By Louise Applebome
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March of 2020, I immediately shifted all my yoga classes online onto Zoom. It seemed only prudent not to let folks into my yoga studio (which happens to be in my home) and instead, to begin to adopt the protocols being recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and others. Granted, there were so many unknowns back then (as there still are). The uptick in cases and ensuing deaths were catastrophic. And, as much as teaching virtually had its problems, it seemed to be the only solution at the time.
Unknowns also included the number of weeks or months virtual yoga would replace in-person classes.
We’ve now surpassed the three-year mark.
The landscape was dynamic, boundless, and unnameable, from a Taoist sort of sensibility. We had to get out of our own way to find new ways of coping, living, and thriving.
Many have done just that. Honestly, I’m still in awe over the number of people who pivoted to online classes and are still at it. I was not at all surprised by those who just couldn’t cotton to setting up their yoga mat in their homes and watching and listening to a device to take a class. So, some hung around and are still taking online classes with me and others fell by the wayside. Of course, the boundaryless nature of Zoom classes meant others could join from anywhere across the globe. So, from those perspectives, virtual classes already had pluses and minuses right out of the gate.
I had no choice but to up my tech game and develop competency on the Zoom platform. Ultimately, that included upgrading my equipment, including getting a new computer, a new camera, a new microphone, and new lighting. So, the logistics and supplies offered their own challenges (and unbudgeted expenses).
And, as far as the actual teaching, the pedagogy of it all, the rules changed. But, I didn’t have much time to lollygag on a learning curve. I had to solve problems and provide my students with a satisfying yoga experience from the get-go. They were still paying me for my service and dependent upon me, more or less, for their mental, emotional, and physical health, all of which took on new meaning for all of us with new restrictions and requirements of living during a pandemic and, in many cases, being sequestered and locked down.
One thing I realized early on was that I had to work harder to teach, communicate, and demonstrate in a remote environment. A silent, blank computer and monitor don’t provide much incentive or motivation. So, I quickly learned that I would have to keep the instruction, narrative, dialogue, and reinforcement going throughout most of the class. Of course, I inserted quiet meditation at the beginning of class to help students “arrive” and be present; and more quiet and rest to conclude each class, giving students time to absorb the effects of their practice and to seamlessly transition back out to their daily and evening activities.
And because my teaching style already included minute detail, the thorough deconstruction of poses (erring on the side of too much information?) I was poised to ramp up my style for the online format. And I was prepared and able to demonstrate everything, and to show modifications and options when they were available, and to have an ongoing dialogue about props, their necessity, and their versatility.
Dutch ovens and shoe boxes are adequate substitutes for yoga blocks/bricks. Cushions off of the living room sofa could replace yoga blankets for sitting on and for use as a pillow under the head. Dish towels, neckties, and scarves make excellent yoga straps. Most folks have a wall and a chair in their home (hahaha) so those were easy to drum up. And many realized after the weeks and months passed by, that investing in their own actual yoga props was worthwhile. Less improvisation. Fewer workarounds.
Now almost 40 months later, I continue to do all my teaching online and have a loyal clientele that appreciates the convenience and reliability of a regular schedule. No need to build in extra time for rush hour traffic, road construction, and other delays. Saving on gas is a plus, too. Students’ ability to focus on themselves and to deepen their observation and awareness skills has also seemed to benefit from being in their own personal and private “sanctuaries.” And there are still no geographic limitations.
I welcome students from far and wide.
Through trial and error, I’ve figured out that my continual demo-ing, plus students keeping their sound and video turned off, provides the best experience for students. Peace and quiet…minimal disruption or disturbance. I’m not seeing them. So they don’t have to worry about giving me a good view of them. They don’t have to set up their space to accommodate me. They need only set up their devices to have a stress-free, easy view of me. They may even have a few “stations” for their devices during any given class to adjust their view when lying down, sitting up, or standing up.
And, everyone is welcome to unmute their devices at any time if they have questions or concerns.
The situation has remained dynamic as we all adapt, refine, jigger, and tweak.
But, here’s a new twist, a new nuance:
Yesterday, while at the acupuncturist for treatment of a minor issue, it became clear to me that when I was dealing with injuries/issues during in-person classes here at my home studio, no one ever knew. I was vigorous, present, teaching, and explaining. My attention was unmistakable. I could walk around the studio, see what folks were doing and address anything I saw that needed correcting in real time. I could lay a gentle hand on someone or adjust a pose or position. There was much more going on in the studio than just me on the mat. Students asked questions. Or they emoted or responded when I introduced a pose or expressed an ache, pain, or an “aha” moment. The in-person group class included much more stimuli. I could easily get away with talking everyone through a pose and not doing it. Or, I could always have someone else in the class demo and invite students to gather around to watch as I critiqued and dissected a posture.
None of that can easily happen on Zoom without snags and snafus. Virtual classes have their pluses, but translating those “come watch” critiques to Zoom isn’t one of them.
So, I’m entering uncharted and unknown territory, once again, as I try to avoid doing certain poses and positions while I baby a minor injury, without limiting or diminishing the benefits that my students expect and rely on.
Taoist tradition also teaches us to stay away from the “shoulds” or self-flagellations. So, I need not see this as inferior or cast self-doubts. Instead, this will be a new and dynamic opportunity for me [and my students] to explore anew “on the mat.” This is not really new at all because each time we begin a yoga session, we hope to find Zen mind, beginner’s mind; to clear the slate; to avoid autopilot; and to not predict or engineer the practice. It’s nice to be surprised and delighted along the way.
Again, my minor and not painful issue has only taught me to pay attention in new ways. It’s also nudging me to rethink what I teach and how I teach it. Gentle jostling of the curriculum and the pedagogy means jostling of the neurons, too. And, our brains need variety and breaks in routine to keep them sharp.
So, a new learning curve has emerged. No lollygagging along this one either. And before I know it there’ll be something new coming down the pike to assess, evaluate and put to its best use and advantage. The metaphorical tap dance can also be a very useful talent.
More Taoist ideas to guide my students and me through this next/new phase of virtual yoga and life:
All unknowable. All unnamable. Nothing words can really define. We can only await the realization of mystery and, by practicing “not-doing” let everything fall into place.
Hold onto the center.
Louise Applebome, 69, is a Certified Yoga Instructor in Dallas. After “retiring” from a vibrant and varied professional career, she became a yoga teacher. She teaches all her classes on Zoom right now and accepts students, young or older, from wherever they are, both geographically and in their pursuit of a yoga practice. Louise will help you stay fit and flexible, and release tension, aches & pains from the body…and the mind. Her yoga studio in Dallas is del norte yoga. You can reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.