You are not alone: Are there upsides to online yoga classes?

The global pandemic has forced us all to adopt new habits. Yoga is no exception. So what are some of the upsides of online yoga classes?

Doing yoga in a familiar setting can lighten your practice.

The challenge of change

Lockdown.  It’s a strong word. For most of us, it implies a restriction.  We are bound to our homes.

Being at home offers new perspectives. Photo credit: Melissa van Gogh

There are challenges in these changes.

And for many, this time is very challenging indeed. Issues of money, health and safety are real concerns and, for some, causes of deep pain.

At the same time, old routines are thrown out. Our habits are in flux.

Going virtual

Many of our former in-person activities have gone online.  Yoga and meditation classes, for instance. 

Are these new methods obstacles? Or could they be opportunities?

Below, I outline some of what I see to be the major benefits of online yoga learning.

Lighting incense can lend a spirit of sacredness to the session

Leaping in

For the past 2 years, I’ve been been thinking about offering online classes and asking my students what would help.

Then lockdown happened.  I leapt in with both feet. 

There was much to learn, both on my side and on the part of the students.  And not just with the technology. 

There have been hiccups of course.

Getting to grips with the technology can take some time.

Adapting

What’s been the biggest change for me as a teacher going online? Well, it’s that now there are more blocks to two-way communication. 

As a student you may be frustrated by this too. 

You choose your practice setting. Photo credit: Paul Hanaoka

In a studio or gym setting, students can ask a question any time. And I can answer that question.

Online, it’s harder. But by using the chat box and ‘unmuting’ actions, we’re finding ways round the problem.

Poppy relaxes on the yoga blanket where I teach my classes at home.

Of course, it’s different to all being in the same room physically. 

But we’re adapting, step by step.  With patience.

You could say, it’s what yoga’s all about.

The upsides

Over the past month of trial and error, I have been gathering feedback from my students.  I’ve also been a student myself in various online yoga classes

Here’s what I’ve discovered:

Convenience

  • You don’t have to travel.  I used to travel an hour by bus each way to my favourite yoga class (a class for teachers).  By the time I’d attended the two-hour class and got home, half of my day had gone.  Now, you can click on a link and voilà!  You’re at your class.
You are still practising with others when you practise from home in an online class
  • You learn to use your space differently.  In a studio class, Iyengar yoga teachers use a lot of props, such as blocks and bolsters.  But at my online classes, I focus on how to use everyday items in the home.  So, practising at home, you might use a pile of books or some cushions instead.  It can lead to great creativity and a sense of fun and experimentation.  And it might give new life to your solo yoga practice

Flexibility

  • You can create your own atmosphere.  A studio or gym can be a bare and neutral place.  The benefit of being in your home as a student is that you can create your own ambience. Using candles and soothing lighting, you can make a scene in keeping with your mental and emotional state.  You might even practise outdoors

You could create a soothing atmosphere with candles. Photo credit: Charleigh Clarke
  • It’s more intimate.  In an online class, you can switch the video setting so that it’s ‘pinned’ to the teacher, i.e. that’s pretty much all you see on your screen.  You can be in the class as though in a one-on-one session.  If you’re socially anxious or suffer from body dysmorphia, this can be a much more comfortable setting than an in-person class. 

Tribe

  • You belong to a global tribe.  In my online classes, people join from America and sometimes from the Indian subcontinent.  In doing yoga, you are part of a community which practises worldwide.  It reminds us we cross barriers.  Yoga means ‘to link’:  In  our common pursuit of health and happiness through asanas, pranamayama and meditation, we are one
You join a global yoga community in an online class. Photo credit: Hannah Busing.
  • A chance to connect.  Some of you may be missing the get-togethers you had before or after a class in a studio or gym.  But now there’s a chance to make new friendships.  You can become a member of my Facebook Group, where you meet each other and ask questions. And we have monthly live ‘tea-time’ sessions where we exchange ideas and get to know each other better. 

Learning

  • Ongoing information.  On the Facebook page, I provide weekly short sequences, photos, descriptions of asanas and readings from yoga and meditation masters.  You also receive a recording of the class(es) you attended online.  It means you can go over what you didn’t catch first time round:  You learn in your own time, to your schedule, at your tempo and – most importantly – in your own place. 

Onwards

When this phase comes to an end and people start to return to a semblance of life as it was before, some of you may want to return to in-person classes.

Being in your home offers the chance to turn inwards in meditation and asana practice.

