A pre-COVID-19 class at Iyengar Yoga Centre of Victoria
THE NON-PROFIT Iyengar Centre of Victoria has been a remarkable success story. Since its inception in 1976, it has grown to offer over 40 classes weekly to 450 people. For the last 20 years, it has done so from beautiful, large studios on upper Fort Street. Based on the teachings of Yoga Master B.K.S Iyengar, the Centre takes great pride in its rigorously trained teachers and offering one of the most comprehensive programs of Iyengar Yoga in North America.
Of course, that has all changed, at least for a while. On March 16, the centre shut down in response to the pandemic and needed public health actions.
General Manager Wendy Boyer tells me that the closure meant an immediate loss of revenue of $49,000. “March is a big month for us. We had to cancel classes plus the annual five-day workshop with Jawahar, our teacher from Mumbai, who attracts about 70 students.”
Iyengar Yoga Centre’s General Manager Wendy Boyer
Boyer, who has taught since 1996, tells me they sent out an “appeal letter” after closing, reminding students that as a registered charity, their class fees could be donated for a tax receipt. “We received overwhelming support,” says Boyer. Within hours of the appeal, about 50 had responded and so far, people have donated about $10,000.
Still the closure meant that Iyengar’s 21 teachers, all contractors, along with four part-time staff, were out of work. Right now only Boyer and office manager Britta Poisson are still working (remotely).
They have been very busy. Says Boyer, “Britta and I are still working on admin—mostly refunding to the students because of cancellations. Also connecting through our online channels: e-bulletins, website blog, Facebook and Instagram.”
And, like so many businesses, the Iyengar team has been figuring out how to host classes on line. They will launch the first couple of classes, live-streaming from the teachers’ homes, at the beginning of May. Fortunately, Boyer enjoys learning new technology so is excited. But she recognizes that experimenting with technology is a big step for others. “It takes time to transition to the virtual world.” So they will start slow and evolve from there. Boyer feels that even when the studio opens, some may choose to continue with online classes, so it’s a good investment of their time.
Boyer tells me the online classes will be very affordable, adding, “We just basically want to help people keep up their yoga practice, to communicate the Iyengar method and philosophy, and help them get set up at home.” The teachers will show students what props they can use at home—for instance, books for blocks— “the way we used to do it,” notes Boyer, before things got so professionalized. “That said the Centre is eager to open our studio as soon as it is deemed safe to do so.”
Boyer says they are looking into the federal government’s wage subsidy; they are also hoping to see some relief on the rent front, but so far have only been offered “deferral” by their landlord.
Because of the likely need for some degree of physical distancing into future months, Boyer is thinking through ways they could accomplish that—such as having smaller class sizes, asking people to bring their own props and gear, and avoiding use of the change rooms.
The first online classes will be Tuesday and Friday from 10 -11:30am with Ann Kilbertus and Ty Chandler. Check the website for how to register.
Leslie Campbell is Focus’ editor.