A perennially-cheerful Kat Wheatly makes a heart sign into a camera broadcasting her virtual yoga class to dozens of students from around the world. Wheatley manages Key Largo Yoga, which recently added virtual vinyasa classes when in-person classes were suspended to promote safe social distancing.
Owner Kathy Shirley told the Weekly, “The biggest reason is to reconnect. We really felt like the community needed the connections and the support of each other.” She adds, “Post Hurricane Irma, we all stood around and didn’t know what to do. Since then, we learned how to reconnect in a safe way and we’re using that knowledge now.”
The studio created a virtual forum to substitute for lost in-person social time. Shirley and Wheatley recently spent an hour trying to help an older client trouble-shoot how to connect and see her yoga friends.
“She lives alone and lost her husband last year, so she was so happy to have this time with others,” Shirley says. “It’s just a great time for clients to safely interact with others and us.”
“20 minutes before class, we open the online space so students coming in can communicate online when they see each other, just like in person,” says Shirley. “Then, when we get there, we check in on everyone.” Students have the option to leave their own camera off and just hear and see Shirley and Wheatley during classes. If they turn their camera on, Wheatley can virtually “adjust” and help fine-tune poses, just as she does during in-person classes.
Shirley explains, “Kat and I are both there during all classes, so one of us teaches and one talks to students. Kat can watch your practice and say, ‘Tiffany, lengthen your back leg or lean into the posture more,’ so it feels more like a real yoga class in the studio.”
“Accountability is a huge component to getting on your mat,” adds Shirley. It’s why people like coming into the studio, she explains. “When we practice at home, we don’t push as much as when a teacher is there. So, live classes are a great substitute in these times to keep us motivated.”
The response has been “phenomenal,” with up to 24 students signing in every class from as far away as Australia. Many are snowbirds who enjoy this new way to engage with their home studio in the Keys even while they’re far away.
Key Largo Yoga’s classes are donation-based, with a suggested donation of $5 to $10 per class. Shirley adds, “Kat and I and our husbands are all out of work. And we know lots of our students are too, so we don’t expect anything.” She urges, “If you’re out of work, you need to come and join us. Don’t worry about making a donation. Please don’t even think about it. We’ll see you on the mat!”