The entire world has shut down in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the yoga community has not been spared.
However, the beautiful thing about yoga is that home practice, in light of the global lockdowns, has not been canceled and is stronger than ever! Now is the time when online yoga can change the world more than ever. Teachers and students worldwide have taken to the virtual screen to stay connected in practice at home.
For many, this time has brought up a lot of fear, confusion, and loneliness whilst in isolation and quarantine conditions. Many people have lost jobs and may feel disconnected from other people. Those in the yoga community spared no time in setting up classes online to keep their community together and ensure healthy minds and bodies during an uncertain time.
Yoga teachers have stepped up offering donation classes, online teacher training, virtual retreats, meditation courses, private sessions, and more.
While yoga teachers and students may have utilized the internet for their teaching or classes online before the pandemic hit, it is now a 100% necessity to stay afloat and connected. Many teachers had already been using the word wide web before the pandemic as a way to supplement their in-person studio income with the knowledge you can reach a larger audience online.
While big-name yoga streaming websites exist with celebrity yoga teachers on-demand, this pandemic has given everyone the opportunity to move online and the consensus is that people are loving it.
Taking yoga online is reaching every corner of the earth, teachers are making their classes more accessible to people (and affordable), and helping everyone stay sane.
However, it’s not without its downsides either! Some yogis may have had little technological inclination before and had to come up to speed quickly in order to stay ahead of the game (and generate income). There may have been some additional expenses up front, and some studio owners may be teaching at home just to pay rent for their studio in hopes to open it again after this all passes.
But one thing is for certain: the world will never be the same again, and this holds true for the world of yoga, too.
I am currently in Mysore, India, where I have been for nearly four months prior to the pandemic. I was practicing Ashtanga when all of the shalas were shut down and the nation went on total lockdown.
I decided to stay here, when many tourists left, instead of returning to my home country in a panic, as I was in a small apartment community of yogis. I personally had a three-continent teaching tour planned that was all canceled and I know I am not alone.
Like many, I took my teaching online, started a Facebook group to stream live classes, used the Zoom platform, and am planning an online yin yoga teacher training course. I decided to reach out to a few yoga teachers and business owners to see what they were doing during the pandemic and how their yoga teaching has changed since shifting it online during these unprecedented times.
Yogis are always known for being adaptable and flexible; this is really where the practice gets put to the test, right?
Taking Yoga Classes Online
No place in the world has gone unaffected- even yoga studios in remote areas have been forced to adapt. Francie Fishman runs Pure Flow Yoga in a beautiful bay on the island Koh Phangan, Thailand, only accessible by boat. Regularly, she offers drop-in classes, retreats, and teacher training throughout the year.
Now, however, she has shifted her offerings to online livestream classes on Zoom, a popular web conferencing platform. Her dilemma, which is unique to her remote location, is that she has limited use of electricity and her internet is unstable, so it provides a challenge for her.
She says, however, in regards to maintaining a connection with her students: “I suspect that connecting with people live in this way will continue to be a popular and important feature of yoga practice as we move into the future. It’s clearly a great way to maintain an intimate connection with people that we’ve had powerful experiences with.”
Retreats and Teacher Training Online
Online platforms, such as BookRetreats.com, that offer destination yoga retreats and teacher training have also shifted their business to the online model. Their teachers and customers have quickly adapted by sharing and participating in their courses virtually.
Yoga Alliance has at this time, allowed for yoga schools and teachers to continue to allow their courses and training online rather than in-person. This has certainly helped buffer any fallout from the industry while also keeping the spirit of yoga alive through education and experience.
Why Take an Online Retreat or Teacher Training?
“Studios are the most successful in taking their students online, as they have built everyday relationships with them over a period of time. It's hard for retreat centers to match that. But some are doing online retreats for those who want a more in-depth experience.
"If you have a teacher you love, but they're halfway across the world, you can still tune into their retreat. That's a wonderful thing. It can't really replace the in-person experience, but we don't have a choice these days.”
