Since ending of the November 2020 lockdown was announced, with a return to the tier system, there has been some uncertainty within the Yoga world around the number of students allowed into indoor group Yoga classes; this will clearly extend to other modalities as well, like Pilates.

For my own part, as MD of YogaTax and a Yoga Teacher / Yoga Therapist / Studio owner, I felt reasonably certain that there was no substantive change to the pre lockdown tier position, and the references to Rule of 6 for indoors classes in Tier 1, and no household mixing in indoor classes Tier 2 were related, as before, to social contact rather than class attendance per se.

Briefings issued in recent days by groups like British Wheel of Yoga, Yoga Alliance Professionals, UKActive and a number of fitness / dance PAs (Professional Associations) have broadly reached a similar consensus that indoor class numbers are not restricted in Tiers 1/2, and that concurs with the briefing we issued last week (and whilst we are not a PA, we are a regulated professional practice and issuing incorrect or reckless statements would place us in professional difficulty).

However there is still some confusion and disquiet in places that there is no clear statement from Government, and the aforementioned briefings are all interpretation rather than confirmed.

Thats changed today with a much clearer statement from Government.  Alas its not as simple as a document from Government “How many people can you have in a yoga class” or even “How many people can you have in a fitness class” but its clearer than it was, and can be picked apart with reasonable ease.

Today’s release (1st December 2020) is titled “Coronavirus (COVID-19): grassroots sports guidance for safe provision including team sport, contact combat sport and organised sport events

In it we read

“Organised indoor sport is not exempt from legal gathering limits”

“In tier 1 areas: organised indoor team sport can only take place in groups of up to 6 people (or larger groups if all from the same household or support bubble). Other organised indoor sport, including indoor exercise classes, personal training and sport coaching, can continue to take place with larger numbers present, provided that participants are in separate groups of up to 6 people which do not mix with other groups. This includes contact combat sports, but contact between participants is limited to pad work only.”

“In tier 2 areas: organised indoor sport (including team and individual sport, personal training and exercise classes), can only take place where there is no mixing between households. This means that people from the same household or support bubble can take part in sport or physical activity together. Individuals or separate households (or support bubbles) can participate in a single indoor sport activity (such as an exercise class) if they can stay separate and distinct from those from other households, and avoid physical contact and proximity (whether deliberate or inadvertent). Contact combat sports are not permitted.”

All emphasis mine.  This content is in the “current guidance” section of the document.

Note there is no good news for Tier 3, “In tier 3 areas: people should not take part in any indoor sport or physical activity with people from outside their household. This includes indoor team and individual sports, training sessions and exercise classes.”

Picking this apart:

Organised Sport is defined as “formally organised by a national governing body, club, public body, qualified instructor, company or charity, and which follows the sport’s national governing body’s guidance. Organised sport benefits from a departure from some restrictions …”

There are two limbs to this:

  • “formally organised…  …qualified instructor” – that should cover most Yoga teachers – strictly anyone not “qualified” is excluded, but as there is no definitive qualification structure for Yoga then presumably any course of any length with an external certificate would meet this requirement without minimum hours or standards
  • which follows the sport’s national governing body’s guidance” within England that would be British Wheel of Yoga.  BWY have guidance on their website around running classes, the contents of which won’t be a surprise to most readers – eg social distancing, Covid secure.

A couple of points of clarification here (otherwise, don’t shoot the messenger):

  • First the the Governing Body issue, as it creates strong and polarised views in the Yoga Community.  BWY is appointed Governing Body for Yoga in England by Sport England, who in turn are mandated by the Government.  This does not mean that BWY make mandatory rules for non member Yoga Teachers, or that the guidance only applies to BWY teachers, or that BWY creates some elite band of Yogis.  It does mean that BWYs Covid guidance is regarded by Sport England / Government as being best practice sector wide.
  • Secondly, classification of Yoga as “sport” or “exercise” – not ideal, but its how the Government sees things, and, in fairness, they do have to be broad brush.  Could you argue “my classes aren’t sport or fitness so this doesn’t apply to me”?  Probably, but its not clear where it would get you as things currently stand in any of the three tiers.
  • Similar principles will apply for other group exercise modalities, where there is a Governing body.

The guidance goes on to say “Informal or self-organised sport and physical activity is not exempt, and must adhere to legal gathering limits – both indoors and outdoors.” and mentions, for indoor situations, Rule of 6 for Tier 1 and no household mixing for Tier 2.   So anything not meeting the criteria above, i,e. that is run by a qualified instructor, and adhering to Governing Body guidance, falls under this heading and is restricted by normal Tier 1/2 social rules.  Presumably this is to stop a group of friends getting together socially under the pretence of a exercise class.

In summary there is a clear Government statement here that group classes, run by qualified instructors acting in accordance with best practice, are not restricted to Rule of 6 in Tier 1 and/or No Household Mixing in Tier 2.

Jessica Garbett
1 December 2020