The yoga scene in the UAE: some studios close for good, others reopen and innovate

Yoga studios have begun to reopen in some parts of the country: however, some are closing for good and others are keeping things virtual

As some yoga studios in the UAE get set to reopen their doors, others in Abu Dhabi and Dubai announce that they will not be getting back on the mat. Courtesy Guava Pass
As some yoga studios in the UAE get set to reopen their doors, others in Abu Dhabi and Dubai announce that they will not be getting back on the mat. Courtesy Guava Pass

As some yoga studios across the UAE reopen their doors, others are announcing their closure.

Back in March, yoga studios across the country closed in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Many studios pivoted to online models, teaching yoga classes through Facebook Live, Instagram and Zoom. Now, as movement restrictions in Dubai begin to ease, some studios have reopened and others are preparing to do the same, following strict social distancing rules.

But other studios are not reopening, and are closing for good.

End of an era for Urban Yoga Dubai

Urban Yoga in Dubai is closing its doors after seven years of teaching in Downtown Dubai. 
Urban Yoga in Dubai is closing its doors after seven years of teaching in Downtown Dubai.

After seven years in Dubai, Urban Yoga has announced it will not be reopening. The NYC-inspired loft yoga studio in Downtown Dubai made the announcement via social media.

"It's the best of times; it's the worst of times. You know it, we know it – we are all going through it. ⁠We will not be reopening the Urban Yoga studio," announced the studio via Instagram.

Owners Yasmine and Kim said the decision was heartbreaking to make, but ultimately it came down to having to prioritise their families.

"In the past six months, we have been in discussions with several parties about rehoming Urban Yoga into loving and capable hands. Unfortunately for us, coronavirus hit, the world changed – and each of those potential 'new homes' were no longer an option," reads the studio's Instagram post.

"To rebuild the business to the high standards that you are all used to will take someone with 150 per cent capacity for this next phase, which is sadly more than we have available. We have little people at home who need us now more than ever, and we must take care of our families first. We can't rescue a yoga studio from the corona-economy between the hours of 8pm and 10pm, so we have to recognise our limits. ⁠ It's been a heartbreaking decision."

The Hothouse in Abu Dhabi also closes for good

In Abu Dhabi, The Hot House studio in Al Zeina is shutting up shop. Having offered hatha, vinyasa, ashtanga, yin, swing, kundalini and Bikram yoga classes for two years, owner Pem Fassa took to the studio's Instagram to announce the studio's closure.

"Sadly we are closing our studio for good. In the past two years we saw our community grow, met wonderful people, shared space and connected with a team of dedicated teachers and practitioners," wrote the yogi.

A virtual existence

Melanie Swan has been teaching yoga for seven years in the UAE. During the pandemic, she has relied on virtual classes, something that has been working well for the freelance teacher.

“Zoom has been my saving grace, as I do my classes all there now. To be honest, I would actually like to continue this way as it saves me so much time," she says of the fact she doesn't have to travel to classes.

Yoga studios are as much community centres as anything, so we very much need them

Melanie Swan, freelance teacher

That said, teaching yoga online is not appropriate for all types of yoga, especially for more advanced levels or for anyone who is just starting out in the practice.

"Yoga was never meant to be learnt online, so moving forward at least for the foreseeable future, I think we'll have to find perhaps a hybrid of these things. Yoga studios are as much community centres as anything, so we very much need them," Swan says.

"If we were to lose that, and lose our physical and personal connections with our teachers, it would be really sad times. Many people don't have the luxury of a peaceful home or an open space to practise in, and a yoga studio is often a welcome escape from the stresses of the world around us."

Yoga studios reopen with social distancing in place

Nilaya House in Dubai has reopened with a limited scheduled of classes. The shala will continue to operate online yoga sessions as it slowly reopens slowly and in the future to satisfy demand. Courtesy Nilaya House / Facebook
Nilaya House in Dubai has reopened with a limited scheduled of classes. The shala will continue to operate online yoga sessions too. Courtesy Nilaya House / Facebook

In Dubai, other studios are beginning to reopen.

We wanted to do it slowly, which I think fits the mindset of a lot of people at the moment, we don’t necessarily want to go straight from A to Z

Nea Ferrier, Nilaya House

Zen Yoga has reopened with updated safety regulations meaning that there are no changing rooms or shower facilities at the studios. It has also introduced cashless payment systems and is maintaining two-metre social distancing rules.

Yoga House reopened two of its three studios on Sunday, May 31. The Greens and Intercontinental Dubai Marina Studios have reopened and are following government guidelines on social distancing and sanitation. Yoga House Hilton Al Habtoor City Studio remains closed until further notice.

