A Live Conversation with Leah Zaccaria owner of Hauteyoga Queen Anne

 

Watch our live conversation with Leah Zaccaria – owner of Hauteyoga Queen Anne – regarding her decision to offer in-person yoga classes amid statewide COVID-19 restrictions.

Leah-Zaccaria

 

Hello.

 

Othmane Rahmouni

 

Hi Leah!

 

Leah-Zaccaria

 

Hi!

 

Othmane Rahmouni

All right! Well, welcome, everyone, to this Instagram live on Seattle Yoga News. We are joined today by Leah Zaccaria, the owner of Hauteyoga Queen Anne. Before we jump into the conversation, I want to take a few minutes to give context to everybody on why we are having this conversation and what a topic of conversation is. All right. So as all of you probably know by now, Washington state has imposed some statewide restrictions back in mid-November. They were set to expire in December. They have been extended the first time, then a second time. These restrictions limit indoor gatherings, such as dining and restaurants, they’ve also restricted the ability for gyms or fitness centers to keep their doors open. About a few days ago, there has been some conversation on social media. There’s been a couple of articles in the media about how Hauteyoga Queen Anne has been having indoor classes, and that has started a bit of a controversy on social media and in the media.
And so we wanted to have this conversation with Leah to really understand what’s going on, and hear her side of the story and be able to understand what she’s been doing at Hauteyoga. And so, to kick it off. Welcome Leah.

Leah-Zaccaria

 

Hi!

 

Othmane Rahmouni

 

Hi, do you want to take a couple of minutes to introduce yourself?

 

Leah-Zaccaria

 

Hi, I’m Leah Zaccaria, I’m the owner of Hauteyoga Queen Anne in a community that I’ve been in business with for 13 years.

 

Othmane Rahmouni

Correct. So, Leah 2020 has been a challenging time for many yoga studios in the Seattle area. Could you tell us a little more about how you have personally been impacted? How Hauteyoga has been impacted over the course of the last nine months? And what changes you’ve made to be able to adapt to this pandemic?

 

Leah-Zaccaria

Yeah, 2020 has been, was, we are in 2021 now! was a really challenging year and the pandemic really turned my business upside down, and not only financially. My revenues are down 70%. I have lost a lot of employees and a lot of staff. I’ve had to adapt almost on a weekly basis how I run my business.
And, I’ve had to not only use some of my dollars to adapt to new ways of business, but I have invested tens of thousands of dollars in new ways of doing business, for things such like online, online yoga and so. But, bigger than that Othmane. It’s not only has it just been financial demise, it has been, community demise, right? It’s been, from watching the people and if you know anything about me or my studios. Community, it’s like the number one thing for me.
And I’ve watched people lose their jobs, their livelihoods become super hopeless and fearful. And I’ve watched my community disintegrate and, and I’ve watched people become isolated and scared and depressed and their mental health, as well as their emotional, spiritual, and physical health have deteriorated. And so, that’s why I choose to stay open.

Othmane Rahmouni

All right, so let’s jump to the gist of the conversation, which is with these restrictions that were passed over the last few weeks, you have decided to keep your doors open when the majority of yoga studios in the Seattle area have not. And so, can you help us understand why you’ve decided to do that and what you expect the repercussions to be?

 

