All Commentary
Thursday, August 5, 2021

How I Responded When My Yoga Studio Reinstituted a Mask Mandate

Civil disobedience is a deeply American tradition. Both individuals and businesses possess the power to stand up against oppression and coercion in peaceful ways.

Coronavirus Mask Woman - Free photo on Pixabay

I recently relocated to Atlanta for work, and I’ve spent the last few months trying to put my life together again. When you move, a great deal of time goes into just merely finding your new people and merchants.

Where do I buy my groceries? Who is going to color my hair? What new dentist do I try?

And top of the list for me: where am I going to practice yoga?

Yoga is more than a workout for me. I use it to prevent my sciatica from flaring up—a debilitating and particularly painful condition that can leave me bedridden for days. And I also use it as a treatment for my anxiety disorder. For me, yoga is essential medicine, mentally and physically, and I refuse to miss more than a day or two for my health’s sake.

After trying a few studios in my new neighborhood, I finally landed on CorePower Yoga, a national, high-end chain with rigorous classes. The only issue? They were still making people wear a mask from the front door to the mat…where we then proceeded to lock ourselves in a 90-degree room for 60 minutes and sweat out every drop of water in our bodies.

I let the manager know I’d be happy to join as a member if they got rid of this bit of security theater, and to my pleasant surprise, they did! …..For about two weeks. But then it came roaring back with a vengeance. I arrived last week to find out the studio had not only reinstated its mask policy, it was now requiring them throughout the class. Yes, really.

I don’t know if you’ve ever done a hot yoga sculpt class, but they are physically demanding. I often leave feeling a bit lightheaded as it is and gasping for cool air. The thought of wearing a mask through such an ordeal sounds like literal torture. And for an exercise that relies fundamentally on one’s breath and breathing techniques, it’s frankly ludicrous to even suggest.

The studio’s actions come on the heels of a new order by Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms mandating masks for all people indoors—vaccinated or not—including in private spaces. The last part of that act is certainly a violation of property rights, but it has yet to be struck down.

And Atlanta isn’t an outlier. Cities from Missouri to Massachusetts have implemented similar rules and some places, like New York City, are even rolling out vaccine passports.

Enough Is Enough

I, like so many other Americans, have been going along to get along for 15 months now. I willingly put on my cloth mask when asked to, knowing I had natural immunity and that a cloth mask was little more than security theater. I kept supporting small businesses that held different views than me knowing they’d been pummeled by pandemic policies and wanting to help them out. I was respectful. I didn’t push my views on people, even as I advocated online and in print for very different approaches to public health.

Politically, it’s been a balancing act of protecting civil liberties, property rights, and bodily autonomy, while honoring the value of human life. Personally, it has been a landmine of respecting the rights of others and their choice to approach situations differently, so long as they do not try to force their choices on others. It has not been easy.

For this balancing act, I (and others who think similarly) have been labeled grandma-killers (even as pro-lockdown Democrats like Andrew Cuomo actually killed hundreds of grandmas), anti-science (even as we consistently presented data that proved lockdowns and cloth masks were ineffective), and Trump supporters (even as the Trump administration itself was responsible for many bad pandemic policies we fought against).

At the end of it all, I’ve determined that I don’t care what the COVID Karens have to say about me. People who favor lockdowns, vaccine passports, masking kids for eight hours a day—these people have discounted themselves and wreaked mass havoc on millions of lives by following politics instead of the actual science. They do not respect individual rights, bodily autonomy, or civil liberties, and they no longer get to pretend they have the moral high ground.

What I care about is what history has to say about me during this time, and being able to look back and know I did all I could to defend individual rights—including my own. It’s time to rise up and resist.

Is it the businesses’ fault that politicians are again forcing these policies on us? No. But it is their responsibility to fight back and stand up for their property rights just as it is the duty of all citizens to resist when our government tramples on our rights.

Does resisting mean some hard choices? Yes. Freedom often requires sacrifice. And I don’t say that flippantly.

Fortunately I work for a company that actually respects my autonomy, and one that allows remote work. Due to that I won’t be confronted with an 8-hour work day in a mask. But if I were, I would quit. There has never been a better time to job hunt and demand better working conditions. Companies are desperate for workers, and they ought to find people are unwilling to work for them if they cave to politicians and enforce such policies.

And when it comes to the myriad of other businesses most of us frequent throughout a given week, it’s time to start asking which we can do without, and which we can find alternatives to. The answer is, thanks to the beauty of capitalism and all the competition it provides, most of them.

Anything Peaceful

In Human Action, Ludwig von Mises wrote, “The market is a democracy in which every penny gives a right to vote.” We too quickly forget how powerful our money is, how much it matters who we give it to. It’s time we take stock of that and quit giving money to people who don’t support our values and who won’t stand up for us. This is how you vote with your dollar.

And this mentality and practice is also how we fight back against this nonsense on multiple fronts.

Should we push back on our politicians for enacting these bad policies? Certainly. But we should also encourage businesses to push back as well. They have much more political power and capital than the average consumer and are better positioned to mount a legal challenge. They also, in most of these circumstances, have far greater legal standing. It is their property rights that are being violated by such mandates, and their bottom dollar most impacted by these policies. The business community needs to band together and fight back in the courts.

They should also resist by simply refusing to comply. Civil disobedience is a deeply American tradition, after all. Both individuals and businesses possess the agency to stand up against oppression and refuse to allow our rights to be further withered away.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If I deny the authority of the state…it will soon take and waste my property and so harass me and my children without end. This is hard. This makes it impossible for a man to live honestly, and at the same time comfortably.”

But the thing is, the government has already done these things. It has already taken people’s property under an unconstitutional eviction moratorium. It has already taken away the education of millions of children. It is already harassing us and trying to force people into putting a substance in their body. Comfort is no longer an option.

“If the injustice,” Thoreau wrote, “is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth–certainly the machine will wear out… but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

At a certain point, going along to get along becomes “lending yourself to the wrong you condemn.” As Thoreau also wrote, “Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform.”

We can’t keep going along to get along. If we do, we are as responsible for the erosion of our rights as those cheering for it. It’s time for peaceful, civil disobedience.

And in the meantime, the incredible thing about capitalism is that the market will find a way to provide. During COVID we’ve seen all kinds of innovative alternatives spring up—in my case online yoga classes and on-demand personal trainers willing to come to the consumer. I want to vote for that innovation with my dollar, and support those who do not cave to authoritarianism.

We should reward those who thwart the government in this manner and withdraw our money from those who roll over. I obtained a refund from my yoga studio for this month and will be putting my money where my mouth is, I think others should do the same.

  • Hannah Cox is the former Content Manager and Brand Ambassador for the Foundation for Economic Education.