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Rooftop yoga at the Durham Hotel: finding balance during the pandemic

I can’t touch my toes without bending my knees, the splits are totally out of the question for me and I would not consider myself particularly zen. Still, I decided to drag myself out of bed at 8:30 on a Saturday morning to walk half an hour in the rain to the Durham Hotel to take a La Vita Yoga class with Jessica Collette. And let me tell you, I enjoyed every minute. 

I pre-registered for the class three weeks in advance, as Collette’s classes are almost always filled by regulars. On this day, there were about two dozen people on the covered rooftop of the Durham Hotel, decorated with fairy lights and space heaters and filled with Weezer songs playing softly over the speakers. The vibes were immaculate. 

I am by no means a yogi, but I never felt like I needed to have perfect balance or know all the moves to follow along with Collette’s class. She always offered modifications to more challenging or strenuous moves and asked for requests to cater the class to her students’ needs. 

When asked why she thinks her classes are suitable for people with such varying experiences in yoga, she expressed her belief in the ‘health at every size’ paradigm, also known as ‘HAES.’

“[HAES] is a movement of encouraging people to move and not worry about changing their bodies. Welcoming all bodies and all people is an important part of [teaching yoga] for me, so making it accessible for everyone is part of that,” Collette  said. 

After an hour of moving through various down dogs, warrior poses, push-ups, and chair poses, I left the Durham Hotel that morning feeling centered, stronger and much more energized. I said goodbye to the rather underwhelming view of a Baptist church and a colorfully painted parking garage, but not before I chatted with Collette, owner and instructor of La Vita Yoga, about her experience during the pandemic.

Collette has been holding her classes at the Durham Hotel since its opening in 2015 but took over a year and a half off once Covid hit. She transitioned to Zoom classes last March.

“I loved [starting Zoom yoga classes], and I would keep doing it. My classes started out with eighty people for the first month of Covid,” Collette  said. 

One of the reasons Collette likes teaching on Zoom is the autonomy it gives her students when their cameras are turned off; it can be more freeing to move in the way you want without the inevitable pressures of the classroom environment. 

As the pandemic progressed, Collette’s clients started to experience Zoom fatigue, a feeling too many of us caught up in the online world are familiar with. Her attendance in class has since decreased significantly; her Zoom class on Tuesday had three participants.

Recently, she decided to move back to in-person classes. Although she was hesitant to make the transition, Collette is thankful to be back around the lively community in her class. To me, the energy on the rooftop of the Durham Hotel felt like everyone is as eager to return to Collette’s yoga classes as they are to real life. 

Collette’s group classes with La Vita Yoga are always open air on the Durham Hotel rooftop. They will continue to be that way throughout the winter, only cancelling in extreme cold or inclement weather. She reminded me to bundle up for the next time I come — since, even though the space heaters will be on as it gets colder, it is still important to keep your muscles warm when practicing yoga.

Collette lets those who are vaccinated participate in class without wearing a mask, to allow for optimal breathing practices. Even though people were unmasked, I still felt comfortable in the class because La Vita Yoga limits participation to 25 spots per session so that everyone’s mats can be socially distanced. 

Collette has been teaching yoga for over a decade, so she understands the value that yoga has in allowing people to both exercise and practice mindfulness, especially during the pandemic.

“The idea that you can do a form of joyful movement, build strength, build flexibility, and practice non-judgement and compassion and kindness and relaxation and meditation all in one, I think it’s super rad,” Collette said. 

So, if you have ever considered getting into yoga or want to try a new workout class that just so happens to be super rad, you should try La Vita Yoga with Jessica Collette. Trust me, you are bound to enjoy it.

La Vita Yoga meets at the Durham Hotel Thursdays at 12 p.m., Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. Zoom classes occur on Thursdays at 12 p.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. Be sure to check the website for schedule exceptions and class availability.

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