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“I just hope that this virus won’t affect the last month of high season.”
That’s what one of my colleagues said to me in March 2020. We had no idea at that point.
Almost two years later, this statement hasn’t aged well. The pandemic is still challenging yoga teachers—and it’s not over yet. It would be an understatement to say that COVID-19 changed the yoga community.
As teachers, we had to decide which path to take. Some of us decided to secretly teach classes at home during the lockdown, others dived into the world of conspiracy theories, and many folks tried to teach online classes.
I am one of those who spoke up against QAnon and other conspiracy theories on social media—and lost 20 percent of my followers on Instagram within a few days. As I didn’t feel like putting my students at risk, I decided to teach online.
After offering free classes for a few weeks, someone reached out to me and asked me to join their project. It wasn’t about the money at all; I just wanted to keep teaching. At that time, I had no idea how long this pandemic would last.
My first class felt as if I taught yoga for the first time ever. It was the same feeling that I had nine years earlier when I started teaching at a local gym. It was exciting and scary at the same time.
Today, I am more than thankful for this experience. Teaching online is a completely different experience than teaching in the real world—not better or worse, just different.
I am not saying that I only want to teach online for the rest of my life, as I miss connecting with students before and after my classes. But at the same time, I don’t want to stop teaching online because I learned to appreciate its benefits.
Here are five reasons why I love online yoga classes:
When teaching in my hometown, my classes are only accessible to folks in my area. Teaching virtual classes allows anyone around the world to join my offerings. I was able to reconnect with students in Germany while I was stuck in Costa Rica. At the same time, I was able to reach new students who lived in places I had never been to.
When I was teaching at a hotel on Sunday morning, I always knew how many students would show up to my class by counting the cars in the parking lot. But I have to admit that I never realized that my classes actually have a carbon footprint. Each person driving to a studio, gym, or hotel actually burns fossil fuels to enjoy a yoga class. Isn’t that somehow absurd? Imagine how much energy we could save if millions of students wouldn’t need to do that?
3. Personal space
Some students do not like others watching them while practicing yoga. These are usually the folks who take the spots in the last row. I always set up the mats before my classes to make sure that everyone feels welcome (and because I am German and like things to be well-organized). Over the years, I noticed that the spots in the last row are usually the first ones taken. Most probably because these students don’t want anyone watching them from behind when practicing. This problem doesn’t even exist in online classes because students can choose to switch off their webcam.
4. Student empowerment
As a teacher, I believe that the main goal of taking yoga classes is to learn how to practice without a teacher. My goal is to offer all the tools needed to empower students to create their own practice. The role of the student is to find teachers who enable them to do exactly that. Of course, it is nice to have folks showing up once a week for a class, but I do hope that they have the confidence to practice on their own one day. Taking online classes forces the student to create a space to practice at home, which is the first step to establishing a practice at home.
Online classes do not offer the same community experience as those in the real world, but that doesn’t mean that there is no community. I had a group of 30 amazing students who practiced with me during lockdown—and I can’t wait to meet them in real life one day. We had a chat group that was available after classes, and some of the students who had never met in real life connected in these chats. Especially folks who tend to be quiet seemed to enjoy these chats, as they weren’t silenced by the one student in the front row who tried to get all the attention from the teacher.
As mentioned earlier, online and offline classes are different. I don’t prefer one to the other, but I learned that practicing online enables folks to enjoy yoga who don’t feel comfortable going to a yoga studio—and that is awesome.
I am thankful that this pandemic forced me to explore new ways of teaching yoga. I still look forward to my first workshop after the pandemic, but I have already decided for myself that I won’t stop offering classes online when the pandemic (hopefully) ends one day.
Every problem or challenge in life forces us to rethink what we are doing. Of course, I would have preferred continuing to do what I did before the virus turned everything upside down, but I am thankful for 18 months of evolving my understanding of what it means to be a yoga teacher.
As we found out, the wellness industry wasn’t perfect at all before the pandemic, and it probably won’t be perfect after the pandemic—but I feel that it was a wake-up call to many teachers and students around the world.
And who knows, maybe one day we will be thankful that we were forced to rethink the way we practice and teach yoga—it was time for that anyways.
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