If you’d told Lindsay Skarbek of Twisted Tree Yoga Studio in February that she’d love to teach virtual yoga one day, she wouldn’t have believed you.
But ever since the COVID-19 pandemic made face-to-face teaching impossible, Skarbek has found she loves helping adults and children access yoga from home.
“Yoga is a method, a tool to connect people,” she said during an interview with Journal. “We are learning how to keep using this tool during this difficult time.”
A native of Des Plaines and a 2002 graduate of Maine West High School where she served on the Orchesis and Pom Poms teams, nurturing the community in her hometown is a priority for Skarbek. At the former Twisted Tree Studio on Graceland Avenue in downtown Des Plaines, she was happy to serve a community of mostly local customers. During class, she often saw students who came across others she knew.
Skarbek was first introduced to yoga during a physical education class in Maine West. She injured her back while studying dance at Columbia College in Chicago. The accident made her yoga studies more serious.
“It moves and breathes, which felt like home to me,” she explained.
Upon graduation, Skarbek took an instructor position at Twisted Trees First Place on Prairie Avenue. She moved the business to 681 Graceland and eventually took over the studio from its original owner in 2014. Since then she has been running Twisted Tree with her sister Marissa Anderson, who also lives in Des Plaines. Skarbek focuses on yoga while Anderson manages the business side of things.
Before the pandemic, they offered 30 classes per week in a variety of styles, including gentle yoga for those with physical ailments, beginner classes, cardio-powered power yoga, youth classes, and family classes. In February there were an average of six to 17 students per class, and 300 students came through the studio doors in one week alone.
Twisted Tree also hosted yoga teacher training courses, hosted scout troops, and was a local birthday party venue.
When news of the COVID-19 outbreak came, Skarbek decided to shut down Twisted Tree in early March, about a week before the nationwide “stay at home” order went into effect. Although it was a tough decision, she ultimately chose it because she was connected to the community, Skarbek told Journal & Topics.
“It was really, really difficult. I meditated a lot and cried a lot that week, ”she said. “Ultimately, we are part of a community and we are committed to ensuring that everyone is safe.”
With the break in personal lessons, Skarbek found joy in becoming a virtual teacher. She was even able to continue offering “Doll and Me” classes where children can do yoga poses with their favorite toys.
Virtual classes are offered every day of the week through the Twisted Tree website. www.twistedtreeyoga.org. The sessions are limited to 15 students and take place in real time. Students can turn off their cameras and still follow the class.
“I think that’s a nice choice,” said Skarbek.
In addition, Twisted Tree’s Skarbek plans to add a “virtual library” feature to the website, offering on-demand recorded yoga videos.
There is still a fee for courses so Skarbek can pay their teachers and keep the website running well and hopefully save up to find a new place.
When their lease was due to be renewed in June, studio owners announced on Instagram that Twisted Tree would move out of the Graceland Avenue area and exist as a virtual studio until further notice. While this was also a tough decision, Skarbek is also relieved – she and Anderson thought long and hard about finding a new studio that wasn’t affected by nearby construction and other issues.
Aside from saying goodbye to the physical twisted tree location, the pandemic caused the studio to lose roughly half of its instructors – including some suburbs in the northwest. Skarbek said she has not yet been able to get government aid for the company. Still, she wants to keep trying.
Last month, Twisted Tree began offering outdoor yoga on the lawn of First Congregational Church, 766 Graceland Ave. to help people stay healthy as statewide “stay at home” orders relax and COVID 19 infection rates in Illinois are falling.
“They are really, really nice people,” said Skarbek.
So far it has been a success, she said of the church, in which she has been involved since her pre-school days. “We are grateful that we can support the church.”
To maintain social distance, the outdoor Twisted Tree courses are limited to nine students and one six foot long course. A long stick is always on hand to measure the distance between the mats. By Wednesday (July 8th), three outdoor sessions had already been held.
So far they have been a success, said Skarbek.
“When you are in perfect conditions, it is actually very easy,” she said, to concentrate in a traditional yoga studio. Being outside brings new challenges and limitations, but makes practicing yoga more unique with each session.
“It’s good to stay curious,” said Skarbek.
Even though the battles of the pandemic have prevented students from practicing with Twisted Tree, Skarbek said everyone is welcome when they are ready.
“Life is full of ebbs and flows,” she said. “If this pandemic has kept someone from doing yoga, there is no reason it can’t flow back.”
For more information on Twisted Tree, see their Facebook Page and on the Instagram social media app.
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