But I will continue to offer the online community and classes into your home.

And, going forwards, you might like to stay with the online classes as well.

You know you’re always welcome!

I’m personally so grateful for the opportunity to teach online.  I have the chance to help fill a gap for you, I’m learning a new skill and I’m connected to a tribe of beautiful and brave yogis. 

I hope to see you soon.

You form new friendships and strengthen old ones in an online class

“Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they’re meant to be.” BKS Iyengar

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Can I practice yoga outdoors?

If you are a practitioner of Iyengar yoga, with its emphasis on the use of walls, ropes and other props, it might feel as though you can’t just do your yoga outdoors.

Not true!

I love to practice with the wind on my face, the sound of birdsong in the background and the view of the clouds scudding across the sky. 

When at home and the sun is shining, I like to practice yoga outdoors

HEALTH IN NATURE

Yoga helps me to feel connected to Mother Earth and it feels completely natural to do the yoga asanas in the open air

In these strange times, not everyone can lay a mat out on a balcony or a terrace. 

But if you can, here are my recommendations: 

  •  Use a mat.  If you can get hold of one, put a mat down.  And take your socks off.  The feeling of gripping can help enormously with the earthed aspect of the pose, helping you to feel grounded and stable.  It is from a stable base that the steadiness in the pose is born. 
We’re lucky enough to have a terrace and we eat outdoors when we can
  • Use ground which is level and firm.  Practising on the grass sounds nice, but the bumpiness can make alignment and balance more challenging.  Needless to say, this can be a practice in itself!  Life is not uniform and even.  But if you’re working on alignment and correcting your own imbalances, levelness is key. 
  • Avoid direct sunlight.  In India of course, the light is usually really strong and there are very good reasons not to be in full sunlight, one of them being the risk of dehydration.  The traditional advice is to avoid the sunlight.  In the West too being in the sunshine can lead to dizziness and light-headedness.  Having light in our eyes causes our attention to wander outwards.  Whereas in asanas we aim for an internal awareness.
I grow flowers and veggies in our back garden, like these tulips which have just come up
  • Be warm enough.  If you are practising yoga in a cooler climate, it is beneficial to feel warm while in the more intense poses.  It helps with loosening the muscles.  But when we enter the restful forward bends and supported poses, the body starts to cool down.  You might want to put on another layer at this stage.  Doing asanas while the body is too cool can lead to muscle strain. 
  • Choose poses which are simple and don’t require yoga props or support.  Don’t be ambitious.  Decide on your sequence before you start or ask a teacher’s help if in doubt.  Standing poses are an excellent place to begin.  You might want to do the active part of your practice outside and move indoors for the more restful asanas. (For more about Iyengar Yoga, check here)
Going on a yoga holiday can give you ample chance to practice yoga outdoors
  • Lighten up.  Let things be a little more fluid than usual.  Don’t be hard on yourself.  You may want to use the breath more.  Allow the body to feel its own natural way in the poses and try not to be too rigid in your instructions to yourself. 
  • Meditate.  If you have a sitting practice, you can observe the breath as it enters and leaves the body, with a light awareness on the sounds around you.  Birdsong, wind effects and voices can be a beautiful way to notice the passing of all phenomena.  Just a note of warning though:  If you can hear the content of a conversation or a song, words can be distracting and take us off on a story, making it harder to stay in the present moment. 
  • Join a friend.  Yoga is often practised as a communal activity and many of us are missing the energy of being together in a class in these unusual times.  But you can make a date with a friend online and practice yoga together virtually.  You might inspire each other with new ideas, new postures and new ways of working
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With the weather warming up throughout the northern hemisphere, now is the perfect time to experiment with your outdoor practice.  And if you don’t have an outdoor space, throw the windows open wide and breathe in the fresh air.  

If you want to find out more about practising at home, subscribe to join our yoga community

Stay safe, stay well and enjoy!

Yoga poses and props: What equipment do you need for practising at home?

Furniture Yoga: Using props in Iyengar yoga poses

Teaching setu bandha sarvangasana with a brick

I want to talk about equipment in Iyengar yoga poses.  You may know that in Iyengar yoga, we tend to use yoga props in classes quite a bit. 

But what about if you’re practising at home?  What if you don’t have all this specialised stuff?  And what if you can’t get hold of it? 

Never fear.  I’m here to tell you about the alternatives. 

First, a bit of background. 

Iyengar yoga poses and props

If you go to a yoga class in pretty much any Iyengar studio in the world, you will be struck by one thing. 

