From indoor cycling to virtual yoga classes, Long Beach companies are harnessing the power of technology in a time of crisis

A normal day for 35-year-old yoga teacher Drew Wall looks something like this: get up, bike to Maple Village Waldorf School, where he teaches several times a week, then lead a yoga class. After that, maybe he’ll pay a visit to one of his massage clients, spend time with his daughter in the afternoon before meeting up with friends in the evening.

But alas, these are not normal times.

Wall’s yoga sessions, including some that draw scores of practitioners to a bluff overlooking Ocean Boulevard, have been suspended by city mandate, along with other gatherings uniting fitness aficionados of all stripes. They’ve been deemed “non-essential”—although their participants might dispute that characterization.

“Exercise is so important because you get all this anxious energy and you don’t let go of it until you start moving,” said Wall, who teaches at Yogalution Movement in Long Beach, which puts on the daily Yoga on the Bluff event as well as indoor classes. “To be stagnant really is something that becomes harmful to the human organism over a period of time.”

Wall and many other entrepreneurs and businesses in the fitness industry aren’t taking the challenge lying down. They’ve taken their mission online to maintain their livelihoods, and meet the growing demand for exercise and community among people holed up in their homes.

Even traditional gyms have transitioned their classes online. Gold’s Gym, Crunch and others across the city are offering online classes through Facebook, Instagram Live or on their website.

Zwift, an indoor cycling company headquartered in Long Beach, says it has seen a surge in the number of users that log into its competitive cycling platform from home. Cyclists plug their bikes into a stationary smart trainer and connect to a digital platform through their phone or iPad, where they can train and compete on virtual tracks.

This month, the app hit a peak of 24,000 concurrent users, according to Greg Fisher, vice president of marketing at True Communications, the company’s PR representative. For comparison, Zwift’s app reached a high of 16,000 users in January, normally its strongest month.

But users aren’t only hopping on their stationary bikes to exercise, Fisher said. They’re also looking to connect with fellow cycling fanatics.

As a result, Zwift has focused on offering community events, such as group rides, to keep users connected. Competitive cyclists, who currently have no races to participate in, are hosting rides where users can compete with them in a virtual environment and ask questions while they’re at it.

“It’s about creating as much community as possible in a time when we all need it,” Fisher said.

Chris Stadler, chief marketing officer of Tonal, which offers guided, at-home weight training, has observed a similar trend. The company’s wall-mounted trainer creates resistance electronically, mimicking real-life weights adjusted over time to advance the user’s fitness goals.

Given current conditions, the company has increased production of its trainer, Stadler said.

“There’s a lot going on at home and having an [opportunity] to work out and release some endorphins is much appreciated,” Stadler explained. “It’s giving [users] a nice break from constant conference calls.”

Yoga studios have been especially quick to adapt to the demand for virtual at-home workouts because, in part, there’s no equipment necessary other than a yoga mat and internet connection.

And for many yogis, the practice serves not only the body, but also the soul.

Hayley Searight, a 30-year-old registered nurse, said practicing yoga has given her a sense of normalcy at a time when little seems normal or certain.

Searight was two weeks into a 6-week trip to Europe when the coronavirus outbreak intensified. She cut her trip short and headed back home to Long Beach. “When I returned, I returned into this bizarre reality,” she remembers. “My first thought was: I wonder if Yoga on the Bluff is happening.”

Working three 12-hour shifts a week in a high-stress environment, Searight said her yoga practice helps her structure her days and clear her mind. “I knew I had to get back into my routine as fast as possible,” she explained.

Since her return, she has been attending Yogalution’s virtual classes.

The donation-based yoga studio on Broadway, where Wall teaches several times a week, moved its classes online on March 17, two days before the official order that closed down gyms and studios.

“It’s different, teaching a class with no people in it, where you can’t see anybody,” said Wall, who is used to teaching in front of hundreds during the popular Yoga on the Bluff event. “You’re basically teaching into a mirror, and the mirror is your iPad.”

Clients, however, have been immensely appreciative of the studio’s online offerings, he explained, and his donation revenues have increased as a result. “People have been extraordinarily generous,” Wall said.

By hosting classes online, Wall said he also has been able to expand Yogalution’s reach to students outside of the Long Beach area. “I’m getting students from all over the world right now, and that’s exciting,” he explained.

The classes continue to live online, for people to follow after the livestream has ended. This has added a new revenue stream for Wall.

In-person classes are limited by the number of attendees the studio can fit comfortably, usually somewhere between 10 to 20 people. But hundreds can—and do—access classes from their home, both live and recorded.

“People will venmo me in the middle of the night, because they just took my class,” he noted.

Free Spirit Yoga in Bixby Knolls has seen a similar trend. While the studio’s focus at the moment is to break even, teaching classes online has emerged as a promising way to reach more students, owner Cassandra Vitale explained.

“It’s hard to say what it’s going to do to our revenue in the future,” she said. But, Vitale noted, “I think in the long run, we have a potential to make more money than ever.”

The studio is offering online classes at a reduced price, but Vitale has encouraged students with existing memberships or passes to maintain them through this crisis, in order to help the studio survive.

“I’m just being very real with people,” she said. “If you want us to continue to exist, please continue to pay your membership.”

Technology has enabled businesses like Vitale’s to sustain themselves. It has also offered people a sense of community, even as social distancing is practiced across the world, Wall said.

“Thank God for the internet right now, for social media. Otherwise, our situation would be very different,” he exclaimed. “I think this has woken people up to how interconnected we are,” he added. “We want to see each other succeed and we want to make it through this thing.”

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