This Content Was Last Updated on March 18, 2021 by Jessica Garbett


This afternoon, 9th July 2020, it was announced that Indoor Gyms, Pools and Leisure Centres can reopen from 25 July 2020.

Yay – thats that then, back to work.  Well, not quite.  First, making sense of the Government Guidance, which is what this post is about.

Secondly, do our students want to come back?  In my experience, some do, some aren’t ready – we need to honour that.  It probably means parallel running physical classes and online classes for sometime, maybe well into 2021.  I’m talking to my IT people about the kit to do this easily in my studio – its a step up from teaching everyone online via Zoom.  It may be good insurance against second waves and local lockdowns.

Third, and finally, ethics.  Just because we can, just because students want us too, should we?  Ahimsa.  Provisionally I’m waiting to September to restart classes inside.  I have no rational basis for this, just instinct.

So, about myself.  Yoga Teacher of 5 years, Yoga Therapist of a year (alas, not of the year), and a career in accountancy of 34 years.  During my accountancy career I’ve worked mostly in practice, a few years in the Public Sector.  I’ve run the management accounts for a £150m public budget, sat on boards of organisations up to £15m turnover, chaired Audit Committees, reviewed and scrutinised Risk Registers, squabbled with Government Ministers (although Chatham House rules allow no further comment on that).  Alongside that I’ve owned and run my own business with over twenty staff, and learned to speak fluent IT, telecoms, and building maintenance, alongside a crash course in H&S and HR – I doubt I’ve got it all right, but I think I’ve done OK.   I mention this not to brag, but to explain the skills I’m drawing on.


Making Sense of the Guidance

First, I should say this is being written late on Thursday 9 July – within a few days things will change.  Read my thoughts with that in mind.  Also, its late, its been a long day, so E&OE.

Second, Government is working at high level.  There will never be detailed Government guidance for Yoga Teachers and Yoga Studios, nor for Yoga classes in Gyms.  We have to piece it together.

Theres a massive déjà vu here.  I’m a non executive director of a Port – hours after the Prime Ministers address to the country on 10 May the RYA (Royal Yachting Association) as Governing Body for Boating in the UK out out a “Welcome to return to boating” statement.  Operators of Ports, Harbours and Marinas had a collective hissy fit which boiled down to “Thats not how we read it, so not yet”.  There then followed “shuttle diplomacy” to and from Government clarifying what was and wasn’t allowed before the Yacht Harbours Association and British Marine (the industry association) conceded, yes, the RYA was right, it was a return to boating.   Some Marina’s and Harbours broke ranks and accepted things earlier.  Relevance of this?  Well, the chaos then was exactly the same as has been seen this evening regarding the reopening of Yoga; Facebook groups are buzzing, people are confused.  Don’t look for clarity in Government announcements, you will need to find your own.

So, breaking down what I see as the position.

First we have the high level guidance from GovernmentProviders of grassroots sport and gym/leisure

This is very generalised – perhaps we will get something more from Government, but don’t bank on it.

Note it says “This document has been prepared by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) with input from ukactive, Sport England, the Sport and Recreation Alliance and National Governing Bodies of sport and in consultation with Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)”

There is advice on communication to users of premises, and cleaning.  Its common sense, and shouldn’t surprise anyone.

There is a request to keep contact details for students to support “Track and Trace” – as far as I can tell this is a request, not a requirement.

Section 4 deals with “Social distancing in the gym/sports or leisure facility” – it is generic, and looks like its lifted from office and shop guidance.  It says “You must maintain social distancing in the gym/leisure facility wherever possible.” and then goes on to suggest mitigations if Social Distancing cannot be observed.  I think this is the now familiar 2m or 1m plus precautions we’ve got to know in recent weeks.

Section 4 also has a section on “large gatherings” which is confusing:

“People should continue to socially distance from those they do not live with wherever possible. Social interactions should be limited to a group of no more than two households (indoors and out) or up to six people from different households (if outdoors) with social distancing in place at all times.

