October 6, 2021

“You Can’t Smell me on Zoom”: Pros & Cons of Teaching Yoga during COVID-19.


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My yoga mat slapped me in the face so hard it stung.

I was teaching a small group of folks—mostly new to yoga—on a sixth-floor rooftop deck in Chicago, and it was super windy. Somehow it was always super windy there at that time.

It was my fifth class of the day, I was tired, and I asked myself what I thought I was doing.

The thing is, I love teaching yoga. Yoga has played an amazing role in my own life, and I know it can affect others in ways that may be similar or completely different, but also positive. I’ve gone through a few careers to find teaching, and I’m pretty good at it! Working in one to two-hour increments at locations all over the city is not only tolerable, but I actually like it.

The pandemic, however, has created some new challenges and rewards.

Here are the pros and cons of teaching yoga during this time:

1. Pro: lots of us are in dire need of stress relief and community, and yoga sometimes meets that need.

We have been through a lot. I may meet someone once or a bunch of times, in person or online, and I may never know the purpose that yoga serves for them, but based on my own experience, I trust that people can find even an exclusively physical practice transformative. I teach a few people online with such regularity (mostly people I haven’t met in real life) that it just seriously warms my heart to know they find what I offer beneficial enough to return, even without an in-person connection.

2. Con: it was really scary to have my career go away for who-knows-how-long.

It was scary to have my career go away for who-knows-how-long when in-person fitness classes were specifically forbidden in my area, and also just because people are simply not gathering as much for in-person yoga. I worked for five years to build up a liveable full-time teaching schedule and had to start from scratch once the closures ended.

This was at least in part because my full-time yoga employer laid off all staff in one fell swoop just a few weeks into the start of the pandemic—full-timers right alongside people cleaning 90 minutes a week in exchange for discounted yoga memberships. I was fortunate to receive unemployment benefits for about a month at the start of the pandemic, and then lost access to that when a part-time employer took me off furlough.

I’m resilient and fairly privileged; I don’t doubt others had far more difficult experiences than me, but people tend to see yoga instructors as living a life of luxury. That wasn’t the case for me and many others during this pandemic. I know there are people who go to lengths to support this industry and me personally during these times, and it means a lot.

3. Pro: there is not a commute to teach online from home.

That is, unless you have to hustle back home from another in-person job or yoga class to a space where you can teach in peace and take off your mask! Fortunately, though, my students may not even know about my hour-long bike ride pre-teaching: you can’t smell me through Zoom!

4. Con: the piecemeal yoga teacher schedules.

Yoga teacher schedules have always been piecemeal, but the closure of indoor spaces during winter in a city like Chicago was especially challenging. Where could I go with a two-hour gap between classes on a below-freezing day without a car? I became grateful for Target, Aldi, and other grocery stores.

5. Pro: it is a huge blessing to be able to take classes and workshops online with instructors all over the country and world.

It’s also a blessing to have friends and students from all over take my classes. I reconnected with one of my studios from my time in Washington, D.C., and with friends who had moved elsewhere and had never been able to take my yoga class.

6. Con: I miss in-person connections and it can be hard to feel authentic teaching online to people I cannot see.

While online yoga is certainly better than nothing, it’s also just not the same. I don’t need to micromanage my students; I firmly believe you are the boss of you during yoga, and I turn my own camera off when I take classes. But in person, I can at least get a sense of how the sequence, pace, and postures are received—not so much with blank screens. Probably even worse, I have no idea if my jokes land or not.

7. Pro/Con: teaching outside is really a lifesaver as far as preserving in-person connections.

That is, until about October in Chicago when mats and blocks start to fly off rooftops and the wind reaches levels that no human voice is meant to compete with. I was recently successful teaching over the sound of a pool deck being sprayed down by a hose for the entire hour, and also a DJ playing music and cracking jokes to about 40 people.

8. Con: due to #7, I’ve fine-tuned my voice projection skills to teach easily through a mask and I’ve found mask styles that work well for me.

In addition, I’ve also done the practice alongside a small group of newbies or others who just aren’t comfortable with verbal cues alone. (No, this is not something my teacher training looked positively on.) I don’t like wearing a mask, but I do like that mask-wearing keeps us safer and almost certainly saves lives.

My own particular perspective is that mask-wearing is essential to keeping my entire industry alive when there are indoor mask mandates in place. It feels like a personal attack when students resist wearing masks—especially when those folks have jobs they can do comfortably from home for their same salaries if more extensive closures happen.

I am not concerned with “learning not to take it personally.” This is personal. That said, I understand that not everyone wants to practice yoga in person, or online. I still hope that people who want this industry to survive the pandemic, and to support those of us experienced enough in it to make our livings here, will follow best practices in general and local mandates in particular.

9. Pro: pet participation in online yoga!

10. Pro: realizing I’ll figure things out when I need to and adapt.


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