Leah-ZaccariaYeah. So, I want to be clear that I’m not cavalier about COVID. People are getting sick. I have realized that. However, I … there has been, there’s this whole thing has been so, so big. There are so many dimensions to it and it just can’t be one sided.
And so, in the decision to stay open, there were two really big things that you know when they were telling me that I had to close my doors again in November, like what was the decision that I was going to make? And number one, by this time, we’d been in the pandemic for six, seven months. And there was so much confusion when in time of history has the governors and the government being able to shut down all these businesses and also pick and choose which industries are hit the hardest. Washington state has been one of the most strict lockdowns in the entire country.
And yet there’s just been so much confusion around why certain industries were able to stay open and others weren’t. So, I couldn’t really understand why the retail store next door to me was able to stay open, and the nail shop across the street was also able to stay open. But I couldn’t stay open to hold six-person yoga classes that are actually helping people stay alive. They’re helping them to build immunity. They’re actually giving people, I believe yoga is medicine, medicine to umm to stay healthy so we don’t get sick.
Right! And so I, that was a huge factor of like, why me? Why why am I being put down and put in under this umbrella of being a gym and the circumstances that that don’t that that aren’t that are not about me?
And so so that’s why I was like. I don’t understand that. I believe what I’m doing is essential and I’m helping people, I’m helping people to stay well overall health.
And then the second thing that was that is really, fundamental to me is that we live in a free country and that we have the freedom of choice. And I felt like we were losing our freedom of choice. So I have, I have an online platform, people can choose to stay home if that’s the safer route for them. It doesn’t work for everybody. Some people want to practice inside.
They want, they need human connection. They need to come together as a community. Some people are single and isolated, and they don’t have anything else.
It doesn’t work for them to be online. So, I want them to have the freedom to choose what is right for them. I want them to choose and have that benefit of the doubt to say: I’m well, I’m not around vulnerable populations, I won’t come in when I’m sick, I’m going I am going to do my part to keep healthy the public health, but also to be healthy for themselves. All the people in the world can’t get sick. The world can’t get sick, too. Right!
So, those are two of the really big reasons why I was like, I have to stay open.
I have to stay open for freedom. I have to stay open to help people. I have to continue to serve. To help people stay well, because, I mean, we’re essential, we’re essential. So, to this whole thing is I think that we were … this whole pandemic has been about trying to save lives and. And help people breathe, and that’s what I do, is I help people breathe.

Othmane Rahmouni

So, Leah your decision to remain open, to provide a space for people to come in and breathe, is going to be really challenged by local authorities, by the state, potentially by the city.
And so, there is definitely going to be some kind of backlash. There is a risk to your business. There is potential fines that you could be facing. Are you OK taking that level of risk? Do you think that this cause, this ability to provide that Hauteyoga Queen Anne be open, and provide an opportunity for people to come and practice, do you think that it’s worth the risk you were taking as a business owner?

Leah-Zaccaria

Yeah, I do. I mean, I … people ask me about all the time, they’re like Leah are you afraid of getting fined, are you afraid of being shut down? Somebody has to stand up. Somebody has to stand up and fight for our freedom and have to fight for all the other small businesses.
Has to say that, you know, I don’t believe that this is fair, and what I believe that I’m doing is helping, and I’m of service and I’m essential. And so I’m a very intuitive person, and I’m a very spiritual person, and I’m willing to take the risk to stand up for my business, and for businesses of others, and for the people that… and be a voice in this. So, yeah it’s worth the risk for me.

Othmane Rahmouni

Ok so, I just want to clarify one point. Some of the articles we saw online were referring to the fact that you were thinking of your space as a church. Just to be clear in terms of regulations, right now fitness centers, gyms have been asked to close their doors and cease operations. Churches and faith-based organizations have the ability to stay open and provide space up to, and use 25%, and use up to 25% of their capacity. So are thinking of your space as being a church. I know you have used the word spiritual center; can you help us understand how you think about your space. Umm, and clarify to us this whole situation with Hauteyoga being a church.

Leah-Zaccaria

Sure! So, I want to be really clear, I’m not a church. I’m not a religious center. I have not filled any forms whatsoever with the IRS to be under any exceptions of being a church. That simply is not true. Am I a spiritual center? Yes, I believe that I am, this is a spiritual practice, yoga is a spiritual practice.
And spiritual is a really big word. So, what I’m going to break it down to it is, that we teach breathing, we teach breath. If you look at the fundamental of root words like “nima”. So, “nima” is ancient Greek.
Nima actually means breath, and it means spirit and vitality. Same in Sanskrit Hindi, Prana means live worth, it means breath, it means vitality. So, in a sense, because we are teaching people how to breathe, that we are teaching spirit. So, isn’t that spiritual? So that’s my stand on being spiritual. Yes, this is so much more than a physical practice. So, when we go to yoga, we say intentions, we bring in intentions, you can call them prayers, you can call them mantras. Every single one of my class, sends a message, a message of inspiration, a message of hope, a message of love that is spiritual. And so that is why I … that’s, that’s why I can’t call myself just a gym. Because I’m sending a message that why we are worth tapping into ourselves, believing in something bigger. Creating these prayers and these intentions, talking to god if you want. But we are telling people who to worship, what to worship. But we are digging deeper inside our spirit. So, that is why I say that we are a spiritual practice because we are. And now I know that some people think this you know this may seem of privilege. And yeah, I’m not going to refuse that, but what this spiritual does in a place of privilege is to tap dipper in ourselves to look at where we are programmed, and where the inequalities are, and where are wounds are, and where the blind spots are. So that we can actually serve humanity in a better way. That is my story around spirituality but I’m not a church.

