In-person classes at Mr. C give Dharma studio a boost

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Gentle yoga classes, mindfulness workshops and a hefty dose of student loyalty have created the recipe for Dharma Yoga Studio’s survival during the pandemic. Since late June, online technology has provided the karmic — and physical — connection between the studio and its public.

Now, the Coconut Grove studio is starting to offer small in-person classes at an outdoor garden at nearby Mr. C Miami and plans to form other partnerships with open-air spaces as it transitions to what could become a hybrid model, said founder Natalie Morales.

“We are still not ready to go back to an in-person studio setup but we want to offer some options to our students,” said Morales. “The classes at Mr. C breathed new life into our deflated schedule. We became a shell of what we were before and we needed a boost.”

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Dharma Yoga Studio is offering small classes at Mr. C Miami Coconut Grove’s Il Giardino terrace. Krista Miller

After Miami-Dade went under quarantine in mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19, yoga studios like Dharma moved online to generate at least some revenue from loyal clients and to keep instructors employed. But demand dropped as many students lacked the discipline or the means to keep up with classes, Morales said.

Dharma, which used to offer 40 classes a week before the lockdown, was livestreaming 28 sessions during much of the summer. Of the 20 teachers guiding students through Vinyasa, Hatha and power yoga classes, only 12 remained. The studio is now offering 24 classes, including in-person classes at Mr. C three times a week.

With a maximum capacity of nine people, Dharma’s Mr. C classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are selling out almost every time, she said. They are also livestreamed for those who are not ready to gather in person.

The intimate space at the hotel’s Il Giardino terrace gives students a feeling of being in a private setting surrounded by greenery and fresh air. When it rains, the group can use a conference room on the fifth floor.

Morales is also in talks with Shake Backyard, a new wellness and fitness concept that uses trampolines as the basis for fun outdoor workouts, created by Grove resident Isaac Kodsi. Dharma could potentially offer classes at the space — Kodsi’s own backyard.

For now, Dharma’s online classes have kept the business stable as a loyal core group of students continue to buy class packages and monthly passes. Eliminating rent as an expense in late June helped, as did a $12,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan the studio received in May.

Now Morales can experiment with options like Mr. C classes. Renting the space costs $500 a month. Prices for class packages have dropped slightly: 10 sessions cost $130, from $150 pre-COVID. A monthly pass costs $150 compared with $165 before. Individual classes cost $16. Some of the classes are livestreamed from Morales’ backyard.

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Natalie Morales, who founded Dharma Yoga Studio on Thanksgiving Day in 2009, livestreams a ‘funyasa’ yoga class from her backyard. Natalie Morales

Morales said preferences have shifted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with students looking for slower yoga classes and meditation rather than more physically demanding practices.

“A lot of us feel like we are floating untethered, disconnected. People are craving some sort of connection and yoga practices that are slower and that involve more meditation are doing very well,” Morales said.

Realizing this was an opportunity to expand Dharma’s online programs, Morales began offering courses and workshops that cater to activities that can lead to improvements in mental health. The studio’s new four-week and full-day mindfulness workshops have attracted new students, which Morales says will be key in supporting growth for the business going forward.

A four-week Journey into Mindfulness course, for example, costs $108. A course just started on Oct. 21, with 75-minute classes once a week covering topics like breath awareness, aspiration and the importance of intention and cultivating kindness. The workshop A Day of Mindfulness, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., costs the same, and gives students an overview of mindfulness meditation practices.

But Morales said she recognizes the power of in-person contact, even if it’s just for special classes with conservative social-distancing guidelines.

That’s why she is looking for a large space to hold a special class to celebrate Dharma’s 11th anniversary this Thanksgiving.

“Even if we moved online, there is still a strong sense of community in our studio; the teachers are very committed; we have loyal longtime students. It would be very special to see them in person,” Morales said.

Dharma Yoga Studio,

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Adriana Brasileiro covers environmental news at the Miami Herald. Previously she covered climate change, business, political and general news as a correspondent for the world’s top news organizations: Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones – The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, based in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Santiago.

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