A Deeper Look into Collective Grief and a Message of Hope 

by Anna Ottolino

Businesses around the globe are closing down. Especially small businesses. Even those that existed throughout the decades. It is so sad. And it is unprecedented. Another one bites the dust and we feel a pang in our hearts, knowing that our fellow humans are suffering and that this wave of change is so difficult for so many. As I listen, I can hear it in the voices of friends, family, and acquaintances as they list off yet another boutique or hair salon or favorite restaurant closing their doors for good. 

I am a yoga teacher and a former studio owner, and something has struck me as yoga studios fight to keep their businesses alive. They are doing everything they can to still provide value to the communities and people they have come to love and to also find creative ways to keep paying their bills. Many have switched to a virtual model during this time. Others have simply closed their doors. When I talk to my many contacts in the Yoga community, I hear real grief being expressed by both teachers and students. Even within studios who have vowed to make it through this but may have to move to a new location once the coast is clear. This grief is heavy. 

There is an element to the grief and the feedback about it that has hit me in a way I had not considered before. It’s about the actual physical space of the studio itself, and why that space is so important. It goes deeper than just resistance to change. There is desperation I hear in people holding on so tightly to that space. And as I try to validate yet offer hope, I feel the need to ponder the deeper reason…why are people who practice yoga, where a common theme is impermanence and letting go…having such a hard time “letting go”? Myself included. 

There is something unique about the vibe of a good yoga studio. You walk in and you feel safe and just so drawn to be a part of it, but you are not quite sure why this place feels different. The people and teachers are so kind. The blend of aromas is amazing. You get on your mat and there is an unspoken code of peaceful conduct and community and you somehow just get it. You stay in your rectangular space and you follow the directions of a skilled teacher who helps you not only move your body but do it in a way that takes you out of your head and into your heart. You are present in your body, transforming little by little every time you practice. And yes, you may get toned and limber, but the changes I am talking about coming from within. We get used to practicing next to these other present beings. Have you ever spent time with someone who was intensely present in the moment with you? Multiply that by a group of 10-20 people moving their bodies in similar ways and connecting to the same emotions and the same vibration or collective consciousness. 

It may sound strange but as humans we share energy. Our energy field goes beyond our physical bodies and that is sometimes why we feel good or bad in the presence of certain people. Where else can you go besides a church, temple, or other spiritual places where that many people are present and in their heart space at the same time sharing their good vibrations? That is what grabs us! The power of presence and being on the same frequency with others creates an energy that is palpable. It pushes us to go deeper into ourselves, and in that depth, we find understanding, compassion, and connection. That experience has been called many things. Shakti Bomb and Yoga Glow to name a couple. My own teacher Bhante Sujatha calls that “hit” spiritual candy. And we keep going back for more. It becomes part of our spiritual journey. 

The studio walls that house this inward process become something to which we so easily attach. And for so many good reasons. In different ways, the studio itself can often physically reflect the sojourn we take when embarking on a yoga practice. The studio feels like the physical manifestation of our internal transformation. It enhances the inner work we do. Where are we going to get our next dose if we don’t have our yoga space? 

There is another layer to this. There is innocence or purity when a business is owned and operated by someone who knew that going into the yoga business would be a labor of love. These are people who decide that yoga and its benefits are so important that they often survive off of their partners or from other jobs while paying themselves for only a fraction of what time they put into it. Just so the community has yoga. And the yoga teachers! They teach the practice because they love seeing people transform from the beginning of class to the end and of course over months and years. They, too, have also chosen this over something potentially more financially lucrative. 

So, you have well-intentioned owners and teachers and a space where all these present, loving beings are growing and transforming together. And that combination of factors raises the energetic vibration of a space. Many people I have spoken to and maybe people reading this often think….“yes, that is exactly why we can’t move…..we cannot lose our space!” I totally get it. It seems the space is an integral part of the equation, and that losing it or changing it could jeopardize the journey itself. Let me offer a different idea. A perspective that has changed in me over the last few months and that has given me hope and peace of mind. Your “Yoga Studio” is more than a building or a room. Just like our bodies are the vessels that hold our souls, the soul of the studio lives within the hearts of its community members. And it is transportable! You are the key to the journey. We are the key. The “us” that makes up the community is what is critical. Any space that houses our community will embody the spirit. It will transform into “our space” and “our studio” as we practice and build our experiences within it. This Pandemic reminds us how much our studios mean to us. When people ask what I have missed most during quarantine, my answer is that besides seeing my family and friends and not being able to hug, I miss practicing and teaching yoga in a yoga studio setting. I don’t know if I knew, before COVID-19, that these communities were so high on the list of what gives my life meaning and fills me up. Sometimes you must lose something in order to appreciate it. As Bhante Sujatha says in his book “Sitting on the Toolbox”, “For me, impermanence is beautiful… regularly reflecting on the impermanent nature of all things and beings strengthens our appreciation of everything and everyone.” 

We all need help in these trying times. Yoga studios didn’t qualify for any government assistance or emergency loans, etc. They don’t make a lot of money to begin with, and so hard times hit even harder for most of them. They are doing everything they can to make it through this. 

Here are some different ways you can help your local studio if you feel drawn to do something: 

  1. Try to take the virtual classes and any other offerings to support them and help them pay some bills. 
  2. Donate as much or as little as you can (any amount helps as I know they are struggling financially). 
  3. Send notes of appreciation. They are working around the clock to save their businesses and also to appease disgruntled customers for problems completely out of their control (don’t be one of these customers….not for the yoga studio or any other businesses at this time). 
  4. Speak positively and hopefully about the future of the studio – The Universe Will Hear You! Please continue to support your local studios virtually until we can meet again in person on our mats! 

Namaste, Anna