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With gyms closed in Maryland, many turning to online classes to stay fit during coronavirus pandemic

Yoga on York instructor Jayne Bernasconi is now teaching yoga classes via FaceTime from her Towson studio.

Jayne Bernasconi had every intention of keeping her yoga studio, Yoga on York, open during the coronavirus pandemic. While businesses were closing and mandating their employees work from home amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Bernasconi saw yoga as a means to relieve tension during a particularly stressful period.

Bernasconi even sent a newsletter to her students late last week, reassuring them that the studio would remain open.

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“But then when things were changing so rapidly and Governor [Larry] Hogan made a statement about how we really needed to close down everything, within 24 hours, I’m like, ‘Shoot, I need to close down,’” Bernasconi said.

Bernasconi is one of many owners of gyms and other fitness operations across the state who have had to close their doors to the public after Hogan’s executive order Monday to shut down gyms, along with bars, restaurants and movie theaters.

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Bernasconi closed her studio through March 31 as businesses attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Since then, she has worked to shift her classes online and continue teaching her students. On Wednesday, Bernasconi livestreamed her first class on Facebook for the public to follow.

“I’m trying to keep some normalcy in people’s lives by offering this,” said Bernasconi, who remained in her studio in Towson to stream the class.

On Tuesday, she held an online private consultation with one of her students, Jenny Powers.

“She can see me, I can see her. She demonstrates what she wants me to do,” Powers said. “If I don’t have the right form, she can give me feedback live.”

Jeffrey Morton, who owns LetsGoFitness in Baltimore, is livestreaming classes, as Bernasconi is doing, as well as providing other forms of online coaching to help students.

Both Bernasconi and Morton described the past week as stressful, from the uncertainty regarding whether they would be able to keep their businesses open, to the reality that they could not meet with clients in person and would have to shift their teaching methods.

Many gymgoers also don’t own the equipment at home necessary to continue their workout regimen, which can make sustaining one’s physical activity difficult. Morton, who also specializes in physical training, has curated plans to give clients a rigorous workout without weights and other tools readily accessible at the gym.

“We want to keep it in their face,” Morton said. “We want to keep it on their minds to make sure that they continue making fitness a priority. We want to be that accountability partner during this pandemic.”

Hogan has spoken out against people who have gathered at parks and other public spaces, not adhering to health guidelines. Crystal Watson, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, supported those trying to stay active going outside, so long as they can follow precautions urging people not to gather in groups of more than 10.

“If you don’t have equipment at home that you can work out on, and even if you do, you should be getting outdoors and getting some fresh air,” Watson said. “We all need that both for our physical and mental health.

“Going out for a jog or a walk is a great idea. Going to a park, if it’s not crowded, is also great. I think as long as you’re trying to maintain that distance of over 6 feet apart, then being outside is a wonderful thing to do right now.”

While Bernasconi and Morton are working to keep clients on their weekly routines, there are also concerns over the future of their business, as well as how to take care of their employees who suddenly are out of work or have lost a stream of income. Morton said he has allowed his employees to continue coming to the gym to help with tasks while the facility remains closed to the public.

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Bernasconi has made online classes available to stream for 24 hours on Vimeo for $2 and while Wednesday’s livestream was free, she said she is accepting donations while her studio remains closed.

“I can’t survive if I shut down more than a month or two. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Bernasconi said. “I’m hoping that the donations from the live will happen … but that’s hard to say, because everybody’s wallets are kind of thinning out.”

In times of self-isolation and extended periods inside the home, it can be easy for many to abandon their workout plans and lose the progress they’ve made on their fitness journey. Just as Morton is checking in with his students to keep them active, Powers has emphasized keeping in touch with her fitness community to keep a connection in what could be a lengthy amount of time without in-person meetings.

“I would just say generally speaking it’s really important to reach out, even if it feels awkward,” Powers said. “So I’ve been texting people that I’ve never texted before, just saying, ‘How are you over there?’

“So it’s reaching out and maintaining community, which I guess livestreaming of the fitness program is one way to really maintain that sense of community. Our mental and emotional health really benefits from that.”

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