-Sean Kelly, Co-founder Book Retreats
Some retreat centers are also offering their themed weekly retreats on Instagram Live, such as Talalla Retreat in Sri Lanka, which is sure to be a unique experience with their beachfront yoga shalas! You can also join their Facebook group for further connection.
Reaching a Wider Audience and Technology Mishaps
"Before the current chaotic situation, 99.9% of my teaching was live in-person classes. Now, of course, everything has changed. I am running 100% of my content online. I organized a free online class on Zoom that almost 100 people attended. The success of this class prompted me to add weekly Himalayan Hatha Yoga and Prana Kriya Yoga classes online.
"We can all feel the good energy even though we are in our own rooms. I also believe it is a great way to hold a community of like-minded people together and give a sense of camaraderie in these uncertain times.
"On the flip side, I have had to keep my classes at a more basic level as it is not possible to 100% monitor everyone's alignment. Clearly, until we learn to teleport our physical bodies from one place to another like in Star Trek, physical adjustments are not possible.
"In addition, our daily 8 pm 'quarantine circle' of kirtan has gone on Instagram live from Mysore, India. The first one I did not realize you have to place the mobile vertically rather than horizontally. Our audience will have seen a sideways candle flame only! So teething problems with technology are normal and we soon worked everything out. We have people from all over the world chanting alongside us."
Creating an Online Yoga Community
“My name is Naveen Sharma. I am a yoga teacher, health and wellness coach and co-founder of Ashmayu Yoga (in Bangalore, India). My mission is to help '1 million people achieve their health goals through yoga and coaching.' I have been teaching yoga for the last 7 years in the offline setting, which has been a fantastic journey so far.
"Recently due to COVID-19 and lockdown situation in India, to support social distancing all the yoga studios have paused their teachings and practices, which has impacted millions of yoga practitioner's daily routines. This is when I decided that I would go online and support the community of yoga practitioners with their daily yoga practice from the comfort of their homes.
"To start my online journey, I started my yoga YouTube channel "Yoga with Naveen" in order to share quality yoga content with yoga enthusiasts from all over the country. My first step was to curate videos on specific important topics like yoga for boosting immunity, practices related to the health of neck and shoulders, etc. In order to be able to encourage people further to practice, I came up with a free 30-day yoga challenge program and started teaching people every day through YouTube.”
-Naveen Sharma, Ashmayu Yoga
Amber Hagberg of Live Your Yoga has been living in Costa Rica and leading destination retreats and training around the world before the pandemic hit. She had already begun shifting her teaching online beforehand and has since begun expanding her offerings as she is currently waiting out the lockdown in India.
“Moving my teaching online has allowed me to stay connected to my students, no matter how many times I move locations. The difference from before pandemic to now is that I offer my teachings at different level (price) tiers. Instead of only having one price, I have different levels of my offerings in order to accommodate where my students are financially. I never want to have to turn away students because of money. I use (social media) YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram for my free content.
"I believe the biggest struggle is reaching my ideal students. I prefer to teach in-person to have a hands-on connection and touch. Online does have some slight disconnect. In order to inspire my students through online teaching, I offer group coaching calls to assist my students in their goals and challenges they may be facing. I want to use teaching online as an option but not the end all be all. I want it to be the gateway to a lifelong relationship that begins online but the ultimate goal is to bring us together in real life. I believe that teaching online makes it accessible to all but the real growth comes from being together.”
-Amber Hagberg, Live Your Yoga
Helping Those in Need
“Four years ago, I fell in love with Nicaragua. I traveled there to teach yoga at a small local gym called Pure Yoga, in the heart of Granada, Nicaragua, a beautiful colonial town in Central America. One month ago, I made the hard decision to leave the city that stole my heart in fear of being stuck in a previously war-torn country in lieu of this pandemic. I made the correct decision to return back to Nebraska to take refuge for months to come at my parent's house.
