By Nathalie Friedman
Yoga Shanti is working hard to help individuals connect with themselves, even if New York’s social distancing guidelines prevent it from connecting with each other. The Sag-Harbor-based yoga studio is holding daily outdoor yoga classes from 9 to 10 a.m., rain or shine, in Mashashimuet Park.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the studio has moved to online classes — which have been a lifesaver and enormous source of gratitude for their clientele, according to owner and founder Colleen Saidman Yee.
The transition to an outdoor setting, which enables plenty of space between clients and requires masks until class begins, is a response to the growing need for individuals to reconnect with themselves and feel a sense of being grounded, she said.
“I honestly do not know how people are getting any semblance of grounding without yoga right now — without meditation,” Ms. Saidman Yee said.
The longstanding traditions of yoga, she said, can provide therapy for the mental and spiritual costs of the pandemic. The benefits that yoga provides, it seems, are important now more than ever.
“There is this loneliness and isolation that we are all feeling,” Ms. Saidman Yee said. “Anxiety can [simply] be the fear of the unknown,” as is very much the case with COVID-19. “A lot of people are moving homes, and they’re being uprooted from their jobs” and lives.
However, the internal connection to oneself, that is found during yoga, “makes you feel that you are not alone. Yoga is [a process of arriving at] the state where you don’t feel like you are missing something,” Ms. Saidman Yee explained.
Although Yoga Shanti is facing large challenges this season, Ms. Saidman Yee and her team remain optimistic and dedicated to sustaining their presence in Sag Harbor.
“Everything is impermanent,” she said. “The only thing you can count on, is that everything will change. That is a big part of the yoga philosophy — learning how to ride the wave gracefully.”
Moving to outdoor classes is Yoga Shanti’s first step in adapting to the times, and staying balanced as the studio rides out the uncertain wave that is the future. It welcomes anyone and all to join these classes, and although there is a $20 fee, Ms. Saidman Yee shared that she will not turn anyone away, as her goal is to gather a community.
The yoga studio was originally listed to resume classes during Long Island’s fourth phase of reopening. It had taken all steps necessary to provide a safe and clean environment for its clients — ranging from installing extra ventilation, remapping the floor plan, and providing everyone with numbered yoga mat locations and bags to store their belongings. Yoga Shanti was ready to welcome back their customers.
However, Ms. Saidman Yee explained, “We spent weeks organizing so that we would be COVID-friendly,” only to find out that “yoga studios were lumped with fitness studios, could not reopen in phase four, and there would be no phase five.”
“Yoga studios across New York are going under,” she said. “It’s impossible for mom and pops to continue to pay for utilities, rent, etc.”
By moving Yoga Shanti’s classes outdoors, Ms. Saidman Yee hopes to keep the yoga community together.
“We’ve been a stable and consistent presence in Sag Harbor for 21 years now, and the thought of us not being here keeps me up all night long,” she said.
When Ms. Saidman Yee and her team realized they had to take their classes outside in order to survive, they went into high gear, and contacted the board members of Mashashimuet Park, who loved the idea.
“This park is such a big part of keeping us alive.” Ms. Saidman Yee said, and pointed out that by taking yoga classes, attendees are also supporting the park in that a portion of the proceeds goes to Mashashimuet Park.
The studio hopes to create a more robust schedule once people become accustomed to visiting the park for their classes, but revenue is down 90 percent according to Ms. Saidman Yee, who was forced to close her Tribeca studio “with a lot of tears.”
“This has been my home since 1989,” Ms. Saidman Yee said. Her studio started teaching in the park exactly two weeks ago, on a field where there is plenty of shade. “My daughter played field hockey on that field,” and the outdoor classes are both a community effort and very close to Ms. Saidman Yee’s heart, she said.