Try as I might, leading virtual yoga is not in my repertoire.
It doesn’t feel right—I have no bodies to see in order to gauge where to take the flow next. I can’t tell if they are right there with me or if they’ve left the room to make a sandwich. It is disengaged and generic. I simply cannot bring myself to do it.
I feel as though this switch to virtual and the cookie-cutter class has been the direction in which “modern” yoga was headed anyhow. The teacher-mill is ever flowing, not stopping even once for the pandemic.
In truth, I am mortified by how many people have become “certified” and “registered,” having never physically stood in front of a range of people. Sure, you can learn from a workbook, but it all changes when put into practical application. Teaching to an echo chamber of teachers/experienced yogis is easily misleading. A room of vinyasa-savvy people is quite different from a room of “my doctor suggested I try yoga” people.
If you cannot see them move, how can you guide them?
If you cannot feel their energy, how can you move them?
Admittedly, I have a skewed perception of what a yoga class can be. I spent some time teaching in a place where I was one of the very few instructors. Teaching yoga was also a part of my literal job. In a six to eight-hour workday, an hour or two was spent teaching yoga. The classes were free to patrons and they were full of the experienced, not-experienced, and everyone in between.
My Sunday power yoga classes were overrun at over 40 students regularly, and I was intoxicated by it. It was empowering! A room full from wall-to-wall with people breathing and moving in unison is amazing. I was also blessed on Sundays to be leading a receptive group—students who were there to be worked hard in the practice. Students who were excited to get into headstands and handstands while laughing and engaging in a mass of acceptance and joy.
They were there for that. They wanted to be pushed physically and mentally, and when it was time for hip openers, they were calm and receptive. Savasana was pure and devoid of ego. Re-entering consciousness was blissfully slow. Rolling up their mats was punctuated with contented smiles, and they left the room covered in sweat and elation, sauntering down the hall without a care. They had been submerged into 75 minutes of inner work.
Teaching that way was my yoga. Teaching gave me life. Teaching is my yoga.
Do not get me wrong, a room of three is equally powerful. A private session with a willing participant can be life-changing for both student and teacher. I had a private with a husband and wife duo in which the wife had to talk her way through the experience—it was taking her out of her comfort zone, and it was an eye-opening experience for me. It is a rare thing to know what your “student” is thinking and feeling in a large class; this one-on-one intimate glimpse into her psyche changed my entire thought process on teaching, and I feel so fortunate to have been given that moment in time.
Yoga has not been this way for some time now for me. We moved, and we moved to a place where instructors are everywhere. I was recently asked, “I currently have too many yoga instructors, is your yoga special in any kind of way?” If that doesn’t demonstrate a surplus of “registered” cookie-cutter yogis, I don’t know what else does.
Entering into a saturated market and the business-ruining effects of COVID-19 have changed teaching yoga for me. The studios have slowly begun to reopen, the gyms are gently allowing classes to resume, and everywhere, social distancing and discomfort are making for an awkward experience…I just don’t think it’s what I want anymore. A yoga rat race doesn’t feel right. Competition and yoga are not copasetic. Competition amongst instructors is hypocritical, and we just can’t help it when our bills sometimes rely upon it, and sadly, our self-worth is determined by attendance.
My heart cannot take showing up for empty spaces anymore. Not just physically empty, but mentally empty—just going through the vinyasa motion. Competing for students is frustrating. No compensation for showing up has always been a flaw within studios as far as I am concerned, and teaching during COVID-19 has highlighted that for me tremendously. Paying for upkeep in knowledge and “authentication” has become free money for the yoga machine. New teachers are sent into a world devoid of students, and experienced teachers are floundering to hold on to what they’ve got.
I’ve never been able to dissociate myself from yoga.
Yoga is who I am. Yoga is what I practice.
For myself and teachers like me, an empty yoga room is equal to an empty heart. I am in mourning for what teaching yoga used to be for me.
My spirit is slowly being renewed at a place where the spark is there. I feel the flint lighting the kindling. Students are returning and inviting others. They are open to movement and an experience. They haven’t been showing up for gimmicks, and I haven’t had to ply them with snacks.
They are coming for the yoga. Not any specific person teaching yoga. The yoga itself. They are seeking that thing that draws us to yoga. That feeling. The renewing of spirit that yoga is for so many of us. It is a place where they feel welcome.
The modern yoga stereotype is being broken in this space, and I am proud to be a part of it. Regardless of where it goes, it has mended the ripped part of my heart that required needle and thread, and I am gratefully guiding them while trying to repair and renew a path that feels authentic for me.