Yoga studio operators face uncertain times

A yoga instructor conducting a virtual class during the pandemic.

JOHOR BARU: Yoga studio operators here have scaled down their classes by more than half the number of participants, besides moving the sessions online to safeguard their students and instructors amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

A yoga instructor who only wanted to be known as Jeff, who owns three studios including one in Taman Pelangi here, said he allowed not more than 10 students per class to avoid overcrowding and ensure safe distance between the students, especially during the conditional movement control order period.

“Under the new norm, we are ready to comply with the government’s standard operating procedures (SOP) and make changes to our classes accordingly to ensure our students’ and instructors’ safety.

“Aside from crowd control, our instructors also hold classes online but not all our students are open to it, especially the more senior ones and those with eyesight problems who have trouble with the small smartphone screen, ” he said in an interview.

He said that yoga had physical benefits and has been proven to be good for the practitioner’s mental health as well.

“Yoga is a good form of exercise, especially as many Malaysians may be facing added stress and anxiety due to the unstable economy and job uncertainties brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, ” he added.

At the same time, there are also operators who decided to temporarily stop their classes as they are not quite sure about the SOP for yoga studios due to the lack of clear guidelines from the authorities.

A consultant at a yoga studio here, who only wanted to be known as Lee, said this led to her decision to temporarily halt all her physical classes to avoid getting into trouble with the authorities.

“Even after checking with the local council a few times, we still have no clear answer.

“Some officials told us that we could open by keeping to a strict SOP while others told us that we were not allowed to open as yoga studios were categorised under art classes.

“That does not make much sense because yoga is considered a form of sport and should have been categorised as such, ” she said, adding that it was frustrating as gyms were included in the government’s SOP while studios like hers were not.

Lee said that when her studio reopened during the recovery MCO in June, on top of the SOP such as temperature checks and mobile app check-in, her instructors also started wearing masks in class and used only verbal instructions without physical contact.

“This goes to show that if there is a proper set of guidelines for yoga studios, we will surely comply.

“We are now relying on news reports to get information on any changes in the SOP, ” she added.

Yoga instructor Ivy Chong, who runs a studio in Skudai here, said she and her colleagues started using a bamboo pole to correct the students’ posture in order to eliminate any physical contact in class before the conditional MCO was re-imposed.

She also decided to stop all physical classes and moved some classes online to avoid being penalised.

Chong expressed her frustration over the matter as she still had to pay the premises rental and some students had also asked for a refund because of the latest closure.

“We got in touch with the National Security Council and an official told us that we could open our yoga studio but he could not be sure that local council enforcement personnel would not show up and issue compound to us.

“The answer did not give us any confidence at all so we decided to stop physical classes until the end of December for good measure, as some of our students were unhappy about the reopening and reclosing of the studio, ” she said.

According to the operators, the yoga community currently does not have an association to voice out their concerns and they hope that the local representatives can step in and assist them in getting a clearer picture.

When contacted, Stulang assemblyman Andrew Chen said that he was compiling feedback from other business owners as well before meeting with the Johor Baru mayor soon.

“I have received feedback from business owners in various sectors who voiced their concerns about overlapping guidelines and unclear enforcement under the conditional MCO and I hope to bring them up with the mayor soon, ” he added.

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