OKEECHOBEE — In reaction to the COVID-19 crisis, businesses around Lake Okeechobee have had to find creative ways to adjust to the new rules and restrictions put in place by the state and federal governments.
Wildwood Yoga & Wellness in Okeechobee faced a particular problem. When following social distancing guidelines they couldn’t allow people into their studio to participate in Zumba or yoga classes. Wildwood owner and yoga instructor Taylor English and her fellow instructors, Audrey Maselli and Raquel Benetiz, brainstormed what options they had to keep the studio running.
One option jumped out early — continue teaching the classes through online video.
“We all talk via Facebook Messenger daily about ideas and stuff regarding the studio and our personal lives so we had already started to throw around ideas on what to do if we were forced to close our doors,” explained Ms. English. “When things started to shut down and decrease capacity, we decided to follow suit and, since March 17, we have been closed to the public. YouTube seemed like the best idea. At first, we were strictly going to use Facebook Live, but we have a lot of students who aren’t on social media and we wanted a user-friendly platform.”
Wildwood offers a variety of classes including kids’ yoga, Zumba, HIIT squad, bedtime yoga, chair yoga and advanced classes, as well as pose breakdowns for people who aren’t familiar with certain yoga poses. Classes can range from five to 45 minutes.
The only problem with the plan of online classes? None of the three instructors had much experience with online video.
“I don’t think any of us have really had previous experience,” Ms. English said. “Audrey had a camera she had bought a few years back for online classes, so we use that mixed with our cellphones and iPads to record the classes and time lapse to help promote releases of classes. The three of us met a few times in the first couple of weeks to record each other. We played around with angles, volume, background music, the background looks in general; it was definitely not an easy task.”
“But after three weeks,” continued Ms. English, “I feel like we’ve gotten into the groove of recording, posting and promoting. We’re all tech-savvy, and that has helped a lot. We use Movie Maker to add little reminders throughout, too. Definitely a learning experience. At least for me, it’s a lot more difficult to record yourself vs. an actual in-person class.”
Over the last month the Wildwood instructors have uploaded 30 classes on to their YouTube and Facebook pages.
The studio was operating on memberships before COVID-19 hit, and some students are still buying memberships to support Wildwood. But the new online classes are accessible for free for those stuck inside during this long quarantine. All Wildwood is asking is for a donation to help support the studio.
“We figured since most of our payments are done electronically anyway we could ask for donations that way but keep it free because it was a difficult time already,” Ms. English said of not charging for the classes. “We didn’t want funds to get in the way of people trying to keep up with their health. We’ve had some of our regular students and students out of town reach out about donating, and that has helped tremendously. People just watch the videos and if they feel called to donate, hopefully they do. If not, maybe this will give them a view as to how we facilitate our classes in person.”
With quarantine fatigue starting to set in for many, it has never been more important to stay active to keep your body and mind healthy. The instructors at Wildwood think their classes can help with that.
“Movement is essential for the human body and mind. The body is not meant to sit for eight plus hours a day. Zumba is perfect for people who just want to move. You can move at your own pace and do what feels good in your body. Dancing has been known to increase lung capacity, strength muscles and boost your cardiovascular system. All while having fun. Yoga is in the middle of the spectrum with similar benefits but also on a more mental and nervous system level. We need to break out of this fight or flight response and being chronically stressed out. Breathing, yoga poses and the sequencing of the two will help decrease stress levels while creating a connection between your body, mind and breath. Anxiety is high right now for everyone, and the first step of regaining control of that is the breath.”
Wildwood opened in Okeechobee back in June 2019. When the owner of Studio 13 Dance Academy was planning to move away from Okeechobee, she reached out to Taylor to see if she’d be interested in taking over the studio and making it her own.
Ms. English first got involved with yoga in 2014. After Your Inner Space closed in 2015, there was no longer a local yoga presence in Okeechobee.
In May 2015, she and a few students from Your Inner Space hosted their first Okeechobee Yoga Group Meet up. The meet-ups were hosted regularly and, eventually, the group began taking donations for nonprofits in town. Over the course of three years, they donated over $2,000 to nonprofits such as Healthy Start Coalition, Martha’s House, The B.R.A.T. Club and many others. They also sponsored families for Christmas via Big Lake Missions Outreach.
“From May 2015 until August 2018 the group practiced in various locations outside and also in one of the college classrooms at Indian River State College,” Ms. English said. “Eventually, I started the journey of opening Wildwood Yoga and Wellness. I put it out on Facebook for other instructors to possibly teach in this space, and one of the first people to contact me was Raquel Benetiz, our Zumba and HIIT squad instructor. Shortly after, Audrey Maselli messaged me about wanting to teach yoga, and that was all she wrote. Over the last nine months these two have really been instrumental to the success of the studio. Their motivation and commitment to our students is unwavering. I really couldn’t have continued this without them.”