Virtual fitness classes allow those in quarantine to maintain ‘normalcy’ while at home

Staying active is as beneficial for mental health as it is for physical health, especially for those who feel bombarded by coronavirus news, said a yoga instructor.

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Grandmaster Kwan Pil Kim of Woori Taekwondo & Hapkido demonstrates a kick to his students who look on from their digital devices during Illinois’ stay-at-home order.

Grandmaster Kwan Pil Kim of Woori Taekwondo & Hapkido demonstrates a kick to his students who look on from their digital devices during Illinois’ stay-at-home order.

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Hockey, lacrosse, soccer and tae kwon do kept the Millas brothers busy after school and on weekends. Then life changed in an instant.

The coronavirus pandemic prompted a statewide stay-at-home order, forcing adjustments to their out-of-the-house routines.

Lee-Ann Millas’ boys, 5 and 9, who have been practicing martial arts for the last six months at a studio in Evergreen Park, haven’t missed a beat. The switch to virtual tae kwon do training has “been a blessing.”

“It’s the only normalcy they’ve been able to have besides being at home,” Millas said.

Grandmaster Kwan Pil Kim teaches tae kwon do and hapkido in Evergreen Park. His classes are usually filled with students ranging in age from 4 to 76, but now he’s forced to perform his techniques in front of a laptop.

“At the beginning, I had a hard time because it was the first time using,” Kim said. “But after a couple of days, it was easier to join for everybody.”

He first started teaching his classes March 14 via Zoom and quickly noticed an issue with teaching martial arts techniques through a camera.

“I was confused in the beginning because [the video] is mirroring, so when I use my left hand they are using their right hand,” Kim said.

Despite the early kinks, classes have gone smoothly since the early days of the experiment, he said.

A class at Woori Taekwond & Hapkido during Illinois’ stay-at-home order.

A class at Woori Taekwond & Hapkido during Illinois’ stay-at-home order.

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He teaches every day, following his regular class schedule.He’s even figured out a way for parents to make up for the lack of training equipment.

“I showed them how to make a kicking paddle with a plastic bag,” Kim said. “Put some air in [the bag] and tie it. That was fun.”

His biggest issue now is making sure his youngest students stay focused throughout the session.

“I have to keep them focused because everyone is at home and just looking at the screen,” Kim said.

Millas said the virtual training gives her sons “something to look forward to every day.”

“I think it’s a wonderful thing that not only is he doing for a community, but for the sanity of the kids and parents,” she said.

Kim said the online-only experience has been eye-opening for him, and he didn’t realize how easy it would be to get used to.

“It’s really cool, and especially right now it’s the only thing we can do. We have to teach new stuff, but it’s fun,” Kim said.

Rebecca Caliendo, a yoga instructor, is also holding virtual classes. She believes staying active is as beneficial for mental health as it is for physical health, especially for those who feel bombarded by coronavirus news.

“It’s not bad to feel anxiety or fear … but that has to go somewhere,” Caliendo said. “You need to let them out somehow and doing anything; walking, jumping jacks, yoga. I think that helps people.”

Caliendo started practicing yoga when she lived in New York and she sang opera for a living.

It’s a crazy place to be. And I needed to discharge, I needed a mental health release,” she said. “I started practicing yoga, which I say kind of saved my sanity, saved my life.”

Before the statewide measure was put into place, Caliendo was holding classes in studios and gyms. She decided to take a stab at doing it online because she missed teaching and realized people were looking for their own way to discharge.

“It’s really cool because it’s physical. But then you also get to chill and relax at the end,” she said.

Caliendo’s classes are free, but she does accept donations.

She teaches all levels five days a week, with her largest class to date at 25 participants. A recent class featured a woman in her 70s who was trying yoga for the first time.

Caliendo said the meditative aspects of a yoga routine are especially helpful right now because instructors can’t adjust their students’ bodies into the right positions.

For fitness instructor Mary Younger, quarantine life has presented an opportunity for her to branch out into the digital space, a move she put off for too long.

“I’ve had a lot of people over the years ask me if I have a tape that I could sell or a DVD,” she said. “This coronavirus era has forced me to do what people have been asking me to do in the first place.”

A couple of days before the stay-at-home order was announced, Younger experimented with her first couple of streams.

“I did a 30-minute step aerobics class and did a 30-minute cardio kickboxing class. The feedback was awesome. I mean, it was great.”

Encouraged by the responses, Younger increased her online workouts. Now she streams her routines three times a week on Facebook live.

The frustrating part, she says, is not being able to feed off of the energy of her students or motivate those who need a little encouragement during a workout.

But the benefits of staying active when you’re cooped up inside outweigh any inconveniences, Younger said.

“I don’t care how wonderful your apartment or your house is with a great balcony and backyard,” she said. “Staying fit is a positive distraction. With all this going on, it makes you feel good about yourself to take care of yourself.”

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