glad it was only temporary (or so I thought). As soon as the governor said it was okay we would be back together and quit this zooming.

In the following weeks I did lots of research about COVID-19, how it is transmitted and what steps I would need to take to bring people back into College Hill Yoga.

Science: how you contract COVID-19

The scientists believe that you can contract COVID-19 by:

  1. touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your face (mouth / nose / ears) or
  2. breathing in virus containing airborne droplets, that were exhaled by an infected person*

*[airborne transmission is highly virulent and represents the dominant route to spread the disease]

Not touching contaminated surfaces seemed like common sense, because it’s similar to instructions we have heard about avoiding colds or the flu. But the possibility of transmission via the air raised a red flag for me for my yoga classes.

My yoga space has a big wall of windows which do not open. The room must either be heated or air-conditioned. The ceiling fans and the air currents created by the HVAC system would circulate viral air droplets around to all the students in the room. The six foot social distancing recommendations could very well not protect you in a closed up room, especially if you are in the room for longer than a few minutes.


The state of Ohio outlines sanitizing re-opening guidelines I would need to follow. The work to make sure common spaces are virus free is IMMENSE. That work could possibly add an entire hour to my already very busy day. (BTW, College Hill Yoga cannot afford to hire a cleaning service, in case you were thinking of that option).

I am adult–I know how to sweep the floor and clean the bathroom. But my general approach to cleaning is “that’s good enough, let’s do yoga”. I do not have confidence I would be able to keep up with the required cleaning over time. I could see at first being very diligent and then over time slacking here or there. What if I got busy and forgot to buy hand soap and someone uses the last bit in class? Before COVID-19 these types of trivial errors certainly occurred in a yoga business. They absolutely cannot occur now that we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.

Maybe you are thinking I am being silly–like, just clean up Aaron! But seriously, when considering to re-open you have to think through all of the scenarios and see if you can handle them.

Gyms are open

Like most yoga teachers / studio owners I was waiting until the governor said gyms could open, taking that as my cue that yoga can also open. But now I see this is yet another instance I can point out that yoga class is not the same as going to a gym. (at this point I am a broken record in my classes “yoga is not a gym!”)

One way it’s different is because we don’t do the huffing and puffing that occurs on a treadmill. What we do do is try to be learn new ways to explore our breath. To be sensitive to the subtleties. That sensitivity requires a certain atmosphere where the mind can be quieted. Putting a mask across your face, I think, would wreck the sensitivity. And taking the mask off could increase transmission rates. I personally do not want to wear a mask to teach, and I would be the one talking constantly (spreading my droplets) so I should cover my face, for sure.

Do no harm

I am not a risk averse person. I have taken a few risks in my life that most people would never dream of doing themselves. I don’t worry about legal issues and being sued–they just don’t occur to me. None-the-less, I have been very surprised how my parenting instinct has taken over everywhere and I want everyone to just stay safe. Any person I see through my store front window, I want to give them a hug. Anyone I see riding their bike next to my car, I want to tell them to be safe and that everything will be okay. This definitely includes my students. Young, old, fat, thin, healthy or not. All of them.

In addition to wanting to protect my own students I don’t want to do harm to communities who are being disproportionately affected by this pandemic. Communities of color, those with compromised immune systems, our beloved elderly living in a nursing home or those serving their time in a prison. The more we move around the more the virus can spread and cause more harm to these communities.

Finalized decision (for now)

The decision not to open in-person classes has been hard for me–but why? When I look at the many risk variables listed here it seems like an easy decision. But what I have yet to list is the fact that I LOVE THE STUDENTS. And I LOVE YOGA. Yoga students + yoga teaching = Aaron’s great love.

The yoga sutras talk about attachments and how even joyful attachments can lead to future pains. My yearning for the way things used to be, my love for students, the joy I feel after a yoga class —> these are all attachments. If I can put those attachments aside for just a second then I can see what is right, for me, for my family, for College Hill Yoga.

But the unknown is scary. That was true before COVID and it will be true after COVID. Instead of clinging to the way things were back in March I am choosing to look at the reality today. And try to make decisions based on that reality. WE ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF WORLDWIDE PANDEMIC. (re-read that statement slowly several times, if it doesn’t sink in look away from the screen for a moment). A WORLDWIDE PANDEMIC WHICH IS KILLING PEOPLE. We cannot go back to “business as usual”.

What hasn’t changed for me? My reliance on yoga. I will continue to make decisions for my life and my teaching based on my reliance on yoga. Hopefully then, through the practice, the real can be seen plainly.

Aaron, the instructor at College Hill Yoga, will continue practicing and teaching, in some capacity, as long as there are students. I have no idea what is going to happen to College Hill Yoga, the store front business, on Hamilton Avenue, in Cincinnati, Ohio. But that unknown was true before COVID, and it will be true after COVID.

(hopefully) One day we will say, remember when we did all that yoga online? That day has not arrived yet.

Stay safe, everyone. I love you.

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