July 8, 2022
Finding the Real-Life Magic of Virtual Yoga
Kelsy Chauvin READ TIME: 4 MIN. SPONSORED
If ever there was a time for better wellness, it has arrived. For more than 36 million Americans, yoga is the answer for much of the stress and tension that's surged during the pandemic. The ancient practice promotes physical and mental health through a combination of postures, breathing, and meditation. Because of its nuances, yoga also tends to be an activity that many practitioners align only with in-person studio instruction.
Since late 2021, however, Yoga for All Humans has offered an affordable way to make yoga accessible anywhere, anytime. The online yoga studio offers a range of classes for students to participate from their home, office, vacation spot, or any comfortable location. Better still, LGBTQ-owned YFAH accommodates any and every body type and skill level, adapting to the student, not asking the student to adhere to the class.
"I usually say, 'No pain no gain is bullshit,' so people know that we're not trying to bend your body into a pretzel," says Derek Haigler, YFAH founder. "We're a studio that will accept you as you are."
For many years, Haigler worked as a corporate human-resources manager, and coordinated his company's group yoga classes. He began to rely on the practice for his own holistic well-being, and once the pandemic struck, he pursued coursework to become an instructor himself. During the phase of strict social distancing and other COVID-era limitations, he saw space for a new approach to yoga practice.
"I was inspired to start a studio because I hadn't seen any that really tried to bring equity to the space," says Haigler. "There are a lot of individual teachers who do, but you don't see a lot of studios trying to make yoga more accessible both financially and physically."
So Haigler created a virtual studio with live-streamed classes. Students can join early or stay after class, "so you still get the engagement with teachers, for a real studio appeal." It solves a major problem for people who can't get to a yoga studio in person, and it's more accessible for busy people to join a class remotely. There's also a library of past live-streamed sessions.
While most drop-in yoga classes average about $15 or $20 each, or about $100 for a monthly membership, YFAH offers a sliding-scale monthly unlimited membership starting at $50 – starting with a free 14-day free trial. Haigler is quick to note that anyone with financial limitations is encouraged to contact him for special consideration, or to request a "scholarship." (Likewise, supporters are welcome to contribute to the scholarship fund, and to donate new or gently used yoga props like mats, blocks, and straps.)
Diversity in Home Yoga
Accessibility is central to YFAH's mission, so Haigler and his teaching team keep physical ability top of mind, leading classes with as much clarity as possible. Instructors come from different backgrounds and honor their unique life experiences, on an upbeat team that helps everyone feel more represented regardless of how they identify.
That includes teachers who are not traditionally able-bodied. Instructor Hailey Kinter, for example, leads classes from her wheelchair, striving "to bring representation to yoga for all bodies," reads her bio.
Similar to the teaching team, a rich diversity of students have become loyal YFAH fans, enjoying the affordability, flexible timing, and option to attend class with or without turning on their own computer cameras. "It's one of the advantages of virtual, that you don't have to worry about what you look like – and that can be really freeing," Haigler says.
To make YFAH as accessible as possible, students can sign up for courses and request American Sign Language interpretation; auto-captions (via Zoom); and blind and low-vision access, with instructors providing clear verbal descriptions for all exercises.
"We recognize that everyone comes in a different body and everyone has a different bubble of ability," says Haigler. "So in classes, we're constantly giving alternative pose positions and mixing our language, just to help keep everyone comfortable where they are."
It was always important for YFAH to give back and honor the roots of yoga, so the company donates one percent of its proceeds to Yoga Gives Back, an organization that works to empower India's women and children to create sustainable lives.
Haigler also has contributed company proceeds to organizations during February Black History Month, and June LGBTQ+ Pride Month. Plus "community" classes offered free of charge, including Haigler's biweekly Tuesday "Q-Munity" yoga that welcomes the full queer spectrum of students and allies.
For yoga lovers who feel they can't part with the IRL studio experience, Haigler relates. "I do both – digital yoga and in-person yoga – because I like the experience of an in-person class. But there's a convenience factor to digital yoga that means you don't need to leave the house, especially if you work from home." He adds that longer travel times, gas prices, and general busy schedules needn't keep anyone from yoga.
In fact, yoga should be more of a priority, especially in stressful times.
"Yoga is a lot more than just a physical practice, and you don't have to be a spiritual person to do it," says Haigler. "Yoga is great for helping you connect more with yourself and learn more about yourself. There's a kind of magic that happens when you slow down and just connect with your breathing and your body."
Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.