Deep breath in: Yoga class brings a moment of peace amid pandemic

Yoga students participate in a class in Queens City Park. The class is part of a new initiative from the Victoria County Public Health Department to bring activities to a wider group of Victoria residents.

Kerry Lopez had never tried yoga before.

But after more than two months of caring for her four kids, and keeping them occupied, fed, and up to date with their distance learning, she knew she needed a break.

Before any of her kids woke up Saturday, Lopez joined about 20 other people for an outdoor yoga class in Queen City Park.

Savanna Flowers, who led the class, usually walks among her students, encouraging them or helping their form as they twist, bend and stretch.

On Saturday, though, Flowers stayed planted on her own yoga mat, demonstrating for Lopez and her peers while keeping a safe distance from them.

It was a new kind of yoga class for two reasons. First, the class was an early sign of what social activity might look like in a post-quarantine Victoria. Some students showed up to the class wearing masks, and all of the yogis stayed within a pre-measured area to ensure that proper distance was maintained. And instead of a standard yoga studio, the yogis stretched, lunged and moved on mats on the park’s concrete basketball court. Public health experts have encouraged people to try and safely socialize or exercise outside, where it can be easier to maintain distance than in an enclosed space that has limited airflow.

And second, the class was part of a new project from the Victoria County Public Health Department working to bring activities for mental and physical health to people who might not traditionally have access to gym memberships, group classes, or parks.

Saturday’s class was at Queen City Park, a small park that’s often stereotyped as unsafe, said Jodi Sandoval, a community health worker with Be Well Victoria. The park is located adjacent to Christ’s Kitchen in Victoria. Sandoval and her colleague, Kayla Gutierrez, have been working to reach out to a wide array of Victoria residents as part of their work with Be Well Victoria, a grant-funded health department initiative that’s working to involve more people in the conversation about mental and physical well-being.

Research has shown that exercise, including yoga, and meditation can be effective tools to combat depression and anxiety. Early evidence indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic might be exacerbating people’s existing mental health issues or causing new stress. From health care workers who are putting themselves at risk, to people who have lost a job or income, to parents exhausted from trying to work and school their children, the pandemic has brought on additional stressors beyond the threat of the virus.

Flowers, who owns and operates Blooming Flowers Yoga with her husband Joshua Flowers, said practicing yoga during a pandemic could provide “a way of coming into yourself with your body, movement through breath, through mindfulness, and maintaining a sense of calm in this unknown world. When there’s an unknown variable for anything, we don’t feel calm, so it’s a way of tapping into that side of the self even though it’s not easy.”

Although a handful of Flowers’ regular students showed up for Saturday’s class, the health department also recruited Victoria residents who were completely new to yoga. Residents who were among the first to sign up were given a free yoga mat and other supplies so they could continue practicing in the future.

Lopez, 39, said she would return for the later classes in the program.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said of the class. “It looks easy when you see it like on TV and shows but when you’re doing the stretching and all that, you’re feeling it and you know those are places you ain’t stretched in a while.”

Saturday was the first in a series of 12 classes that will include yoga, meditation and qigong. The classes, and the supplies that come with it, are paid for Texas Healthy Communities, said Ashley Cano, public health community advocate at the county health department. The classes will rotate throughout different parks in Victoria, and help show residents “how we can live out of quarantine while still maintaining social distancing,” Cano said.

Throughout the Crossroads, only Lavaca County reported a new COVID-19 case as of 6 p.m. Saturday, although most counties have decreased the number of updates they post on the weekends as the spread of the virus has slowed locally. The Victoria County Public Health Department said it would stop posting regular updates on the weekend “unless the situation deems it necessary.”

Lavaca County

Officials in Lavaca County reported a ninth case of COVID-19 among county residents Saturday evening.

The patient, a Moulton resident, is believed to have become infected outside of the county but within Texas, according to a news release from county officials. The patient is isolating at home.

“State health officials will not confirm the age, gender, or any other identifying information,” according to the release.

Lavaca County Judge Keith Mudd terminated the county’s COVID-19 disaster declaration Friday, officials stressed that residents should continue to follow statewide orders and recommendations to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

“With the termination of the Local Disaster Order for Lavaca County, that DOES NOT change the governors’ orders and recommendations that remain in place for all Texans including Lavaca County and we encourage you to visit Open Texas and www.dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus for guidance, best practices, and additional information,” the county’s emergency management coordinator, Egon Barthels, said in a statement.

Ciara McCarthy covers public health for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to VictoriaAdvocate.com/report.

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COVID-19 cases by county

County Total Recoveries Deaths
Calhoun 41 37 3
Goliad 8 5 0
DeWitt 17 15 1
Jackson 19 16 1
Lavaca 17 7 1
Matagorda 71 46 5
Refugio 3 3 0
Victoria 170 144 7
Wharton 67 38 1
9-County total 413 311 19
•Editor’s note: These counts are updated daily.

COVID-19 cases by county

County Total Recoveries Deaths
Calhoun 41 37 3
Goliad 8 5 0
DeWitt 17 15 1
Jackson 19 16 1
Lavaca 14 7 1
Matagorda 70 46 5
Refugio 3 3 0
Victoria 164 142 7
Wharton 58 38 0
9-County total 394 309 18
•Editor’s note: These counts are updated daily.

Health Reporter

Ciara McCarthy covers public health for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. She reports on insurance, the cost of health care, local hospitals, and more. Questions, tips, or ideas? Contact: cmccarthy@vicad.com or call 361-580-6597.

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