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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Atlanta’s Yoga Scene Bounces Back

Sep 01, 2022 06:00AM ● By Mila Burgess
Virtually every industry felt the impact of COVID-19 policies and protocols, and many small businesses, including yoga studios, struggled to survive. The road to post-pandemic recovery has not been easy, but yoga studios are experiencing a slow but steady return to normalcy. We talked to several local yoga leaders about their journey of reemergence from the pandemic shutdown.


Highland Yoga 

Virginia Highlands, Buckhead, Memorial Drive, Westside and Decatur
Elsie Brotherton, owner


Elsie Brotherton, owner of Highland Yoga, admits she was in denial at first. She didn’t think her studios would need to close. When the inevitable happened, Highland Yoga was fortunate to be positioned well to pivot to digital offerings because they had already established an online platform in 2019. Brotherton immediately put existing memberships on hold and created a separate digital membership, offering prerecorded and daily livestreamed classes at traditional class times. 

In June 2020, Highland reopened with capped class sizes and socially distanced mat spacing. Brotherton kept the policies in effect until April 2021, when vaccinations were becoming widely available. Capacity is no longer limited in any of the locations.

Then, when the Delta variant circulated, Brotherton felt a sense of urgency to implement a vaccination requirement. She decided that two of her locations would offer classes only for fully vaccinated students, two would have a hybrid model of vaxxed and vaxxed-optional classes, and one location would exclusively offer vaxxed-optional classes. She also added UV filters to the HVAC systems in the locations that didn’t have them yet.

“We never had a reported case of COVID spread through classes, and I wonder if the heat, high humidity, and filters contributed to that,” says Brotherton. While students could access prerecorded classes on demand before the pandemic, Brotherton believes that her current livestreaming model has been a positive change. 

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Brotherton recognizes that in today’s world, community-seeking is a compelling reason to come back to the studio. Because many people are working from home, Brotherton has intentionally shifted the class schedules to better mesh with new class attendance trends. She has increased the number of workshop offerings, unveiled new community-driven software and has assigned an employee the primary focus of building community and creating events. 


Highland Yoga has also witnessed an increase in people seeking yoga teacher training, which Brotherton attributes to the Great Resignation—people are looking for something new and trying to find their why. Even during the pandemic, she was able to open the Decatur location in August 2020 and Westside in 2021. She feels fortunate to have had “lucky, unrepeatable circumstances in place when COVID happened,” she says. She considers her high-performers and tight-knit team the anchor of Highland Yoga’s success. 

Brotherton believes many people are still recovering from mental health crises due to the pandemic and need yoga more than ever. “The appetite for community and connection can’t be replaced,” she says. “People will always seek in-person fitness classes.”
 

Korsi Yoga, Roswell 

Ahoo Sarab, owner 


When forced to close Korsi Yoga for two months, Ahoo Sarab knew her community would be craving connection. With a background in film and television, she felt strongly that if she were to switch to an online platform, she would need high quality, visually appealing content. She recognized that time was of the essence and there already existed beautiful online offerings, so she asked teachers to record themselves teaching at the studio. The community was invited to take these complimentary classes on YouTube. She also opened up Korsi to teachers so they would have a place to practice. 

In May 2020, neighboring business, Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee (LOTH) in Roswell, offered Korsi the use of their lawn to host donation-based yoga. LOTH provided the space free of charge and post-yoga coffee for participants. Sarab remembers that everyone involved—students, teachers, the LOTH team—was seeking a sense of normalcy and the twice-weekly classes helped provide just that. 

Sarab reopened Korsi on June 1, 2020 but it was only getting three or four students at first. Sarab implemented a mask requirement, required temperature checks, and did not allow shared mats, props or showering at the studio. Then, as information and vaccinations became more widely available, students began to return in greater numbers.

In March, 2021, Korsi hosted its first post-COVID event. Sixty socially distanced practitioners showed up to practice in the Michelangelo Sistine Chapel Exhibit. Today, there are fewer class participants than before COVID, but students continue to return to in-person classes. Korsi is participating in Alive in Roswell, a monthly community event, and the studio will be launching its first yoga teacher training since 2019 in the fall.

Still Hot Yoga, Decatur 

Ahoo Sarab, Cleve Willis owners 


Still Hot Yoga in Decatur, a Bikram-style studio co-owned by Sarab and Cleve Willis, is the oldest hot studio in Atlanta; many students have been practicing there for two decades. The community pleaded with the owners to keep their doors open during the pandemic, but they were forced to close. Donations from students to support the studio poured in. For the first six months after re-opening, classes were capped at eight participants, but numbers have increased, and classes have been fully booked with a three-month-plus waitlist. Wanting to create space for new students, though, Still Hot Yoga has some parameters in place to ensure registration is more accommodating. Sarab believes that the strength and loyalty of the hot yoga community contributes to its high demand, and that, through the uncertainty of the last two years, the studio’s presence was comforting to students. “It just might have been the only predictable thing in a world that didn’t make sense.”