“It is against the law for gatherings of more than 30 people to take place in private homes (including gardens and other outdoor spaces).

“Businesses and venues following COVID-19 Secure guidelines can host larger groups.”

The root of the confusion is that as far as I can tell businesses cannot reopen if they are not Covid Secure, and equally Covid Secure means following the relevant guidelines.  It seems circular.  But I think all business can host larger groups, subject to specific guidance – for example, the Government “guidance for personal trainers and coaches on the phased return of sport and recreation” – creates an express limit on working outdoors in a maximum group of 6, which is why we are teaching classes of 5+1, yet pubs are packing them in.

Section 5 “Ventilation of indoor gym and leisure facilities” has caused confusion.  It states “Ventilation is an important part of mitigating against the transmission of COVID-19. Ventilation into the building should be optimised to ensure a fresh air supply is provided to all areas of the facility and increased wherever possible. Particular attention should be given to areas where high intensity exercise activity takes place.” – so far, so good.

Whats caused some angst is “The maximum occupancy of each gym should be limited by providing a minimum of 100sqft per person”.  I think the wording here is precise and relates only gyms not studios, and by implication only the gym part of mixed use buildings, so a studio in a gym is under studio rules not gym rules.  But to understand this we need to delve into other guidance.

Second tier – UKactive and CIMSPA

The last part of the high level guidance, “Further information” includes:

Specific guidance, toolkits and resources for facilities are available from ukactive.

Specific guidance, toolkits and resources for supporting the workforce as well as access to free online certified training for workforce members is available from the Chartered Institute of Management in Sport & Physical Activity (CIMSPA).

Contact your national governing body for any sport-specific guidance.

In fact it seems that CIMSPA and UKactive have worked together – CIMSPAs website redirects to UKactive for detailed Covid guidance.

According to Wikipedia “ukactive is a not-for-profit industry association, promoting the interests of commercial fitness gyms and community leisure centres”.

In May they produced a recommended framework for reopening the fitness and leisure sector safely

This framework was updated 8 July 2020 – the day before the reopening announcement.  COVID-19 – A framework for the re-opening of gym, leisure centre and wider fitness industry during social distancing.  This revised framework is clearly behind the Government high level guidance, and expands on it.

What I believe is important in this Framework is that Gyms and Studios are covered separately.  For Gyms the 100sqft per person is mentioned, for studios Social Distancing:

Gym Floors

    • Only equipment that is spaced far enough apart to maintain social distancing will be used – as an example this can be done via moving equipment or marking every other piece of equipment in the gym out of order.
    • Users should not be working out face to face.
    • Touch points of equipment should be cleaned after use – this can be done either by the customer or staff using spray and cloths provided. This is in addition to the cleaning schedule.
    • Extra signage regarding social distancing will be in place around the free-weights area.
    • Maximum gym capacity will be based on 100sqft per person


    • Social distancing guidelines must be followed
    • There will be a minimum of a 10-minute window in between classes, so no ‘waiting around’ in groups.
    • Equipment (including mats etc) will be cleaned in between use. This can either be done by the customer or staff member using spray and cloths provided.
    • No equipment will be shared during the classes.
    • If possible, markings will be made on the floor to show the area for individuals.

So note the distinction between Gyms and Studios.

Unhelpfully the section on ventilation later on doesn’t make this distinction “A target ventilation rate of 20l/s/p is advised for facilities. This can either be attained through adjustments to ventilation systems themselves, or by controlling numbers (based on 100sqft per person, net usable indoor space available to members to use, including changing rooms) and using natural ventilation”

Other than this apparent contradiction, the rest of the framework is common sense.  Pick out of it what applies to your environment,

Governing Body – British Wheel of Yoga

I know this will controversial, and I am not a BWY member, but like it or not BWY is the officially recognised Governing Body for Yoga in the UK.  Thats an honorific title which doesn’t enable them to regulate the yoga world, but does make them a beacon.

