NY YOGA LIFE: Pause
Omega Institute for Holistic Studies
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect Omega?
Omega’s 250-acre campus is based in Rhinebeck, New York, where we see close to 23,000 people come through our doors annually between May and October. When COVID-19 began, we initially hoped that delaying our opening until later in May or June, would be enough time. However, as more information became known about the pandemic and New York State was severely impacted, it became clear that opening was no longer possible in 2020. Not opening the campus for the first time in 43 years was a difficult decision, but we felt strongly that gathering places like ours have a responsibility to protect public health.
The financial repercussions of that decision pose a very real threat to our future. As a nonprofit that generates most of its earnings from hosting workshops and conferences we estimate a multimillion dollar fiscal deficit, and an impact to the many farms, vendors, and suppliers we work with regionally. In addition to actively fundraising, we have taken serious cost-cutting measures, including reducing staff salaries and hours, and implementing furloughs.
However, even in crisis there is opportunity. We are focused on ramping up online learning and building a digital community to reach a wider global audience with fewer barriers to access than ever before. And that is exciting. We are also planning to reopen the campus in 2021, and are already working with some of our top teachers to plan programs that will help people reimagine their personal and professional futures, as we emerge from the pandemic.
Did you transition to zoom or online offerings?
In response to COVID-19 we started offering free events via Zoom and Facebook Live, that we are calling Omega Conversations. Each talk is led by one or two of our outstanding teachers, and the overarching theme has been how to turn fear into wisdom, and social isolation into greater love and connection. While the coronavirus was the impetus for the series, we are also delving into timely issues such as the pandemic of racism, and how to find courage to make meaningful change in the face of fear, grief, and anger.
As well, we are offering a growing number of workshops online. A couple of highlights coming up include: a July program with mindfulness meditation teachers Will Kabat-Zinn and Jon Kabat-Zinn, and a September retreat online with Buddhist teachers Pema Chödrön and Tim Olmstead. We also have several workshops available on-demand, so people can learn at their own pace.
Additionally, Omega’s website offers a lot of free content, from our Dropping In podcast, to hundreds of articles, videos, recipes and more. And our Members have even great access to behind the scenes content and special offerings. Membership starts at as little as $10 per month.
What other creative ways did you find to continue your offerings?
When social distancing and sheltering-in really took hold, we heard from our audience that they wanted a way to stay connected not only to Omega but to each other. So we recently launched the Omega Online Community. It’s a private Facebook group where people can connect, share tools and inspiration for coping with the times we are in, and remind each other that we are not alone. It’s still in the early stages but already more than 4,000 people have joined to date.
What does the future of retreat centers look like to you?
That is the big question that all organizations like ours are grappling with. While we don’t think in-person learning experiences, and all that our beautiful Hudson Valley campus offers, can ever be replaced — the same way a thumbs up on Zoom will never replace a human hug — it is clear that technology is here to stay. We envision doing more blended learning, where you could actually prepare for your time at Omega before you arrive, or extend the learning experience after you go home. And that is something that we have long considered, and only tested in a limited way before COVID-19. So we think some innovative changes will come out of this experience, and help to pave the way for future offerings in 2021 and beyond.
Learn more: eomega.org