The wellness and fitness industries have been forever changed following the pandemic. When studios across the county first closed, people turned to online classes for community and support. Now, businesses are reopening and welcoming their clients back to their in-person services. However, practitioners are testing their limits as they try to make ends meet. Close to home, the weather is getting colder and most studios are going to have to adapt. Many people may choose to work out within the comfort of their homes, which poses problems for neighborhood yoga studios like Asana Soul Practice.
Back in March, it was heartbreaking to see Asana Soul Practice close their doors. In the midst of the pandemic, owners Celeste and Marc Cusamano pivoted their entire business so they’d survive indefinite closures and a decrease in clientele. While instilling an online platform wasn’t easy, it proved successful as they were recently named the best place in New Jersey to practice yoga virtually by Yelp. Now that they’ve reopened their Hoboken and Jersey City studios, the financial and physical struggles they faced months ago haven’t disappeared. We recently spoke to Celeste of Asana Soul Practice about how she and her husband shifted their business model in order to survive and what steps they’re taking now to stay afloat.
What was it like to have to close your doors? How did you react and respond to not being able to teach in person?
We got the notification on March 15th that we were ordered to close through government mandate. I would say like five days or so before, we kind of started to see the writing on the wall. We were able to quickly act and started putting together an on-demand platform before we even were ordered to shut down. It went live on the 16th, and we had to close on the 16th, so that was huge. The fact that we were able to pivot so quickly and offer our members an option to continue their practice with us was a win. Of course, our business is in-person classes, but we did our best to create a really strong platform on demand.
From there, we added a live stream schedule—which was also a great way to keep our teachers employed. We used PPP funds to help facilitate that in addition to our on-demand classes. Once the summer months kicked in, we were able to do outdoor classes. Hoboken was very supportive in terms of creating a program for fitness studios to use outdoor space throughout the city. Sadly, Jersey City was not as helpful so it took us a little more time to get that up and running. But we did, and that has been good for us as well.
How did you hang onto the community of a wellness space when you couldn’t open your doors? How did you translate that to an online platform?
I would say that our live stream classes helped to facilitate the community that we’ve built. People are able to see each other and to talk to each other before and after class. That’s so important for yoga because a yoga studio is a space where people do want to come together and connect. We also had a few donation-based classes to support the BLM movement, as well as a vision boarding event and meditation events. Now we’re bringing back some in-person events as well. Our Hoboken studio has a backyard, so we’re trying to utilize that for events and keep everything socially distanced and safe.
Are there any challenges that come with hosting classes outdoors?
In previous summers, we hosted outdoor classes but they were more of a special event, and oftentimes they would be free or in partnership with another business. So the fact that we were offering weekly outdoor classes on our schedule was new for us this summer. There were definitely unforeseen benefits to having to practice outdoors that we enjoyed, and I hope we can continue to do that with our classes in the upcoming summers.
There are also complications with doing outdoor classes in terms of canceling because of the rain, having a conflict with another fitness studio that wanted to use the space, or a little league team that wants to use the baseball field we were using for our outdoor classes. So there’s a lot of conflicts that come with doing an outdoor class. There are just things you can’t control, so ideally in the future, we’ll stay in the studio space and then host outdoor classes as more of a special event.
How have you changed your in-studio practice so that it’s COVID safe? What is required of members?
The requirements are that members must wear masks the entire time, which honestly is not bad at all. When we reopened, I was actually nine months pregnant. I was testing it out— practicing in the studio with a mask on— and it was totally fine. Especially when you maintain a constant flow of air with the fan on, which we do. We keep the temperature just right so that it’s comfortable with a mask on. You almost forget that you’re wearing it.
We also do temperature checks upon arrival and a health declaration. We ask you to either wash your hands or use the hand sanitizer that’s provided. We’ve eliminated our yoga props, just to reduce high-touch items. We ask members to bring their own mats as well. We also purchased probiotic air filters for both studios to improve the air quality throughout. With 25 percent capacity, that also means that there are six feet of social distancing between each yoga mat on all sides. And we clean. We clean vigorously between each and every class with disinfecting cleaner, sanitizing all surfaces—the floors, everything.
In relation to your studio, what do you think the most surprising result of the pandemic has been?
Early on in the pandemic, people were so, so supportive. We ran a GoFundMe for our staff and hit our goal within five days. So people were super generous and want to help, wanting to support us. It just made me want to work harder for our clients. I wanted to survive for them because they love us so much. I think it’s important for the general public to know that we still need your support, now more than ever. It’s not easy as a small business owner right now and we all need to support each other.
How do you think yoga and meditation have helped ground and guide you throughout the challenges of recent months?
Oh, so much! You know, by practicing yoga every day, you have to remind yourself constantly what matters most in life. Practicing gratitude, practicing non-attachment, remembering to breathe, taking time for yourself, loving yourself, taking care physically and mentally—wherever you are. Yoga teaches you to be patient and how to love yourself without expectation or judgment. And that’s what we teach at our studio as well. We consider ourselves to be one of the most inclusive spaces. We’re called Asana Soul Practice because we believe that yoga is a soul practice and that we all deserve to feel good and to find ourselves throughout the practice of yoga.
For more on Asana Soul Practice or to view their class schedule, visit their website.