MANHATTAN BEACH, CA — When they purchased Yoga Loft MB in February 2019, owners Justin Randolph and husband Greg Cicchino couldn’t have known the moves they’d have to add to their repertoire. The purchase was a dream come true for Randolph, a yoga instructor and avid practitioner whose discovery of yoga helped him transform years of anxiety, depression, and feeling uncomfortable in his body.

The couple had moved to the Los Angeles area in 2018, when Cicchino’s job transferred him. Randolph was an instructor at Light On Lotus in Mar Vista when the owner there told him Yoga Loft MB was for sale. Everything clicked. The couple [Cicchino is an avid yoga practitioner, as you might imagine] became business owners and moved to El Porto in Manhattan Beach.

A year in, with a business they considered “a little sleepy,” said Randolph, he and his husband had breathed a fresh life into Yoga MB. “We had no idea how to run a yoga studio,” he said. “A lot of it was learning on the job.” But the couple was thoroughly enjoying the business and ready to move forward with their own stamp and ideas for Yoga Loft.

But then COVID-19 reared its ugly head and Randolph and Cicchoni found themselves in a new world, as did everyone. Businesses were told to close unless essential. People told to stay home. The early uncertainty of the Novel Coronavirus forced people to deal with a hand they never could have imagined, husband and husband among them.

But the duo took charge and used the pandemic as a way to keep themselves and their practitioners healthy and grounded. They built out the Yoga Loft MB community even as they strengthened it. And karma was on their side.

“I was very lucky that right as the pandemic was happening, I went to a yoga conference in SLO [San Luis Obispo],” explained Randolph. “Seattle had been the epicenter of COVID-19 then and several studio owners from there provided us with several steps to take [if and when the coronavirus hit LA]. They said, ‘This is what you do.’ So, I kind of had that in the back of my mind,” he noted.

Those tips proved invaluable, giving the husbands a foundation from which to approach operations during the pandemic’s initial outbreak. They credit the existing Yoga Loft MB community, as well, with giving them a lift.

“Yoga Loft had been here for 14-15 years,” said Randolph. “It wasn’t a start-up. We were very fortunate. We pivoted.” And so began Yoga Loft’s virtual and on-demand classes, arising out of a world that could not get together in person for a yoga class but that could still meet online.

Livestreaming classes had “always been on the back burner,” according to Randolph, but COVID-19 “forced us front and center to go for it. We had to get outside of our comfort zone. To this day, the pandemic continues to shift and change what is going on in the world. So, it’s been an innovative time to put ourselves out there.”

“Out there” has proven to be a good way to go. The couple has seen Yoga Loft’s online store sales increase and everyday offers 4-7 virtual classes and one park class outside. They’ve experimented with different mechanisms of technology and their theatrical backgrounds have helped them know how to stage a live production or video and how to speak in a way that can be heard and understood.

But they also say their success stems from their “community,” the yoga practitioners who take their classes and kept doing so even when the pandemic changed the dynamic. Cicchoni and Randolph are very grateful for their “well-tenured” community, calling them the “magic” that has brought them all together online or outside in the park practicing yoga. He applauded his 50 and above clients who were “the first ones who figured out how to do a virtual class” and the first ones to show up at a session outdoors in a park. “The 30 and below are the ones who have taken a class or two and then disappeared,” he said.

Yoga Loft’s virtual and on-demand classes have also connected them with yoga students close to and far away from Manhattan Beach. “Virtual has been a blessing,” said Randolph. “Totally unexpected. We have students who have never been to Manhattan Beach and never been to Yoga Loft.”

Randolph and his 11 instructors teach and lead all of the Yoga Loft offerings, which cover a wide range of health and wellness practices, including beginner yoga, breath and meditation, Yoga Quickies for Kids [3-9], PreNatal Yoga, HIIT, Pilates, calming vibes and full practices.

Randolph, who is an actor, “grew up in a family that had weight issues,” he told Manhattan Beach Patch. His parents divorced when he was in 5th grade and his weight grew. He remembers that he was “quite overweight and kids would be very cruel. I was bullied. You never forget that.”

Yoga was “the first physical exercise” that felt good to him. And that good feeling was all he needed to propel himself into the world of yoga. “Yoga is for every body,” he noted. “It doesn’t matter what age, weight, gender, race. My mission as a teacher is to make it accessible to every body.

“I tell people, ‘This is not skinny bitch yoga.’ We want each person to feel comfortable and welcome and we strive to hold that space for every body,” said Randolph.

Again, Randolph and Cicchoni point to the Yoga Loft MB community as the reason for Yoga Loft MB’s current existence. “We can’t tell you how much we treasure this community that has stuck with us.” Randolph even loves how his Saturday 8 a.m. outdoor class begins each session “sitting talking to each other. I love that.”

Added Randolph, “Yoga is about the experience we can have together and the community we can have it with.”

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