If you have been doing a lot less online yoga now than you were at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, right after most yoga studios closed their doors early last year, you are not losing your yoga groove. Instead, you may be suffering from “Zoom fatigue.” Zoom fatigue is the state of feeling physically and mentally exhausted after a lot of video conference meetings or livestream classes. And it’s just another term we’ve added to our collective vocabulary since the pandemic began, including “social distancing” and “shelter in place.”
Before COVID-19, many outside of the tech community had not even heard of Zoom, but according to a recent Psychology Today article, the software company saw an increase from 10 million daily participants at the end of 2019 to 300 million just a few months later when sheltering in place became a thing. The whole world seems to be on the platform and there is now Zoom everything—from Zoom happy hours to birthday parties. To weddings. To, of course, Zoom yoga.
If there is any silver lining to the pandemic, it is that Zoom has allowed students and teachers to connect who may not have otherwise. While online yoga was well established way before COVID-19, the pandemic forced almost every teacher to move their classes to digital livestream, which had the benefit of giving them access to students all around the world. Similarly, many students who may have wanted to study with particular teachers but were limited by geography now had the ability to study with whomever they chose to, and in real time.
That said, so much of the rest of life has moved online as well: We are working that way, and if we are in school or have school-age children, they’re often distance learning as well. One day my husband had five virtual meetings in a row. That is a lot of Zoom!
In the beginning of shelter in place, many people were taking multiple yoga classes a day and attendance was high, especially with no physical cap on classes. I had a few different people tell me that being able to do a lot of yoga was one of the only saving graces of being stuck at home as it allowed for connection.
But as the weeks and months wore on and studio re-openings continued to get pushed back, class sizes seemed to dwindle. Even the most senior of teachers have told me that their class sizes have almost halved, and where I had nearly 40 people in my first personal Zoom class after coming back from maternity leave mid-pandemic, I now average four to six. When I started to ask why people stopped taking as many classes or any classes at all, I started to hear reports of feeling “hungover” after spending a lot of time on Zoom.
Yoga class used to be our refuge from our day-to-day, but now our roles are all blended together as we live, work, learn, and play all in one place: in front of our computer. Understandably, as a result many people are finding it less appealing to do their yoga through Zoom even though now is a time when we could use our practice the most.
Luckily we can combat Zoom fatigue, so we can keep up with our practice and remain connected during these uncertain days. Here are some ways to do so.
1. Take a few minutes before class starts to get settled.
While one of the benefits of livestream yoga is that you do not need to physically travel anywhere to take a class, our practice is still a journey and it is important to get grounded before we embark. Instead, many of us are doing a million other things right up until the start of class, when we then scramble to log in on time. We think we are maximizing our time by doing this, but taking a few moments to sit quietly will have far greater benefits for our nervous system and overall well-being than answering more emails or doing one last household chore.
Set yourself up on your mat at least three minutes before class starts. Feel free to keep your camera off or to not sign in so that you don’t feel any pressure to engage or be “on.” Get comfortable and take some deep breaths; your practice will probably feel richer for it and you'll likely feel more present throughout class.
2. Minimize the screen and just use sound.
When you were doing yoga in a studio, how often were you watching the teacher or other students while practicing? I would guess not very much. While you may look up once in a while to make sure you are following along, you’re often gazing at fixed points in the room, like between your feet in down dog or toward the front of the room in warrior II. However, when you are practicing online, there is often an unconscious urge to want to watch the screen and the teacher and, let’s be honest, ourselves. This split attention can tax the brain and is exactly the opposite goal of our practice, which is to find a one-pointed focus.
Try shrinking your Zoom window all the way to a small toolbar and just listen to the sound of the instruction. If you get a little lost, so be it! Ultimately you are your best teacher, and practicing in this way encourages you to stay in your body and experience.
3. Invite loved ones to take class with you.
Another cause of Zoom fatigue is the stress of social interactions in that setting. Where we perhaps used to find comfort in socializing before or after class or, at the very least, being in a room with other people, it can be much more difficult trying to connect with our friends before or after livestream classes. Most teachers will mute students before class begins, or just when you start asking or answering a question, another person comes in and starts speaking. When we are in person we can look away or step away when we are waiting to speak to someone. On Zoom when we want to talk to our teacher, we are often forced to awkwardly sit there waiting our turn or hoping to be noticed.
Create your own mini Zoom room by inviting people in your household to practice with you. Or if you feel comfortable practicing outdoors, bring your computer outside and invite a friend or two over to join you for class. Or if getting together in person does not feel safe, pitch in for a group Zoom private with your favorite teacher to get more focused attention.
4. Avoid multitasking.
Not only does Zoom yoga allow you to not have to commute, but now you can turn your video off and remain anonymous! While that is appealing for many people, it also becomes an invitation to do whatever else you need to get done during class. Suddenly, you can check your phone or get up and walk away. The studio setting used to provide a container in which outside distractions were removed.
Put your phone in another room if you’re able, lock the door if you have one and are able, and make an agreement with yourself that other than emergencies or bathroom breaks, you will remain on your mat for the duration of class. Everything can wait, and you will be much better able to handle all that needs your attention after a focused class than you will if you are trying to answer that work email mid-pigeon.
5. Stay in savasana longer.
Most livestream classes are shorter in length, meaning shorter savasanas. Not only that, but just as there may be no transition time from before class into class, not being at the studio means that there is no longer a transition between yoga time and returning to work or home duties. Grabbing our phone right away and jumping right back into our to-dos is a surefire way to lose our yoga buzz fast.
At the end of class, turn your video off and/or mute the teacher and stay in final rest a few minutes longer. This will help you to ease back into the external world versus jumping right in.
Doing yoga connects us, whether we’re physically together or not.
I know that Zooming yoga is not the same as practicing yoga in a live group setting, but it does have the huge advantage of allowing us to keep up with our practice in some semblance of community. And at the end of the day, all we really need is our mat and our breath, for the practice reminds us that we are always connected to one another, whether we are in the same place or not.