“Start in a comfortable seated position.”

It’s a phrase any yoga practitioner immediately recognizes as they settle onto their mat in their favorite yoga studio. But the most recent time I heard these words was from the comfort of my own home, during self-quarantine as Vermont copes with the spread of COVID-19.

As yoga studios and fitness centers close around the state, Marissa Greene, a central Vermont yoga instructor at Imagine Yoga, guided practitioners through a free gentle yoga routine from her own small bedroom. There were technical difficulties and a black cat meowing about, but there were also 20 people feeling the calming effects of personal connection and moving their bodies.

“It’s important that we come together in these times and do whatever we can, even if it’s just getting on the mat and breathing together,” she said at the start of her Facebook Live yoga session. “Collectively, there is anxiety out there, and the only way to combat that is to do stuff like this, to move. So, let’s come together and move and do what we can.”

Her words of wisdom were right in line with the advice from Jagdish Khubchandani, a health science professor at Ball State University in Indiana, who recently shared 15 tips for staying sane and safe while social distancing. His list included spending time in nature, focusing on good health, moving your body, and using the time to re-evaluate your health habits. (See the full list of suggestions at the end of this article.)

“Social distancing can be tough on people and disrupt the social and economic fibers of our society,” he said. “Social distancing can also take a personal health toll on people, causing psychological problems, among many others.”

The need for movement and a focus on health also led 60 people to sign up for online strength training classes with Amy Leventhal, a well-loved central Vermont personal trainer. To join a class, contact Leventhal at 802-595-4699 or amyleventhal1@gmail.com, and stay tuned for her new website.

Leventhal views staying physically strong as a tool for supporting her own mental and spiritual well-being. Now she is offering well-being to all by taking her business online and using Zoom, an online video meeting platform, to offer strength training workouts for all levels.

“I’m a huge community fitness person,” says Leventhal, and historically her focus has always been in-person classes. But one advantage of her new online offerings, in addition to being self-quarantine friendly, is that people who were afraid to try strength training in person are signing up to take her classes from the comfort of their own homes.

“This is a chance for people to come to a strength training class who are afraid to come in person,” she says.

She wants people to know that, while strength trainings can be intimidating to some, it’s not that hard and it doesn’t take much time. Also, people can opt out of the moves and choose to dance or take a yoga pose instead.

Leventhal is offering her first few classes for free while she figures out the behind-the-scenes technical details, and she will be looking to participants for feedback. Then, classes will be $12 per person, with a reduced-price option for those struggling financially. Once payment is received, each participant will be emailed a link they can use to join the class live or view a recording later. Plus, she is offering her one-on-one personal training services over Zoom as well, so that people can pick a time that works for them.

Leventhal says that muscle mass is important. It’s not about being good at working out inside, she says, but rather getting strong to support the activities you love to do outside, like running or biking.

“I’m excited, I’m looking to help people fall in love with fitness,” she says.

Embodied, a yoga studio in Montpelier, is also turning to online classes to keep their schedule running. Practitioners can visit www.embodiedvermont.com to join a class and sign up for the newsletter to get news of new online classes. Currently there are three classes being offered online, but the studio’s full schedule will be online soon, including three by-donation classes.

In part, the move is a creative strategy to survive financially, says studio owner Lindsay Armstrong. Armstrong also hopes the online classes can meet the needs of the community while people are struggling. The studio is charging $12 per class, and also offering equity and benefactor payment options. And, Armstrong says, anyone struggling to pay for class can reach out to her to find a solution.

Like Leventhal, the studio is using Zoom to host classes and participants are emailed a link to join a live class. Recordings may be available in the future, but currently live classes are the only option. There are all sorts of quirks and technical issues, since teachers are learning to teach online as they go and are using whatever technology they have at home.

“Their sound quality might not be great, the teacher’s head might get cut off in the shot,” says Armstrong. But, she adds, “It’s very healing for a lot of people because we can see each other’s faces.”

Armstrong says yoga is a great tool for well-being during self-isolation, as we cope with fear of a spreading pandemic and anxiety about how our lives are changing. She says the poses are a tool for being present with yourself. “Yoga is about embracing discomfort and the unknown, on so many levels.”

Social distancing tips: 15 ways to stay both sane and safe from Jagdish Khubchandani, a health science professor at Ball State University in Indiana:

Maintain a routine. As much as possible, social distancing should not disrupt your sleep-wake cycle, working hours, and daily activities.

Make social distancing a positive by taking the time to focus on your personality and personal health, reassessing your work, training, diet patterns, physical activity levels and health habits.

Carve time to cook for yourself and others in need. Add more fruits, vegetables, vitamins and proteins to your diet (most adults in the United States do not consume enough fruits and vegetables). Get 2-3 meals a day.

Go for a walk or exercise at home. Definitely go out in nature as much as possible. Only half of American adults today get enough exercise.

Do not let anxiety or being at home lead you to indulge in binge eating or alcohol and drug use. Don’t oversleep, but do sleep at least 7 hours. Our recent study found that more than a third of Americans sleep less than 7 hours.

Social distancing can cause anxiety and depression due to disruption of routines, isolation and fear due to a pandemic. If you or someone you know is struggling, there are ways to get help from a distance.

Think forward and try to make best use of technology to finish your work, attend meetings and engage with coworkers with the same frequency that is required during active office hours. The good news: Working from home can make people more productive and happier.

Small breaks due to social distancing are also times to reassess your skill and training — think of an online course, certification, training, personality development, or a new language to learn.

Engage in spring cleaning, clear that clutter, and donate non-junk household stuff. Household clutter can harbor infections, pollutants, and create unhygienic spaces.

Social distancing should not translate to an unhealthy life on social media. While you can certainly become a victim of myths, misinformation, anxiety and fear mongering, you may also inadvertently become a perpetrator, creating more trouble for communities.

Based on American Time Use Survey and leisure-related time-spending patterns worldwide, we spend too much time on screen. Except for 1-2 times a day to watch national news for general consumption and local news to check spread of COVID-19 in your own community, you are likely over-consuming information and taking away time from yourself and friends and family.

Reach out to people and offer help. Social distancing should also help reinvest in and recreate social bonds. Consider providing for and helping those at risk or marginalized (e.g. the elderly, disabled and homeless; survivors of natural disasters; and those living in shelters). You will certainly find someone in the neighborhood who needs some help, this can be done from a distance, on the phone, or by online activities and giving.

Check your list of contacts on email and phone. Certainly, there are people you have not talked to in a while — time to check on their well-being and connect. This will also help you feel more connected, social, healthier and engaged. Be kind to all; you never know who is struggling and how you can make a difference.

Engage in alternative activities to keep your mind and body active such as: listening to music and singing, trying dancing or biking, yoga or meditation, taking virtual tours of museums and places of interest, sketching and painting, reading books or novels, solving puzzles or engaging in board games, trying new recipes and learning about other cultures, etc.

Do not isolate yourself totally (physical distancing should not become social isolation). Don’t be afraid, don’t panic, and do keep communicating with others.

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