Sweet Tea Yoga, Peachtree City

Sarah Ruiz, owner


Photo: Southern Light Cinema

When the pandemic forced her to close her studio, Sarah Ruiz, owner of Sweet Tea Yoga, understood that her teachers and community needed yoga. As a studio owner, one of her goals is to give back to her community. Her initial pivot was to offer livestream classes on Facebook. She sent out email blasts while working toward transitioning her business to an online platform. Her studio was relatively new, having opened in 2018, and she was concerned Sweet Tea didn’t have a wide enough student base from which to draw. Nevertheless, she was able to offer two to three successful classes a day via Zoom. While teaching that way had its challenges, Ruiz’s community showed up and practiced together online for two months.

Sweet Tea re-opened on June 15, 2020. Masks were required, class sizes were limited, and mats were socially distanced. The online portion of her business transitioned to synchronously streaming live classes. Once vaccines were widely available, Ruiz introduced some vax-required classes. 

Although it has been a point of contention for some of her clients, Ruiz only recently lifted the mask requirement at Sweet Tea and opened back up to full capacity in May 2022. Classes aren’t yet at full capacity, but she recognizes that she made the shift when school was ending, summer vacation travel was beginning, and she anticipates seeing growth now that school is back in session. 

Sweet Tea’s sound healing and restorative yoga workshops are in demand, whereas some of the more physically challenging offerings, like inversions and arm balances, are less popular. Ruiz believes people are craving rest and restoration more than anything. The studio held a successful yoga retreat at Elohee Retreat Center in North Georgia; vaccination or proof of negative PCR was a requirement for attendance. Ruiz plans to increase retreat offerings in the future but feels that keeping them local, for now, is the right choice for her community. 

Ruiz is proud that she and her team were able to help people feel connected. “Our Sweet Tea teachers truly wanted to be there and help in any capacity,” she says, and that provided them a sense of purpose and normalcy. 

Dirty South Yoga Fest

Jessica Murphy Trachtenberg, founder


Photo: Thu Tran

The idea for Dirty South Yoga Fest came out of a circle discussion in 2014 among a small group of yoga teachers. The focus was on how the future of yoga in Atlanta might look. The community was craving relationships. Teachers didn’t just want to connect with each other, they wanted to create an overarching pathway for individual studios to go beyond nurturing their own communities to connect and collaborate with others. Jessica Murphy Trachtenberg participated in that initial discussion and was inspired to establish an Atlanta-based yoga festival that she dubbed Dirty South. It would be a grassroots effort, and her simple hope at first was that people would show up.

They did, and since then, the festival has continued to grow. By 2019, the festival was bringing in more than 1,000 vendors, teachers and community members throughout the course of the weekend. 

In 2020, planning was well underway for a Dirty South Yoga Fest scheduled for the summer. When COVID hit, Trachtenberg was leading the Dirty South yoga retreat in Chile. Once back stateside, she put the preparations on hold. “Because the festival is an event rather than a yoga studio, I’m grateful to have had the ability to press pause rather than having to reinvent a business,” she says.

Trachtenberg did pivot to a virtual festival in the summer of 2020. Students from all over participated, and she was pleased to highlight teachers on a worldwide platform. While it wasn’t the same as an in-person event, Trachtenberg enjoyed seeing what else is possible for the community in a way that she might not otherwise have considered. 

If all goes according to plan, Dirty South Yoga Fest will return in the spring of 2023. Trachtenberg feels reenergized about it. “Although the circumstances were unfortunate, having an opportunity to reimagine what the festival can be is exciting,” she says. She is considering adding smaller events leading up to the festival to engage the community in more intimate ways and bolster connection to the online community. She is also planning to expand festival offerings to explore a few modalities for continued learning, such as Reiki and somatic healing. “Yoga will always be the root and center of the event,” says Trachtenberg, but the Dirty South Yoga Fest “will provide opportunities for the yoga community to branch out into other areas of passion.” ❧

Mila Burgess, E-RYT 500, YACEP, teaches at LifePower Yoga in Sandy Springs. She is the owner of Metta Yoga, offering workshops, private lessons, virtual classes, teacher trainings and retreats. Contact her at [email protected]
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