“My first client was an 84-year-old grandma”: This yoga instructor teaches classes outside her clients’ windows

“My first client was an 84-year-old grandma”: This yoga instructor teaches classes outside her clients’ windows

Yoga teacher Ashley McEachern has started a lockdown-friendly personal training business, providing exercise classes outside her clients’ windows. Here, she tells us how it works.

—As told to Liza Agrba

“Since university, yoga has been an anchor for me. It’s a source of therapy: a place I can go for an hour or 75 minutes, to drop out of the world and take care of my body, mind and breathing. I’ve also taught yoga for more than 10 years. Every time I teach a class, I know I’m helping other people get through whatever they’re struggling with in their life. Just being able to sit in meditation for 10 minutes without their kid pulling at their hair or having a nagging deadline can be a game changer.

“I gave birth to my second child in late February, and two weeks later, we were in a global pandemic. Still, I continued carving out time to do yoga every day. Without it, I honestly don’t know where I’d be right now. It gave me the strength, courage, confidence, and mindfulness—all that juicy stuff—to be okay during this really messed up time. One day, at the end of October, I was doing online yoga and looking out the window, wanting so badly to just see a human and be outside. I suddenly realized I could teach in person by standing outside my clients’ windows. When I have an idea it just bubbles and boils under my skin until it explodes. I started telling friends about it and putting the pieces together. I’m not against online yoga. I just think there’s a need for real human connection, and it’s quite nice seeing someone through a window.

“A student who was in one of my online classes, which I set up during Covid, reached out to ask if I could teach private yoga to her 84-year-old grandma. This lady is an avid tennis and golf player who was looking for a way to stay fit when the tennis season was over. She was my first window client.

“The first day, she was nervous and invited her daughter to join. Mind you, I think a lot of people are nervous about something like this. After all, you’re having a stranger coming onto your property after being alone for eight months. I stood outside the window and taught the class over speakerphone, while the client did the workout inside. It was her first time doing yoga: I asked when she last stretched, and she said it had been 50 years. She kept saying how nice it was to see somebody smiling during these times. To have somebody show up at their house, and smile and laugh—because there’s lots of joking and laughing when I teach my yoga classes—was perhaps even more powerful for her than the fitness component. A part of me wonders if fitness is the medium to get people connected again. I now see her for a yoga class every Saturday morning at her house. It’s the highlight of my week.

“I got six other teachers on board immediately—four in Toronto, one in Victoria and one in Ottawa. And we don’t just do yoga. One instructor trains runners with HIIT, and another specializes in kickboxing and other martial arts.

“When someone signs up, they can book a single session for $105, a five-class pass for $515 or a 10-class pass for $1,000. When we arrive at their home, five to 10 minutes before a class, we call the client, and they tell us where to go—usually a front porch or backyard. We sanitize anything we touch (handrails, gate latches), throw down our yoga mat or chair, and communicate with them over the phone using wireless headphones.

“We’re all on Zoom calls all day. But even though we’ve all been doing this for months, I know it’s much easier to read body language in person. One of the major differences between the window approach and online yoga is that it’s much easier for instructors to see and correct people’s form when we’re not looking at a screen. I’m a visual person, and it’s so much easier to talk people through a pose when you can see them right through the window.

“The window workouts create fun moments for families. We had three generations of one family—a nine-year old, his mom and her elderly mother— practise chair yoga with one of our teachers through a big bay window. It was helpful for all of them: the eldest for mobility reasons, and also for the mother and son, since they both spend so much time on the computer. I don’t think they’d all get together for an online yoga class, but they’ll do it for a window workout because it’s novel and exciting.

“Another client is a mother of two; both she and her husband work full time. Like so many others, she was having a chaotic time juggling kids, work and everything else. She texted me after our class and told me that it made her cry because it was so nice to see people in real life.

“I’m trying to donate as many classes I can, especially to seniors in long-term care homes. My grandmother lived in a nursing home and passed away in July after having little to no social interaction or social programming, despite her conditions not really changing. I’ve also worked at a nursing home, so I know the physical and social programming they have is essential.

“I’m not worried about winter. I grew up on Blue Mountain, snowboarding every night after school, so being outside in minus-30 degrees is nothing for me. Plus, I’ll have a thermos of tea and bundle up in a snowsuit. But I don’t want to do this forever. I’ll be the first to admit that teaching yoga through a window is sad. I want this company go out of business because Covid disappears. But until then, this simple, strange idea seems to work for people. That makes me happy.”