I want to continue teaching online after lockdown.
To say it out loud feels like revealing a dirty secret. Pre-lockdown, I would have snubbed online yoga classes as poor attempts at the real deal, the lamentable modernisation of a traditional practice.
Such attitudes were admittedly unfounded, having never taught online pre-Coronavirus myself, and yet were eagerly absorbed from admired traditionalists. I, like many before me no doubt, took pleasure from a practice removed from the external world in which blue screens, pings, buzzes, nudges, and headlines dominate. In the calming studio space, connected to those around you through a shared breath and energetic force, outer distractions are brought to a minimum.
Necessarily, online yoga classes must be conducted via the same screen I have wished to escape. As such, it cannot serve as a replacement for the offline counterpart. The two cannot be equated. Perhaps that was my problem; having spent the lockdown adjusting to teaching online, I am learning that Zoom classes bring distinct, yet no less valuable, reasons to practice.
It is the immense freedom of teaching yoga online that has been most joyful. No longer at the mercy of studio timetabling, I delight in the blissful ease of scheduling a class without the need for painful bureaucracy. Because of this, my online class schedule has taken a more flexible form, modified according to the preferences of the attendees. And while I lament the loss of physical in-class connection, this newfound flexi-hour schedule has enabled me to better support those individuals in need of additional tutoring. It turns out that Zoom was the perfect platform for those mentorship meetings all along.
It is true that lockdown has taken plenty from us yoga teachers. But it has also given a lot back. Primarily, the chance to reconnect with past students whose life required a relocation to other parts. It is with some amazement that I find myself teaching individuals based in India and Australia, their familiar faces grinning through a webcam to practice together once again. I have heard from other teachers attending classes with Nancy Gilgoff in Hawaii, with Tara Stiles in New York. Suddenly we find ourselves connected with these outstanding yoga instructors, an opportunity we would not have had otherwise.
Teaching online has forced me to be more attentive, to assess a student’s mood over a shaky Wi-Fi connection, to be more precise with my cues and perceptive to physical alignment. It has, I believe, made me a more astute and more efficient teacher.
Of course, there are limitations to this new virtual world. The Zoom “Waiting Room” cannot replicate unlocking the studio door to a group of eager students, nor can a Facebook live recreate the palpable energy of a class mid-Surya Namaskar. I have my doubts whether you can really assess a student’s alignment peering through a webcam, nor can “virtual” adjustments be carried out (although I give this a year).
For this reason, it seems to me that post-lockdown, online yoga classes would be better suited to more experienced yogis, who do not require the same degree of attention or physical guidance. Likewise, the practice of more extreme postures should be kept to the confines of the studio room where physical assistance is available. It seems a balancing act is in order.
When lockdown is lifted, I will throw open the classroom doors and embrace any student who will let me. I will breathe deeply in a room crammed with other breathing bodies and absorb the energy of a busy studio. But while I go around laying out props for the class to arrive, I will also send a virtual nudge to those distant students, reminding them that their weekly Zoom class is scheduled for Friday.