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Small Biz Saturday: Mota Thai Yoga offers ‘yoga pods,' hybrid classes in downtown Ann Arbor

Mota Thai Yoga has created "yoga pods" for attendees to use during its in-person classes.
Mota Thai Yoga has created "yoga pods" for attendees to use during its in-person classes. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – When entering Mota Thai Yoga on Huron Street, community members will see “yoga pods,” red lights and neon fluorescent tape.

The set up may make the Ann Arbor yoga studio look a bit like an emergency room, but it offers a welcoming and safe space for community members wanting to stretch and release some anxiety.

Owned by Luiz Mota, the studio is divided into easy-to-clean individualized areas sectioned off by plastic sheets and denoted with neon tape. Each pod is large enough for one person, has enough space for belongings (mats, blocks, shoes, etc) and has its own spray bottle of cleanser.

Mota said that some of the spaces are even large enough for two people from the same household who want to practice together.

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For anyone who has done yoga, the practice usually involves deeply inhaling and exhaling. Mota said that the studio experimented to create more mask-friendly breathing practices, has slowed things down and keeps the studio at room temperature.

His studio has had to find a balance between incorporating the new reality of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the intended purpose of yoga.

“One of the things that we’ve been doing is to even develop a breath count -- few movements while inhaling through the nose slowly,” Mota said.

Mota Thai Yoga is also developing two worlds when it comes to teaching. Some of the instructors only teach from home, so their classes are faster, while some teachers offer slower in-person classes at the Huron Street studio and outdoors in Ann Arbor’s West Park.

The studio’s back room, which houses a dressing room and cubbies for belongings, is now closed due to its small size.

Mota Thai Yoga studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan offers a combination of in-person and online yoga classes.
Mota Thai Yoga studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan offers a combination of in-person and online yoga classes. (Mota Thai Yoga)

Mota credits his instructors for helping him make changes to the studio, adapt yoga practices, offer classes at non-conventional times and navigate online classes, which are held through Zoom.

Outside of changing the studio itself, instructors have also had to modify the way attendees breathe and stretch while masked during in-person classes.

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Instructor Courtney Keating, who teaches YinYasa classes, said that wearing masks has changed the process of her class. Attendees now focus on making micro-adjustments to their posture, make small movements and do fewer transitions so they don’t generate a lot of heat and feel stifled.

As a healthcare worker, she knows how much anxiety attendees are experiencing.

“It [the YinYasa class] just gives people a chance to slow down and reflect, listen to their own bodies and just have a moment to be within themselves," Keating said, adding that while her class is offered online, taking the class in the studio provides a distraction-less space that is hard to recreate at home.

Teaching virtually also has its challenges. Mota Thai Yoga instructor Jessica Carpenter was originally worried that she wouldn’t be able to help students make posture corrections or modifications like she could in person. But she’s embraced the virtual medium and found it works well with her restorative Yin class, which helps attendees relax in a cozy and personal space at home.

Instructor Angel McGriff said that her challenge was speaking loud enough to be heard on the other end of a live video feed while Beth Duffy, a teacher-in-training, found she missed the energy of an in-person class.

Mota Thai Yoga also offers live music during its classes, which Mota said has gotten the studio a lot of attention. Percussionist and teacher-in-training Dannielle Gonzalez collaborates with other instructors to accompany classes with her own music. Sometimes she is joined by music teacher and instructor Yael Rothfeld, who originally started at the studio as a student. With her classes, she’s slowed things down to make them more mask-friendly.

“It’s been working,” said Mota on all of the changes, “but we’re still in the middle of riding this wave.”

He said that he hopes the studio is offering attendees a reason to move and that even passersby are inspired to keep moving and to prevent the idea that they are somehow stuck due to the pandemic.

“We’re still moving, we’re still doing things and hopefully it helps them," Mota said. "Yoga is still here.”

Currently, all online Mota Thai Yoga classes are considered “donation classes,” so attendees pay an amount of their choosing between $0-20 dollars. In-person classes vary in cost.

Find the class schedule here or on Mindbody app. Attendees must pre-register for classes.

Mota Thai Yoga is at 416 W. Huron Street in Suite 22.

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