International Day of Yoga is celebrated June 21, providing a day of physical and spiritual connection that yoga has brought into people’s lives for centuries. However, due to the effects of the coronavirus, yoga studios are forced to celebrate in a different way this year. 

The idea of International Yoga Day first came about in 2014, thanks to India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and India’s Ambassador, Asoke Kumar Mukerji. They chose June 21 because it’s the summer solstice, where the sun shows its face for the longest out of all the days of the year.

Yoga studios are finally in the position to start opening up after months of closure. Studios are opening with limited class capacities or hosting outdoor sessions. 

One local studio is Bodhi Tree Guesthouse and Studio, 8950 Lavelle Road, where guests can stay overnight and take part in soul-nourishing yoga classes.

Liz Chamberlain, owner of Bodhi Tree, opened the studio in 2016. She said COVID-19 has had a huge impact on her studio, but one way she worked to combat that was by teaching online classes.

“I’ve seen good attendance in the online classes, which is wonderful,” Liz Chamberlain said in an email. “I’ve had a lot of individuals join the online classes who have done yoga with me over the years and then moved away from Athens, which was an unexpected gift. I’m not technology savvy, but once I broke through some small barriers, I realized I should have been doing this all along anyway.”

She has decided to keep her online classes in place. Though she has never made a huge deal about planning a specific celebration for International Yoga Day, she feels her daily practice and keeping up with teaching classes has been her own celebration. 

Another local studio is Athens Yoga, 77 1/2 E. State St. Kristin Chamberlain, a teacher at the studio, helps to run the studio and recently graduated from Ohio University with a Ph.D. 

Kristin Chamberlain said COVID-19 has also taken a toll on Athens Yoga because it operates on a co-op system, which means all of the teachers are independent contractors. She said some teachers have continued with online classes while others have taken a break from teaching. 

Athens Yoga celebrates International Yoga Day every year, though it doesn’t look much different from the day-to-day classes. Kristin Chamberlain will be hosting an all-levels class for International Yoga Day, a power flow class, and encourages people to attend hers and some other teacher’s classes in a local park. 

“We love celebrating this day, each year, with the community,” Kristin Chamberlain said in an email.

Athens has a thriving local yoga scene, even including Little Fish Brewing Co., 8675 Armitage Road. About a year-and-a-half ago, one of the bartenders was a certified yoga instructor and expressed interest in doing a bi-weekly yoga class on Sundays. There was a high level of engagement until COVID-19 forced the brewery to shut the classes down.

Beau Nishimura, taproom manager at Little Fish, views the brewery as a place for people to gather rather than just a brewery. He said the instructors at Little Fish won’t be restarting the yoga classes until it’s extremely safe to do so.

“For the safety of our patrons and for our instructors we thought it was best to cancel the Sunday sessions until we all thought we could do it safely,” Nishimura said in an email.

Due to the cancelation of the classes, Little Fish staff didn’t plan any activities for International Yoga Day, but are encouraging people to celebrate on their own. 

“I would encourage people to find a beautiful, peaceful space outside where they can practice yoga in nature,” Nishimura said in an email. 

Liz Chamberlain also encourages people to find their own practice during International Yoga Day. 

“I would encourage people to reflect on how they can gather and focus their attention, and use that wakefulness to live more from the heart –– to take action whenever/however they can in their lives to express love, appreciation and care for all beings,” Liz Chamberlain said in an email.

Both yoga instructors agree that people finding a practice of yoga is very important. Kristin Chamberlain highlights the research that shows the benefits of yoga and uses that to encourage people.

“There are many research studies that tout the physical and mental health benefits of yoga,” Kristin Chamberlain said in an email. “Simply stated, a yoga practice can help you better weather the storms of life and can help center you in the present moment.”

For Liz Chamberlain, any description of the importance of yoga is well over-simplified. She feels the practice cultivates a mindful, heartfelt attention that can deeply heal inner lives and the world in general. 

“When we bring that kind of attention and abide in the present moment with clarity, honesty and love, we 1) understand that our only true power in life is our power to act in the world — that our only true possessions are our actions and 2) sense that our deepest longing is to give and receive love,” Liz Chamberlain said in an email. “Both of these teachings/insights can be manifested in our inner and outer lives — how we relate to ourselves, one another and our world. If yoga can help us realize and channel aliveness this way, I say it’s important.”

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