Eco Yoga Sanctuary in The Village Mall, Jumeirah, remains closed for the moment, but a spokesperson told The National that it plans to reopen on Saturday, June 6.

Nilaya House on the benefits of Zoom classes

Nilaya House in Dubai's Al Quoz has also reopened but with a limited schedule of classes. Nea Ferrier, owner and lead teacher at the shala, explained her decision to reopen gradually.

"We wanted to do it slowly, which I think fits the mindset of a lot of people at the moment, we don’t necessarily want to go straight from A to Z."

The studio is offering eight sessions in the shala per week and pre-booking is essential. It took classes online after fitness centres closed in March, and Ferrier says the team will continue to offer online classes via Zoom.

"Once people got over the initial newness of the online classes, there were many benefits. On Zoom, it's very interactive and sometimes I can see students better than I would be able to in person. It also works for clients who cannot come to the studio, whether that's because they are homeschooling children or are not in the city."

The online learning has been so popular that Ferrier plans to keep a percentage of classes online even when the studio is back to operating normally.

"We've been able to reconnect with a lot of old students who don't live in Dubai any more via our Zoom classes, and that's been a real positive side to everything that’s happened," says the Ashtanga teacher.

The biggest challenge during the closure has been financial. "There's reduced pricing for online classes, yet it's the same amount of time," explains Ferrier.

The process of reopening

However, the process of reopening was quite straightforward, explains the yogi.

"It involved doing sanitisation and getting the certificate for that, buying a thermometer etc. We also had to measure the studio to see how many students we could fit in with the two-metre distance."

The new measures mean 20 students can fit into the large studio, which before comfortably held 40-plus students. Only five students can now practise in the smaller downstairs room.

Other yoga studios that have reopened include Inspire Yoga and Fitness Studio in Dubai's Al Manara, which resumed classes on Wednesday, May 27. All classes are operating at 50 per cent capacity.

Bay Yoga in Dubai's Business Bay has also reopened, but the studio has not restarted all of its sessions and spaces are limited for each class.

In the Marina, Define has reopened at 25 per cent capacity. The studio has also scheduled 30-minute slots between all classes to allow for sanitation and instructors will refrain from offering hands-on adjustments to students.

Define's classes for babies and children remain suspended.

Elsewhere in Dubai, other studios remain closed.

Seva, formerly Life'n One, in Jumeirah has not yet restarted classes despite its plant-based cafe and retail space reopening. For now, it is offering kundalini yoga classes on Instagram and Facebook. Trident Wellness Centre in Dubai Marina continues to offer only online classes.

A new arrival in Abu Dhabi

In Abu Dhabi, fitness centres including yoga studios remain closed at the moment, as per government directives. But as one door in Abu Dhabi closes with the closure of The Hot House, another is getting set to open.

Abu Dhabi's Breathe Yoga Studio on Saadiyat Island originally opened for one day in March, before it was forced to close again as businesses began to shut due to Covid-19 restrictions.

"It was bizarre to be open for just a day. It was hard to focus and be excited about it because we were constantly waiting to get notification to close," explains Amanda Newmark.

Since then, in between homeschooling her children, she has been waiting for more updates on when the studio can have its second official opening.

"Many of our teachers are affected by homeschooling. And likewise a lot of our clients are as well, so it’s hard to know what classes and timings will be popular. I’m thinking of doing a survey to find the best solution," says the studio owner and yoga teacher.

Having refrained from doing virtual classes during the closure, Newmark is counting the days until she gets the green light to begin teaching again. "I’m not a big believer in screen time ... and many of our teachers also agree that the experience isn’t the same nor very positive with the interference of the electro-magnetic fields of screens etc. Instead, we’re looking forward to getting back into the studio environment so things like sound healing can work their magic."

Breathe Yoga Studio will reopen slowly. Masks will be compulsory and clients must bring their own yoga mats. The studio has custom-made, eco-friendly and hormone-free gear available for clients to purchase if they don't already own yoga equipment. A separate entrance and exit point in the studio will help enforce social distancing rules and the room is large enough for people to comfortably practice two-metres apart.

Newmark is also looking to incorporate some new class series that look at issues that have become more apparent during the pandemic. "Things like fear, isolation, melancholy, fatigue and anxiety, we’ll work on the opposite, positive side of overcoming those," says the yoga teacher.

"I’m really hoping it all goes ahead (soon). I feel people are going to need yoga more than ever as we come out of this."

Updated: May 31, 2020 05:02 PM

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