Here are some responsible practices that yoga students, yoga teachers and yoga studio owners can take to keep everyone healthy.

A word to yoga students:

How many times have you heard students walk into a yoga studio saying: “Oh I am not feeling good but I am hoping that this yoga class will help me sweat IT out.”

Cold and flu viruses are most infectious in the early and mid-stages of the disease. So coming to class, hoping to “sweat it out” almost certainly ensures that you will share the virus with someone else. Since we come to yoga for its health benefits, I think we can all agree that catching a cold is not part of that “benefit package”.

I understand the logic of the person with the illness. Raising body temperature and sweating is a very old, proven way of “beating the bug.” But coming to yoga and physically exhausting yourself is not good for you. When the body is fighting infection, it is much better to conserve energy and ingest a lot of fluids and vitamins so that our immune system has the energy to fight the “invaders.”

If you want to “sweat out that bug” I recommend my grandma’s system. Get a pot of water; from here, you can add chamomile for calming, mint for clearing or turmeric for anti-inflammatory properties. (Make sure you are not allergic to these by checking with your doctor. Remember this is my little grandma’s advice and she was NOT a doctor.) Allow the water and herbs to come to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Take a huge bath towel and bend over, face down into the evaporating goodness while you throw the towel over you and the pot to increase the heat and humidity. Breathe deeply till you start sweating and can no longer take it. Repeat as often as it feels good, then go to bed. This way, you will still sweat it out – you just won’t be sharing it with others.

The dilemma of the yoga teacher:

Missing classes means reduced pay from an already not-exactly-six-figure-salary, and finding a teacher to fill in can sometimes feels like hunting for water in the Sahara. So what to do? If there is no way to find a substitute and you have to teach the class, do not assist. Wash your hands often and don’t touch anybody. But ideally, we really, really shouldn’t teach when we are sick. It is your responsibility to keep your body healthy and keep your students healthy. So if the studio has to cancel the class, then so be it.

I am a studio owner but some things are more important than business and honestly, the students will understand. Studios should have a system in place so that teachers can find subs easily, allowing you time to heal and keeping the studio germ free. If you feel that your studio does not have good response to sub requests, reach out to the other teachers and the owner or manager to start a conversation. This is a serious issue that deserves attention.

This brings us to the yoga studio’s responsibilities:

As mentioned above, one of the big responsibilities of the studio owner is to make sure that there is a good, responsive team when it comes to sub requests. The number of subs does not matter. There are studios with a bazillion subs on their list, with nobody stepping into action. The sub list has to be evaluated based on performance.

The other main role of the studio is to make sure cleanliness procedures are at 110 percent, every day. As a studio owner who used to work in a laboratory, I feel it is absolutely imperative that we use bleach. I know most yogis prefer the earth friendly cleaners. But in a public space where folks often go, even to the bathroom, barefoot, cleaning is not enough. We have to clean and disinfect! (And earth friendly cleaners don’t disinfect. There’s a reason laboratory and hospital procedures call for bleach as their only disinfecting agent.) If possible, mop after every class with light bleach water. (If the studio is small, it is totally possible. If the studio is large, there are a multitude of industrial mop heads that will make it possible.) Yes, you may need to re-polish or replace your floors more often. So what? It is a public health issue. Mop bathrooms with bleach every day and make sure all doorknobs and other surface areas that are touched often are wiped with disinfectant once a day. Use bleach for showers and bathroom as well. Make sure to let it soak for a few seconds before scrubbing for full effect.

Last, there is the airflow — the lung of the studio. It is very important to service the HVAC system and to have the filters changed regularly. This will not only improve air quality but reduce energy use. In hot yoga studios, the heater is often set to shut off after the optimal temperature is reached. That means for more than half the class, there is no airflow and folks are breathing in the same air over and over. (Which is why, when you open the room after class it smells like monkey butt.) Especially during colder seasons, make sure to keep fresh air flow ON! Yes the room will feel slightly cooler, but what is five degrees less in exchange for fresh, oxygen-rich air. After all, we are asking people to breathe — the most important part of yoga. Let’s make sure we offer good quality air.

If we all follow these steps, hopefully we can reduce the severity of this year’s cold season.

[Photo by Craig Sunter – CC BY]

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