MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — Monica Johnson is a yoga and Qigong teacher who until recently taught classes in Town Hill and Southwest Harbor. She had recently started a YouTube channel to put some of her classes online.
“I was planning on putting up a class once a week, because not everyone can get to the studios,” she said. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, changing everything.
On March 14, Johnson announced on Facebook that she was cancelling her in-person studio classes indefinitely. She began posting free daily classes to her YouTube channel.
“I saw a lot of people expressing an anxiety about what was going on,” Johnson said, adding that yoga and Qigong both help with stress.
“Qigong is often described as ‘moving meditation,’ and I think yoga could be put in that category too,” she said. Practicing them “energizes the body while releasing physical tension and stress, as well as mental stress,” which in turn strengthens the immune system.
All a person needs to attend a class is “a little bit of space to move around,” Johnson said. A yoga mat is also helpful, but not necessary for every class. “My ‘Out in Nature’ series is done without a mat or any equipment.”
Offering classes every day “is as much for me, as for everyone else,” Johnson confessed. “For me, breathing helps with everything.”
Attention to the breath is an important part of yoga and Qigong, Johnson explained. “It brings calmness to the mind.”
For school-aged children at home, a variety of classes are being offered as well. Summer Festival of the Arts (SFOA), a summer camp program in Bar Harbor, is offering free online classes from visual art to singing to storytelling and hip hop dancing. “We have 10 classes happening now every week,” said SFOA director Alex Newell Taylor. “We’ve had an average of ten to 20 kids join each class so far.”
Unlike Johnson’s classes which are offered through YouTube, SFOA classes are live. Families can check the schedule on the SFOA website and tune in at class time. No registration is required, Newell Taylor said. “We wanted it easy as possible for people to join.”
Newell Taylor said she got the idea to offer virtual classes when schools announced closing until further notice. “We wanted to do something for the community,” she said. “Kids at home need activities.” She acted quickly on the idea, putting out a call for teachers. “Not just locals, but teachers from all over the country have reached out,” she said.
One such teacher is Dezirae Zaman, a Mount Desert High School student who is herself home from school. “I grew up attending [SFOA] as a camper, and then once I was old enough, I started working as an apprentice and assistant,” Zaman said. She was excited for the opportunity to teach dance remotely.
“I absolutely love SFOA, and the kids that I get to teach,” she said. “I also have a passion for dance, so I saw this as a chance to get myself up and moving, doing something I love. I’ve taught one class so far and it was a blast.”
Most classes are offered weekly, Newell Taylor said, and she plans to offer classes for as long as schools are closed. “We are actively looking for financial support for this program,” she noted. “We’re not changing anything for the classes, but we are paying our teachers.”
In exchange for her free classes, Johnson is asking people to subscribe to her Youtube channel and write a positive review. “I think that we’re all searching for a way to help each other out,” she said. “Having to ‘social distance’ ourselves from each other, [the question is] how do we reach out.” She continued, “I love how the community has come together so quickly to provide assistance to one another.”