You will notice that the place is very well stocked with a wide array of blocks, bricks, belts, bolsters and blankets.  There may be ropes hanging from the walls. 

The point of all this equipment is not to make the practice more complicated.  In fact, the props help simplify yoga poses for students at all level of ability. 

Many of you know Iyengar yoga as a rigorous practice which emphasises precision of action. 

Some people worry that they are not ‘flexible’ enough.  They may avoid coming to a class, fearing that they will be shown up for their lack of mobility. 

And yet, Iyengar yoga is a boon for those suffering from the pain which comes from injury and other chronic conditions. 

The emphasis on structural alignment gives relief.  The use of the props in yoga poses helps correct postural imbalances. It also helps regulate many other functions of the body in the process. 

For students who find it difficult to get into the more complex yoga poses due to a lack of flexibility, the answer is props

Even the most advanced Iyengar students use props at pretty much every practice session. 

Poppy enjoys the softness of the yoga blankets, set out for my Zoom class

For more about Iyengar yoga, check the UK’s professional body IYUK

BKS Iyengar

The use of props, now ubiquitous throughout the world, was devised by the Indian master, BKS Iyengar , acclaimed author of the bestselling  Light on Yoga

In his youth, BKS Iyengar was a sickly child.  He suffered from tuberculosis, typhoid and complications caused by malaria. 

He overcame his physical challenges through determined and continuous hard work (‘tapas’) in yoga poses.   The experience gave him compassion for his fellow human beings.  And a deep understanding of our frailties.    

The props were born

Iyengar realised that most people needed to train their bodies gradually.  He started out by experimenting on his own body in the yoga poses, using furniture and household items he had ready to hand at home.

Then he brought objects into his home from outside, such as bricks and blocks of wood.

Finally, BKS Iyengar began having friends make the equipment just as he liked it.

Props for health

Iyengar found that using these items allowed him and his students to be in yoga poses safely – and to hold the key aspects of those poses for a longer period of time.

Rather than jumping straight to an advanced pose, in Iyengar Yoga the body can accustom itself to new positions gradually and progressively.

Some people refer to BKS Iyengar’s groundbreaking yoga-with-props style as ‘furniture yoga’.

Today, the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, India, is a wonderful cornucopia of hand-made props built for all body types and every conceivable pose. 

I was there in November and witnessed first-hand, in medical classes, how even those with severe disabilities were able to stay in yoga poses which helped open joints and realign imbalances gently. All without risk of further injury.

Many are those who have passed through the doors of this centre ready to give up on an active life – and come out the other side transformed.

Invariably, they are deeply grateful to the man Iyengar yoga teachers call Guruji

I observed Guruji on several occasions practising inverted yoga poses and back arches in the large octagonal studio in Pune. He would hold them for long periods of time.  And he was supported by lots of props. This was when he was in his 80’s and 90’s. 

I myself suffer from scoliosis which I have had since birth.  I am convinced that I would live in perpetual pain were it not for Iyengar’s ingenious techniques. 

Yoga equipment at home

So, with such carefully designed equipment used in classes, how can we practice yoga poses at home if we don’t already own these props? 

Well, there are alternatives.  So, where you use a brick or a pile of foam blocks in a studio, you might find yourself a stack of hard-backed books such as thick cookery books at home.

Where you would use a yoga strap, a dressing gown cord or a long thin scarf would work. 

And where you would use a bolster or a blanket, a pile of beach towels or a cushion might do. 

If you do want to buy your own equipment, I highly recommend Yogamatters for all your needs. 

Adho mukha svanasana can be done with a chair, for those with painful wrists or shoulders

Online classes

I will be teaching most of my online sessions as much as possible without equipment. At least to begin with.

But I might start a gentle class by asking you to have handy a chair, which you would put against the wall for support.

Or I might suggest doing a pose with the back to the wall. 

From there, we’ll build up.  You’ll soon get the hang of it. 

You might even find you can manage more yoga poses than you’ve done before.

In the end, practising yoga at home can be fun and really creative! 

Have a look at a snippet of one of my live classes to see how they work.

Don’t worry. I’ll talk you through all of this when you join me on the Zoom.

And you might want to warn your housemates that there’ll be one fewer chairs for them to use that day! 

I’m looking forward to our session together. 

Warm wishes, Tor.

PS. If you want to order up equipment, I would suggest: a mat, 5 foam blocks, 2 bricks, a yoga belt and maybe a yoga blanket.