"With a heaviness and reoccurring panic in my body for my loved ones in Nicaragua, I have been frantically giving multiple online classes a week in an attempt to raise as many funds as I can to send down to our community in Granada. Living in a country with a healthcare system that has very little resources and no social services to assist their people in the face of economic crashes, they are all in very close danger of being left without money for medical needs and more importantly, food. If there is no work, there is no food. If there is no food, looting and starvation quickly become a norm.”
-Nicole Malene, Mindful Movement with Nicole
Can Online Yoga Change the World?
“I think some types of online yoga can act as an introduction to yoga. A wonderful way to spread some parts of the basic practice on a wide scale. I don't think all types of yoga are suitable to be taught online or from books.”
-Sean Kelly, Co-founder, BookRetreats
“It may well be that the world of yoga will change as a result of this. As people become accustomed to online classes, it may become more normal to look out for their favorite teacher offering online classes even as the world returns to a semblance of normality. There are many jet-setting international yoga teachers nowadays who may see it as a good opportunity to stay more connected with their followers.
"Despite the potential advantages of a more online yoga world and how much relief, joy and calm it is bringing to many people who are struggling during this challenging time, I must mutter some words of caution.
"First, from my point of view, there is already a major problem with the dilution of yoga. All the new age yoga styles and much of what I see taught in the West is a world away from the deeply traditional and authentic teachings I learned from the teachers in India who have influenced my path. I fear that too much online teaching could further deepen this problem.
"Second, physical adjustments, feeling the energy of the class, practicing alongside fellow students, hearing each other breathe, and in the case of particularly gifted teachers, being able to receive the energetic transmissions from that teacher will be missing online. I believe that time spent in the actual presence of the guru is very important. We are still sentient beings and that closeness and personal touch can be a special part of the experience of yoga.”
-Yoga Kaivalayananda, Kaivalayanda.Life
“Until I started my 30-day yoga challenge, I hardly had any idea about the immense power of online classes in reaching out to a wider audience and creating a greater impact. However, after starting the challenge, I was pleasantly surprised and humbled to see over 500 people joining the challenge within a couple of days. This truly made me understand the importance of teaching yoga through various digital platforms available to us today.
"Though I started teaching online because of the lockdown imposition in India, I have made up my mind to continue doing so even after the lockdown is lifted. I plan to spend more time in creating specialized yoga content for people in order to help the yoga community and leave a greater positive impact. I genuinely believe that more yoga teachers should start exploring online yoga classes. This way they can live their mission and help a lot more people achieve their health goals through the practice of yoga.”
-Naveen Sharma, Ashmayu Yoga
“In these times, I am more than grateful for technology and the possibility of giving online classes. I have seen the power of social media by connecting me to the support of an online community, my students and my friends. I myself enjoy social media, however, I have never been a fan of online classes and instruction in the past. I don’t feel as though I can give my all and provide the best instruction online, however tough times call for adaptation.
"I see growth in those who are finding new inspiration to incorporate movement into their daily lives in ways they never had before. I’m seeing a new opportunity to develop myself professionally in ways I was hesitant to, but now, in these moments, see as my only option. I know for sure this has given me a massive push to finally make my own website and create my own online professional platform in a more systematic way. An evolution in fitness is coming through students, teachers and the movement culture as a collective.”
-Nicole Malene, Mindful Movement with Nicole
The Online Yoga Revolution
This moment in time will forever be remembered as the boom in the online yoga revolution and just how important it is that yoga online can change the world.
For some yoga teachers, taking their world online has been a courageous act to inspire and instil peace during this great time of change.
It may be a big step out of the comfort zone and this requires one to put the ego to the side in order to hold space for others. This requires a great deal of effort to remain inspired and consistent as yoga teachers to show up in a balanced space. We can think of this as an activation from the manipura chakra, the solar plexus energy center that governs willpower and courage.
In the end, we are all students of life. Every day is a new experience and as a collective, we have never undergone such an event. It is up to each of us to show up for our yoga practice, teachers and community with a courageous and compassionate heart and a peaceful mind in hope for a better world, together.