I’m sure I’m not the only person who wishes they’d bought shares in Zoom back in February…whether chatting with family and friends, conducting meetings or joining a fitness class, the demand for, and use of, this online meeting platform has been huge. In the past week, with shops reopening, social bubbles expanding and some children back at school, there is a slow shift in some areas of our lives towards the new ‘normal’ and perhaps a little less emphasis on Zoom parties and online contact only. For gyms, fitness centres and yoga studios however, the latest guidelines state that we cannot exercise in groups of more than 6 and we must be socially-distanced outdoors. Like thousands of other yoga teachers across the country, my workplace remains firmly closed and my laptop has become my new virtual studio.
As a yoga teacher, the initial lockdown announcements sent me into a deep sadness. I went from teaching almost 100 people across several group classes and private sessions a week to suddenly no classes and to not having contact with people I have seen regularly for many months and in some cases, for several years. I also had a busy summer ahead with several exciting new yoga events planned and suddenly all the preparation and planning was on hold, indefinitely. Like many small business owners, it was time to rethink, to adapt and to try to navigate a very unsettling situation.
I began my online classes at the beginning of lockdown and having never taught online before I had concerns. I had concerns about the quality of the classes, concerns about the technology and concerns about the authenticity of the classes. How would people find practicing yoga from the rectangle of their mobile phone? I am not a ‘hands-on’ yoga teacher, but I do of course watch and guide my students in the studio. How would I be able to see them on the screen of my laptop from my mat across the room? What would the reaction be? What happens when you practice on your mat without the presence of others and without the presence of a teacher? (Not to mention, would my old laptop be up to it and with three kids at home, would my wifi be good enough?!)
A couple of classes in, and a couple of technical and logistical glitches later, my confidence in this new way of teaching grew. My concerns lessened further when I received lots of very positive feedback. Many said they loved the convenience of taking the class at home, without having to think about childcare, or getting in the car. ‘Doing yoga in my PJs’, ‘listening to my favourite playlist’ and ‘having my daughter join me’ were all bonuses of home practice and with the lovely weather there was an option to take the mat into the garden and enjoy watching the clouds go by in Savasana. Several people also commented that they were able to tune in more to their body when practicing online. I recently read an article about online classes which quoted people saying that they were able to practice without any distraction from the presence of others in the class and enjoyed not comparing themselves to others or worrying that they weren’t so flexible. Whilst I strive to remind people that yoga is not competitive, perhaps as humans we can’t always help ourselves…It seems the online classes are giving people more connection with, and ownership of, their body.
Yoga is a very personal practice – whether practicing in a studio or practicing alone, the focus is on the body and breath, our own body and breath. Each and every time my students come onto their mat I encourage them to see their practice as self-enquiry, to observe and to explore the sensations of movement. I felt that this was more relevant than ever as we took our classes online; now more than ever it was up to each individual to take charge of their movement and their practice. I think this is particularly relevant to people who have been to yoga classes where the teacher adjusts them in the postures. I don’t disagree with adjustments but I feel my role as a teacher is to encourage people to find their own way into a position. Only you can feel the posture in your body and any hands-on adjustment, I find, can often come from an aesthetic or ‘taught’ viewpoint – trying to make the body look right in a Warrior pose for example, as opposed to helping someone feel their own way into the focus of the pose.
Yoga is also a very personal experience – that hour on the mat may be your one hour to yourself in between looking after children, after a full day at work, juggling both, or it could be an hour of contact with others. I began yoga after the birth of my first child nearly 20 years ago and for me, yoga was an hour away from the demands of a newborn baby with a new and friendly group of people. In a chilly village hall I fell in love with yoga straight away – it gave me an hour to check in and recharge myself physically and mentally. Around that time I bought a few yoga videos to keep me going at home but they never got played. For me at that time, getting out of the house and onto my mat space was as important as the stretching movements.
The social aspect of yoga plays a big part for many people as well as the rapport with the teacher and I think live online classes still provide this. There is a sense of community, albeit via the screen, a sense of contact with others and a sense of connection.
For some people, practicing at home just doesn’t quite hit the spot and I totally get that, especially at the moment when we possibly have children and partners, not to mention pets interrupting our downdogs (check my IGTV or Facebook for what happens when cats join your yoga class!). Some may say this is an opportunity to practice your focus, but when your 9 year old wants to go on a bike ride right this minute and your 16 year old is yelling that the wifi is slow, it isn’t the most relaxing experience. If you’re struggling with these distractions perhaps try a time when the house is quieter – you may not normally be an early bird but maybe try an early morning class, or a later evening class if that’s when your house is calmer. And dare I suggest perhaps asking your partner or child to join you? Making sure your sound is off perhaps first, you can make the session fun (trying not to get too competitive over who can hold Tree pose the longest). Online classes allow you to make the practice YOURS. It is a different experience to being in a studio, but it is your practice. Light your favourite candle, have a cup of tea nearby (I suspect wine may occasionally be the tipple of choice – no names mentioned) and your softest blanket for the end of the class, and enjoy some time for you.
How long it will be before we can roll out our mats in a studio is hard to say – guidelines may have changed between me writing this and you reading it – but I feel it may be some time yet. In the meantime, if you have yet to try an online class, you are spoilt for choice. If you don’t know which class to try, ask friends and family for a personal recommendation. If you’re new to yoga, make sure you check what type of class it is. A vigorous vinyasa flow class may not be for you. Try different styles, different teachers if you’re not sure what suits you best. Try to support local teachers where you can.
And finally as we try to work our way through the changes and the challenges, be kind to yourself. Look after yourself and note that self-care is the antidote to self-criticism.
by Annabel Francis