The Government high level guidance referred to above, includes under “Where to obtain further guidance”, “Contact your national governing body for any sport-specific guidance”.

BWY have issued some simple guidance, and I don’t criticise them at all for its simplicity.- Reopening Face to face information – it reads (all copyright acknowledged):

“Reopening face to face yoga classes

    • 2 metres between mats wherever possible
    • Well ventilated room before, during and after each class
    • Students to bring own mats and equipment
    • Leave enough time between classes to clean and sanitise
    • Ensure teacher is as far away as possible from students
    • Suggest students book for classes and arrive on time, so as not to congregate outside studio
    • Hand sanitiser outside rooms and toilets to use before entering the facility and on leaving
    • Floor and surfaces cleaned and disinfected between classes and on a regular basis
    • Responsibility of the studio owner to clean and disinfect the rooms.
    • Responsibility of the teacher to perform a risk assessment and ensure the room has been cleaned and disinfected. Teacher to keep documented evidence of the risk assessment”

This is refreshingly clear and straight forward although owners of more diverse studio businesses, say where there are other modalities in the facility, or a therapy room(s), may need to adapt.

A couple of things I would pick up:

  • Responsibility of the studio owner to clean and disinfect the rooms. – this may cause confusion.  Although it is the responsibility of the owner to cause this to happen, there is nothing to stop them delegating this to teachers so long as it is agreed and clear.  My own experience is that a touch point wipe down before / between / after classes is around 10 minutes in a small studio with a couple of toilets, and not onerous.  I will be expecting teachers hiring my space to do it.
  • Students to bring own mats and equipment – the high level guidance doesn’t mention equipment.  UKactive say “Equipment (including mats etc) will be cleaned in between use. This can either be done by the customer or staff member using spray and cloths provided” and No equipment will be shared during the classes.” which is short of an outright ban.  I’ve seen, paradoxically, some US studios prohibiting students bringing equipment as they consider its an infection risk and there is better infection control if studio equipment is used!   Personally I will be encouraging students to bring their own, but will allow some studio equipment to be used, with mats and hard items being wiped down, bolsters being covered (I’m experimenting with pillow cases), and no supply of blankets or similar.


Summary and Further Thoughts

I’ve tried above to bring together the various seemingly contradictory strands of advice.  Government high level advice; industry framework which has fed into the Governments advice; and Governing Body advice.

Ultimately most of this is guidance rather than mandatory, although relying on it would be a fairly good defence to any criticisms, complaints, or H&S enforcement action.  The only mandatory parts are the high level government principles on dates of reopening and social distancing.

The Government high level guidance in isolation caused some concerns, especially around 100sqft per person which I think is clearly meant for gyms rather than studios, as is demonstrated by it not making the BWY guidelines which in essence are 2m.

A few practical things from my own reopening plans:

  • No one has really addressed floor hygiene, given we work from the floor.  I don’t relish the idea of washing the floor between each class, although I am sure some teachers will – in larger facilities its close to impractical.  In my two small studios I have robotic vacuums which run daily and are very efficient – they could easily run between classes as well.  They won’t clean aerosols off a hard floor though, so I’m using ZooNo long lasting antibacterial cleaner (I have no connection them)  – its claimed to last thirty days, so a weekly treatment to be cautious initially?
  • In recent weeks the risks from aerosols has become more apparent.  In view of this I am stepping up ventilation in my studios with two way extractor fans which can extract or draw air in – two per room to create a through circulation.

And finally what of teaching outdoors?  It seems its still 5+1 as per “guidance for personal trainers and coaches on the phased return of sport and recreation”.  Hopefully this anomaly will be addressed very shortly, as its absurd to be able to teach more people indoors than out!

I hope these thoughts have been useful.  It may just have been cathartic for me to write them!   They are a personal interpretation, and not in anyway official.