Moving in Masks
Master Trainer Veronique Breen shares her experiences with learning to use a mask for both her own movement practice and when teaching clients, and how that progressed into becoming a mask maker.
HQ: Tell us your personal experiences/concerns as the Corona Virus pandemic became a serious concern in the US and you had to close your studio.
Veronique: The first time I heard about the virus was while teaching ballet. My students were worried. At the time, I really thought we would be ok and nothing bad would come to us. I was wrong! That was in February.
In March, my husband and I had to close our studio like most fitness and dance studios in Michigan. Schools closed and even the PT part of the studio closed a week later. It seemed unreal at the time – we thought it would be a short break and all would go back…but quickly we realized it would NOT. So as of March 16th, we had no income.
I have most of my family in Belgium. They got hit with the virus before us and it was bad, bad enough for my sister to be called back into ICU at the hospital as a nurse. That is how I started to know more about the needs for masks and what to do to stay safe, or as safe as possible.
My sister had to wear many different layers to stay safe while helping people with Covid and she opened my eyes to how bad this virus really is (people die alone…that was her reality). My main concern was also that I have allergy related asthma, and I have chronic fatigue syndrome- two things that make me more vulnerable to any viruses.
Quickly, we found out that we could not find or buy masks anywhere, so I used whatever fabric I had in the house to make some prototypes of masks. I know how to sew, but I had not used my machines in years.
I did my research, with my sister and with other people from the medical field, to have the best and safest type of protective masks available for anybody that needed them-three layers of cotton and options to add filters (blue chop paper that painters use is a great option for filters). I even made some prototypes with visors attached to the masks to avoid having something around the head…I became a mask maker!
HQ: What were your thoughts when you realized masks would be required to re open your studio?
Veronique: As of April, I started making masks for whomever needed them. I donated masks to different stores so their workers could stay safe, and slowly they became something I would sell and make more and more of. So, when we were told that all businesses would need masks to be allowed to reopen, it was not a surprise.
But how do you teach a technique that has movement and breath, together, while wearing a mask? How do you move while wearing a mask? That was a bigger concern. It is one thing to go to the grocery store with a mask, a totally different thing to feel safe while teaching movement in a mask.
Like many studios and teachers, I was teaching my group sessions via Zoom and tried to keep my studio going. Paying rent was not easy! I had daily GYROKINESIS® classes, and that was a lot on my body with chronic fatigue! (Many teachers will agree that teaching online is very demanding). Eventually, I was able to see my first client in person, in the studio, ready with my beautiful mask…and it was so awkward.
In my head, I was wondering what is ok and what is not, what about breathing in the mask and having to talk so much louder – all that created so much stress in my body. I ended up with a full chronic fatigue crash and had to take some time off.
Four months of trying to stay on top of things and trying to go back to something normal was too much for me. I took time to regroup – decided to teach less online (2 virtual classes instead of 5) and trained myself into getting used to wearing a mask without having a panic attack.
I would wear my mask at home for 30min while making masks just to make it become normal. But it was not just about opening the studio and wearing a mask. There was a full sanitary protocol that needed to be done! How do we keep everything extra clean and covered- from the PT tables to the benches and other tools we use in the studio like bench covers, table covers, and handle covers?
Since we could not find any cleaning or disinfectant in the stores, we made them ourselves with alcohol, vinegar, and essential oils. We did everything we could to stay on top of things. That was the big stress for all PT studios and other fitness studios that were allowed to reopen.
HQ: What was your process of introducing clients to using a mask for the first time and how have they gradually progressed?
Veronique: It was not just for clients – it was for me and my husband (we work together in our studio, he is the PT and Gyrotonic instructor and I’m the Master Trainer and movement specialist), too. We started with 30min sessions only – getting used to moving and breathing with a mask is different than going to the store. Between each session I go outside to breath without a mask on. Now, I can handle multiple hours with a mask and do ok. My husband is able to see his patients, wearing his Star Wars mask, and feels safe. He changes his mask before each patient (he has a full collection).
However, my reality is really different because my kids are in virtual school and since we do not have any family in MI, my husband and I divide our time between work and home. I stay home a lot to help with school, and I won’t be able to see all my clients for a very long time. Many clients do not want to come back. So now, I have only 2 virtual classes and 2 private in person clients! To survive and pay our studio rent, my husband is working as much as he can as a PT and I make and sell masks and aromatherapy products.
I do recommend wearing a mask that fits your face and makes you feel good. Changing it every 4 hours is what the CDC is recommending, but if you sweat in it, it is best to change it every hour, or like we do, get a new mask for each client you see. Wash your hands a lot and take breaks outside when possible. Use all you know from our beautiful method to help you feel calm with your breath and stay safe.
Q: What are your strategies for special populations like those with respiratory limitations, cardiovascular issues, etc. ?
A: I work mainly with people that have stress related problems. Wearing a mask can trigger many different feelings.
Clients come in the studio wearing a mask or we offer them one (A mask I made or, of course, a paper one is available too.)
If someone has had a headache after a session, we make sure to encourage drinking more fluids. Wearing a mask can get us dehydrated without really noticing it until it is too late.
Some clients have complained about getting pain around the ears from the elastics of the masks. For that, I recommend getting an attachment with buttons or a longer elastic that can go behind the head. I offer that option on my masks also for people with a hearing aid.
Our clients who have deeper health issues are not yet coming to the studio. For stress, we use essential oils. As an aromatherapist, I’m able to help with an essential oil blend (lavender, chamomile, frankincense – helps with breathing too, and many other oils). You can contact a certified aromatherapist to find a special blend to help you.
Remember that everybody is different. Some will have no problems at all, some will have delayed responses, some will be fine during the session but complain of headaches after they are back home, and some will have stress related problems. Wearing a mask can also trigger TMJ (Temporomandibular joint dysfunction) tension. Explaining to clients to articulate the jaw and relax those muscles is very helpful.
Wearing a mask is now the new normal (for me at least). Making sure the mask has enough layers and is changed when it gets wet (change mask every hour when you teach or workout) is important. Wash it and iron if needed.
I decided to become a fashionable mask maker to help people enjoy wearing one. As a mom, I have often been tested with my kids and making something fun out of something they don’t like to do or eat has always had a good result! So I use the same idea for my masks: colors and fashion, fun and fitting, cute and pretty, or masculine for the men, and safe so you can wear it with pride.
My kids (ages 4 and 12) are proud to wear their masks when they have to, it is something they chose and that mommy made for them…and it keeps them safe and others too! It is now normal for them to have a mask with them or on them wherever they go!
I’m happy to design any masks, paint them or even put a logo on them with my embroidery machine.
It is a small reminder of what my grandma did during WW2- Do what you need to do so that your family is taken care of, and help others in the process. (She made clothes out of parachutes from the British soldiers that were hiding in their basement!).
To contact Veronique with further questions or custom mask inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Be sure to comment below with your experiences using a mask in your movement practice.
For more information about Gyrotonic or Gyrokinesis classes, visit gyrotonic.com.