In March 2020, COVID-related provincial health orders shut down North Shore’s indoor recreational classes, disconnecting students from their class communities. Not knowing if or when things would go back to normal made coping with the situation more difficult. Just two weeks after the shutdown, however, Josie Loehrich, a North Shore Tai Chiand Qigong martial arts instructor, re-opened all her classes in an online format.
The online resumption of classes offered a sense of continued community for students. Lorraine Elliott, a student of Josie’s since 2008, recalls: “I had missed connecting and interacting with people since the shutdown, and I appreciated seeing familiar faces again. I was overjoyed to see Josie and other students on Zoom!”
As health orders changed, and changed again, many indoor recreational classes closed or struggled to stay open. While some students liked the online experience, others waited for the return of indoor classes. Josie, however, was determined to find a way forward: “I wanted to give students … that experience of health & well-being that can be rejuvenating to some, and … can be a life saver for some like it was for me.”
Josie ultimately succeeded by relying on learnings from her own healing journey, using technologies, transforming her business, offering choice for her students, and remaining committed to the charity organizations important to her and her students.
Josie credits Tai Chi and Qigong with her own healing and rehabilitation after a serious accident in 1996 left her with multiple injuries and chronic pain. Several years later, following up on an advice from a GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre Recreational Therapist, she joined a North Vancouver Tai Chi class taught by the late Lynne Cove, and soon afterwards began training rigorously with the world-renowned Grandmaster Shou-Yu Liang, and Masters Helen Liang and Chenhan Yang.
The resulting improvements turned Josie into a passionate and dedicated student of Chinese martial arts, who, after years of training and study, obtained permission to teach, and became the founding instructor of North Shore Tai Chi Spirit & Chinese Health Qigong. “Progress in my health emboldened and inspired me to continue, and to never give up,” recalls Josie who teaches classes in five different North Shore and Lions Bay locations.
Disconnecting from any of her students was never an option for Josie who realised that a permanent solution involved more than just a one-time conversion to online classes.
“What if the health orders were lifted and some students wanted to go back to face-to-face while others preferred to stay on Zoom?” she asked.
Josie’s answer was to offer her students choice by teaching both online and face-to-face at the same time. This transformation required changing old processes and adopting new technologies: “All administration had been done on paper and calming music was the only tech involved. In short order we needed to gather technical expertise for audio, video, registration,and computer technologies,” she says.
Phoenix Hawkins, her husband, and good friends Glennys Pedersen and Louise Wunderlich, were Josie’s “biggest support” along with several “tech savvy” students.
Josie now leads from the front of the class and streams live to her online students at the same time. Many online students join classes early and socialise for 15 minutes. She also records many classes so students can practise at their own pace. Registration is now paperless. Because of the added flexibility, some online students now regularly join her classes from international locations.
Every year, Josie and her students give back to the community through local charities. Ruth Kershaw, one of the lead organizers of the Saturday Lunch and Shelter to Home Charities run through Highlands United Church, appreciates the support: “We are very grateful for the consistent help and generous donations that Josie’s students have been giving us over the years. In addition to monetary donations, they have donated non-perishable food items to our Saturday Lunch Program, and household items to the Shelter to Home Program.” As Josie says, ”What is so rewarding is that the benefits of our practice go beyond our business, our classes, and our students, and extend to the community at large, and those in need.”
Shervin Shahriari is the author of ‘North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Neighbourhood’ (Arcadia, 2009) and a Langara Business Lecturer. He is the former Chair of the North Vancouver Museum & Archives Commission and also of North Vancouver City Library Board.