Whenever I open Instagram, I am hit with at least 5 to 10 Live feeds. Facebook is filled with free tutorials and lessons. I can find classes from many of my favorite teachers through the Yoga International app around the clock. In any other circumstance this might feel like yoga heaven. But at the time I'm writing this, we’re experiencing a pandemic, so clearly we are not in heaven.
Nearly all of us can't wait to start having regular classes in our studios again. But nobody knows when that is going to happen. Although live, in-person yoga classes clearly provide a level of human connection and intimacy that is unmatched, online classes at least allow teachers to stay connected to their students, and vice versa. And they can help to ensure that yoga studios stay afloat.
As a wise friend of mine likes to say, never let perfection interfere with good enough. Doing yoga with a phone or laptop computer is good enough.
Still, there are ways to make the online yoga experience better than good enough—both enjoyable and fulfilling. With that in mind, I’ve come up with a guide so students can get the most out of online classes. It’s filled with tips and tricks that can make the experience feel more authentic, rewarding, and fun. But first, a disclaimer:
Not everything in this article will be useful for everyone. Think of it as a buffet: take what’s appealing or that resonates and disregard the rest. We all have different sensibilities, different living conditions, different bodies, and different technologies. We all need to remember the essence of the practice: It is all about the yogi, not the yoga. It is all about you. You are the one who determines what is best for you. And now that you are at home, you are the only one capable of making that call. The hard part is also the best part. You are free.
The Medium Is the Message
Your mobile phone is a phenomenal little device. A supercomputer that fits in your pocket. Amazing. But it is a terrible yoga teacher. It is like a yoga teacher streaming your text messages and emails through their mouth while they teach. It is a yoga teacher who can be turned into a video game or a Twitter feed with the swipe of a finger. Expecting to get a good yoga class out of your phone when all of your notifications are turned on is like expecting to get a quality meal at a vending machine.
As soon as you finish reading this article, do yourself a favor: Google “how to mirror my phone to a TV.” Make your virtual yoga teacher bigger. Give them a good place from which to teach in your house. Once you have figured that out, put your phone on Do Not Disturb and put it by the TV until your class is done. Trust me on this one. I know you want to stay in touch during your class, but your experience will simply not be the same if you are checking Facebook between postures.
If you are using a laptop, consider turning off notifications before class starts. Make the class full screen and place your computer at a height and angle where you can see it from sitting, standing, or reclining. This will take a little practice. Put on a YouTube video and spend a few minutes finding the right spot—that preparation will pay off big time when your class goes live.
If you prefer to keep your yoga teacher pocket-size, recognize that their voice prompts will become even more important than usual because you won’t be able to easily see what they are demonstrating.
Yoga studios have props. The studio that my wife, Sarah, and I run in Saskatchewan has a whole room filled with them—wood and foam blocks, bolsters, blankets, ropes, straps, balls, back-benders, chairs, inversion benches, wedges, rollers, and an assortment of other helpful tools. But unless you are a yoga teacher or serious at-home practitioner, you probably don’t have a spare room filled with props at home.
With a mat, a bolster, a strap, a block, and some blankets, you can do a lot. If you have them, skip to the next section. Otherwise, the following options might be useful:
• Books make good blocks. A hardcover book will replace a block in a pinch. If you are worried about it opening up and becoming less stable, just wrap a few elastic bands around it to keep it closed.
• Blankets are useful for almost everything. They are great meditation cushions, makeshift bolsters, and padding for hard, uncomfortable surfaces. If you don't have any heavy cotton blankets, beach towels work very well. Place a pile of three to five of them near your practice space. Even if you don't need them as props they are nice for making you feel all warm and comfy.
• Belts, ties, and scarves make good yoga straps. Extension cords, pet leashes, or pieces of rope work in a pinch.
• Chairs are super useful in general. Even if your teacher is not using one, you can use it for seated meditation if floor sitting is uncomfortable for you. You can also use chairs to help with balancing postures, or even as a pedestal for your laptop or phone.
Setting the Stage
Yoga studios provide yoga teachers, classes, props, and physical space for your practice. And that’s important. But one of the most important things yoga studios do is create atmosphere. There is a particular “feel” to a good yoga studio. Yours might feel warm, clean, spacious, and welcoming—a space in which wellness and getting away from the chaos of the outside world are priorities.
So at home, it’s helpful for you to create the atmosphere that feels the most supportive to you. Here are a few tips:
If you have roommates or family, request some quiet time. Get them to use headphones for their devices, to read quietly, or to spend some time outside (social distancing of course!). Or, if there’s a spare room you can use, go into that room and save yourself (and them) the trouble.
Once you’ve got your quiet time and space, light some candles or incense. Think about lighting in general. Close or open your blinds depending on your mood, dim or brighten lamps or overhead lights. Increase or decrease the brightness on your screen. If it is really bright and you want to relax, find an eye pillow or hand towel or something similar to place over your eyes and help block out the light. When it comes to creating the atmosphere you’re practicing in, don't just wing it and hope for the best. You deserve better than that.
Consider the vibe you want to create. You know it when you feel it. Good vibes. Creepy vibes. Snobby vibes. Chill vibes. Your home practice space is going to have vibes. It is up to you to create the ones you want. Again, you could light some candles. Some people also like to have crystals, flowers, and statues around. Some like clean, spacious rooms to practice in. Think about the kind of space in which you would like to practice, and then try to create the closest approximation of that in your home.
Pre Yoga and Post Yoga
Something else that yoga studios provide, albeit inadvertently, is time. When you get to your class a few minutes early you have a moment on your mat to wiggle around, chat with friends, or sit quietly to prepare yourself. After savasana, when the class is over, you have a few moments to sit and notice how you feel. You are not immediately cast back into the world (unless you have somewhere you urgently need to be). Yoga studios provide a temporal buffer zone that allows you to ease in and ease back out of your yoga practice.
Practicing at home may not provide you with the same luxury. The start of your class may be interrupted by your spouse, child, or roommate. You may have to join late because doing dishes took longer than you anticipated, a work meeting took longer than you thought, or your children needed help with a project. There are endless ways for you to be robbed of some really precious and undervalued time: pre and post yoga.
Post-yoga is an especially sweet time. I sometimes tell my beginner students that learning yoga is like planting a sapling. It is so delicate at first. If you are not careful you can end up planting, ruining, and replanting that sapling over and over again. Once planted, it needs to be protected and nurtured. You need that post-yoga time to let it take root. Eventually, the roots of yoga will have grown deep within you and there will be no upsetting or disturbing of your practice. Your yoga will become like a mighty oak tree that provides shade to all around you. But at first, it needs to be sheltered and guarded.
Make sure that you’re able to get in a little post-yoga time. Turn off your device and just sit or recline quietly. Reflect on what you learned, what you felt, and how it all makes you feel. Savour that moment. You may not have long, but enjoy what time you have. Soak it up.
Some Last Thoughts
Again, let's be real. Yoga in real life is better. There is nothing like being in a room of like-minded people and sharing a practice that will be experienced differently by everybody and, somehow, brings everyone together. It is magic.
But, much like yoga classes, not every meal you eat is the best ever. Sometimes it is just nourishment that fuels body and spirit. Some homemade curry on rice might not be getting featured on the Food Network, but it gets the job done. It’s still good, even if it is not Instagram-worthy.
We have very little control over how and when our isolation will end. The lack of control is confusing and unsettling. This new world has been thrust upon us and feels bleak. What we can control is how we engage with this temporary new reality. We have options: We can hang our heads in a collective pity party and mourn what we have lost. Or we can find new ways to come together and support one another. I choose the latter. How about you?