When the news came through a little over a week ago that Governor Jay Inslee planned to close gyms and fitness studios throughout Washington, Jacquie Michelle, owner of the Camas-based Body Bliss yoga studio, jumped into action.
“I had already decided Friday to work from a limited schedule and reduce our class size,” Michelle says. “Then we got notice from the governor on Sunday night that we were no longer able to have classes.”
Instead of holding in-person yoga classes Monday morning, Michelle says she and her instructors “pulled it together and were able to livestream a class.”
The yoga instructors used their phones to livestream on Instagram, but Michelle was soon setting up a virtual studio on Zoom, an online video conferencing platform that allows class members to chat virtually before the yoga instruction begins and lets the instructors see how their students are doing as they move through the physical postures.
Elisa Wells has been joining the virtual Body Bliss yoga classes from her Camas home for the past week and says she’s grateful for the break from her remote work and the chance to move her body and relax her mind.
At first, Wells says she was self-conscious of others watching her practice yoga in her living room, but she eventually got used to it.
“I had my laptop on the floor, so it was a not-so-flattering angle, so I turned off the camera, but (Michelle) said she wanted to encourage people to keep the cameras on. And it’s not so bad. You can see other people’s arms lifting up, see their dogs in the background. And everyone is put on silent when the class starts, so if you need a break you can move off camera.”
Wells is working remotely from the home she currently shares with her two college-aged children, who are back from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and her husband, who is also able to work from home. Being able to move her body after sitting half the day from her remote office is wonderful, she says, adding that the practice’s stress-relieving benefits are likely something that many people could use during this time of uncertainty and anxiety.
“It’s been really nice,” Wells says of the virtual yoga classes. “I set my laptop up in my living room and log in. Before class starts, I chat with the others … and what I love about yoga is that I just feel so good afterward.”
As for Michelle — who moved her new Washougal yoga practice to Camas a little less than one year ago, in May 2019 — she says she’s grateful for members who have been able to keep their memberships going and take advantage of the online classes.
“I’ve been very transparent that running a yoga studio is a zero-margin game,” Michelle says. “We don’t have the running capital to make it through (the pandemic) any longer than April 1.”
To help augment her lost revenues, Michelle has opened her online classes to the community and has a “Donate” button on the website for drop-in students who want to help Body Bliss survive the COVID-19 closures.
Wells says she hopes the yoga studio will continue to thrive in downtown Camas.
“I’ve had a connection to the studio on and off for 30 years,” Wells says. “I practiced with Paul Cheek (who owned the former Rushing Water Yoga space on Northeast Birch Street, where Body Bliss now stands) and was so sad when he had to close due to his health issues. Then I tried Body Bliss last spring when it first opened. It’s a great studio and Jacquie puts so much love into it. The is really into building community and giving back to the community. I feel like she’s motivated by trying to help people.”
Since opening Body Bliss in 2019, Michelle has focused on bringing yoga to members of the community who might need it the most but not have many opportunities to practice, such as children, first responders, military members and veterans and local educators.
“My intention is not just to have a yoga studio, but to (create) a space where people can come to find friends and connect to their community,” Michelle told the Post-Record in 2019. “My parents had a small business in The Dalles, (Oregon), when I was growing up, and they were pillars of their community.”
For people stuck in their homes and spending more time on screens, yoga can be an excellent break from the constant news and remote-work cycle, Michelle says.
“Yoga can calm the chattering in our brains, so we can be really, truly honest about how we’re feeling about these things,” Michelle says. “It’s a toolkit for bringing us back to ourselves.”
The pandemic has put a crimp on her business plans, but Michelle is still trying to build community and bring yoga to the masses.
“It’s pretty overwhelming, to be honest,” Michelle says of the sudden closure. “I was just getting into the practice of being a business owner, finally getting my footing, and then this happened. But the one thing I’ve taken away from this is that change is inevitable. Yoga has helped me weather the storm from an emotional standpoint. And I know a lot of people are in the same boat. I’m grateful that the community has continued to support us. And I know that we’re all trying to get through this one day at a time.”
To learn more about Body Bliss or to check out the yoga studio’s virtual classes, visit bodyblissyogastudio.com; facebook.com/bodyblissyoga or find @bodyblissyogastudio on Instagram.