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The Coronavirus Economy: How my job as a yoga studio owner has changed

March 23, 2020, 5:00 PM UTC

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Before taking over studios Yoga Nanda Long Beach and Yoga Nanda Garden City—both on the south shore of Long Island—Bec Gathmann-Landini was a full-time yoga teacher, splitting her time between various wellness centers, studios, and gyms near her home in Baldwin, N.Y.

With over 11 years of teaching experience, she’s garnered a devout following of students who have come to rely on her vinyasa classes that are, remarkably, never the same. She changes the sequences, not to mention the rockin’ playlists and insightful introductory dharma talks for every 75-minute flow she leads. What’s more, the 33-year-old is a licensed doula and mom to 4-year-old Fenno and 18-month-old Wilder.

Fortune spoke with Gathmann-Landini for a new series, The Coronavirus Economy, to ask about how COVID-19 has affected her employment status and her plans for the future, and to get a sense of how she has been handling this news, both emotionally and financially. The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Yoga teacher Bec Gathmann-Landini runs two yoga studios on New York’s Long Island.
Courtesy of Bec Gathmann-Landini

Fortune: Tell us about your business and what you do.

Gathmann-Landini: In December, I acquired two sister studios on Long Island. I went from being solely responsible for myself and a free agent, to being responsible for employees and independent contractors. I have 13 front-desk staff and 30 yoga teachers. It was a pretty monumental transition.

When did you first realize things were about to change because of COVID-19?

Probably two weeks ago. I started to get this sense that things were shifting and that this was going to be a bigger deal than people were making it out to be. Once I started reading [what was happening in Italy], I started thinking about cleaning more efficiently. I started thinking, “Well, if someone has this, and they come here, how will this affect us as a group if we’re practicing mat to mat?”

What precautions did you put into place?

We removed all the blankets and bolsters and started sanitizing things to a medical standard. We took out the rental mats because we can’t clean them well enough, so people have to bring their own. And after every class we bleach the blocks. We also put a cap on classes. At one studio, we capped it at 15 people max, where it’s normally 28 to 30, and the other we capped at 22, when it can fit up to 50. I don’t want people to feel crowded, because that’s going to lead to panic, and that’s not what you want to have in a yoga class.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Gathmann-Landini says, “we started sanitizing things to a medical standard and put a cap on classes,” among other changes to the studios.
Courtesy of Bec Gathmann-Landini

Also, we made it registration only, so no drop-ins. And if we don’t have five people registered, we’ll cancel the class. I want to practice as much social distancing as we can. I want to be able to open the doors again if we close, so I need to handle this cautiously. At the same time, we serve a lot of vulnerable populations, and I don’t want to put anyone at risk.

How soon after did you see a drop in class size?

Not immediately. But then I sent out an email to explain our procedures, and it seemed like that was when people realized this might be more serious. People started to pause their memberships, and I had two front-desk staff members quit because they didn’t feel safe coming into the studio. One of my teachers felt the same. Being in a social environment and community, we don’t know what the risk is.

Is that when you decided to close the studio for two weeks?

It was shortly after speaking to a mentor and friend of mine who does business coaching. I realized I can’t not close my doors when in my gut I knew it was the right thing to do even if I’m afraid I’ll never open again. In a lot of ways, I’ve been preparing for this moment with my yoga practice my whole life; to be able to make the hard decision, to be able to do the right thing—no matter the consequences. All we have is our passion and our humility and our integrity, and this the time to use it. I have an opportunity to choose how I’m going to show up, and this is how I’m going to show up. And if we don’t recover, I’ll look back, and I won’t have a single regret.

Is that your biggest fear right now? That you won’t recover?

I’m concerned about the studio, of course. But for a long time I was just a teacher, and I know what it’s like. You miss one class, you can’t afford your groceries sometimes. To be out of work completely for who knows how long? I mean, I only took five weeks off for maternity [leave]. So I’m worried about the teachers. I’m concerned for them. I didn’t have enough time as studio owner to give them a cushion.

What’s the plan of action while you’re closed?

To be very entrepreneurial. I’m live-streaming classes and offering prerecorded sessions as well as meditations. I’m also providing online coursework—free for members and paid for people to sign up and do from wherever they are.

Are all your teachers on board with participating?

I have a few who were difficult, but for the most part everyone is being really helpful and supportive. A couple even offered to volunteer, which I’m grateful for. But I’m trying to pay them all something as long as I possibly can.

What if you have to close for longer than two weeks?

Realistically, we could figure out how to make it through a month. But past that I don’t know. Listen, even a month is going to be hard. I’m a brand-new business owner. I put a ton of money in just to take it over and only just started to take even the smallest salary myself.

“I’m only teaching five or six classes a week, but I’m still running our 200-hour teacher training. I have a vision for the kind of community I want to create, and I have to maintain that,” says Gathmann-Landini.
Courtesy of Bec Gathmann-Landini

Where would you need relief?

It’s going to depend on whether my landlords are able to subsidize our rent. We have a huge overhead because we need such big spaces. Mats are long, and people take up room when they’re lying down, so rent is almost a third of our revenue. There are also a ton of expenses people don’t realize like worker’s comp, liability insurance, scheduling software, email service—that stuff. Even if I’m not paying teachers or staff, I still have to pay those bills. I’m going to call Mindbody, our booking platform, to ask what they’re doing for studios.

You made the decision to shut on Saturday, and on Monday, New York State made that decision for all those who hadn’t yet done the same. How did that feel?

You mean, was there validation? Nah. But I’m glad that they did that. Yoga studios generally come from a place of ethics and values, but there are many gyms and studios out there who are in it for the bottom line, so I’m glad they were forced to do the right thing. It sucks to be forced, but if that’s the way it’s gotta be then that’s way it’s gotta be.

Why do you think so many people have been resistant to taking action?

There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Our generations and our parents’ generations have never had a national or worldwide event that’s united us like this. Our grandparents had world wars. So this is a global phenomenon that requires a behavior change and a paradigm shift. We’ve never experienced that, so we’re slow to react.

How would you, as a yoga teacher, recommend people move forward?

In America, we have this “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality; like everything we’ve achieved we’ve gotten out of our own actions. Yoga teaches us that that’s not true. In fact, we are indebted and connected to so many people around us, and that is never more true than it is now. All of us will only get through this if we work together. We are going to have to function as a community and support each other. If you’re not able to be of service, accept help. And if you have energy to be of service, give help.

As a studio owner, at first I was resisting. I thought maybe it won’t be as bad, but then I thought, “You know what? I’m saying that because I’m scared.” But I’m going to have to get my wits together and be creative and ask for help and forge a path where no one is going. That’s the thing: There’s no other yoga studio doing it first or better. I’m going to have to figure it out myself, as a leader, and grab people along the way. That is yoga. Taking action when things feel scary and taking it one breath at time.

More coronavirus coverage from Fortune:

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—The oil sector takes its next hit: The coronavirus on offshore rigs
—Some of the most extreme ways companies are combating the coronavirus
—How luxury designers in Italy’s fashion heartland are facing the coronavirus
—Amazon tells employees to work from home if they can. Warehouse workers can’t
—Why Dollar General thinks the coronavirus can help business
—Coronavirus may not be all bad for tech. Consider the “stay at home” stocks

Subscribe to Fortune’s Outbreak newsletter for a daily roundup of stories on the coronavirus and its impact on global business.