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.  

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Stay safe, stay well and enjoy!