Othmane Rahmouni

All right, I want to go back to a statement you made earlier about the space you’re offering. So, it sounded like you’re offering classes for up to six people in your space, and a lot of the comments I saw online and a lot of the questions that people are having around are how do you keep people safe? Isn’t there a risk of transmission in your studio? How are you keeping your teachers safe? So, can you tell us a little bit more about, as you decide to keep your studio open, what precautions have you taken? What protocols have you put in place to ensure that Hauteyoga is safe for those six people who might come attend a class in your studio?

Leah-ZaccariaYeah, so safety is really important. So, we are following strict guidelines as they were before the last lockdown. So, everything is completely social distanced, we are taking temperature checks, um we have air filters in the room with HEPA filters. We open the doors, we clean everything, masks are on just as they were … just as the mandates applied before. And, so we are just holding very steady we all of those things, and you know I just want you to know that people, I mean, I give options for my teachers, my teachers have been able to choose unemployment if they want, they can choose to teach online only if they want, they can teach to an empty room or they can teach in the studio. We are all … I’m again giving them that choice. If anyone tests positive in the studio, we’ll close. We, you know following all of that carefully. And there has been a ton of studies that have been shown that fitness centers, wellness centers, spiritual centers, that the transmission is not coming from there. So, I feel really confident about how we are running it, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t feel safe, but I truly feel like it is safer than going to the grocery store because we don’t share any equipment, we don’t touch anything, there are six people in a room, and we are there for an hour in an hour.

Othmane Rahmouni

So, everything you’re saying Leah is going to be challenged by people. There is going to be a lot of controversy about this in the conversations. I think now, that you have taken the time to really clarify what you mean you know by spiritual center, how you think about your space, there is going to be a lot of people disagreeing with you. So what is your message to them? What do you want to share with them? What do you want to share with the broader local yoga community? Whether it is local practitioners, whether it is your students, whether it is other studio owners yoga teachers in the community. Is there anything you want to share with them?

Leah-Zaccaria

Yeah, you know I have really cultivated a sense of self over the last decade to know that not everything that I do is going to be popular. And, but I’m convicted in passion about living my truth and being of service in the world. I truly care about my communities, I care about the wellness of people, and I believe that what I’m doing is essential and safe and saving lives. And I know that there is going to be people who disagree with that, and that is ok because that is freedom of choice, freedom of opinion, and that is … and so have yours and I’ll have mine. And so, I’m just fighting for freedom, I’m fighting for truth, I’m fighting for health, I’m fighting for wellness, and I’m fighting for all of the small businesses out there that are trying to survive, and I’m trying to you know speak up in the place of unfair.. in the places that are unfair. You know of the contradictions and hypocrisy that continues to happen. Shame is a beast, it’s the biggest monster in my opinion and I’m not going to be shamed for this. And I know a lot of people are going to try to shame me, and … but I stand convicted in my resolve and for my people. And there have been more people that have come and held my hand and cried … cried to me about this being a life way for them and their saving grace. And that is all it’s about, it’s saving lives.

Othmane Rahmouni

Well, thank you Leah for taking the time to share with us your perspective. Last year wasn’t an easy year and being able to stand for what you believe for is never easy. So thank you for taking the time and thanks everybody for joining us for this conversation with Leah. And we’ll talk to you soon on another Instagram live on Seattle Yoga News. Have a great day everybody!

Leah-Zaccaria

 

Thank you!

 

Othmane Rahmouni

 

Chao!


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