Online, virtual, digital...all words we are now really well acquainted with and maybe starting to get bored of...
My first experience of this was back in March when the event I was due to deliver for my 'day job' in Berlin was suddenly cancelled due to Covid-19. No more events, no more travel, nothing can happen...do something else! Thus the idea of the digital event and translating everything from this project into this virtual experience floating in the sky in little pieces. This was going to be tough. How do you try and capture the atmosphere, experience and interaction between speakers and a large audience of a live event online? The answer is no you can't exactly, it's an event but it's a different beast.
Then came the shocking news of closure of yoga studios and in person classes. Panic stations set in as I then as I began to try and transform my spare room in my small flat into a virtual studio, wishing if only I lived in a Hackney warehouse apartment with exposed brick walls and amazing natural light. Navigating camera angles, lenses, sound and lighting was all something new to me (without the help of a technician!) and was lots of trial, error and swearing. The transition to teaching via Zoom also meant I had to face my ultimate fear of being in front of a camera which was terrifying! It felt like all of my experience teaching group classes crumbled away into non existence and I was starting over again. My usual gentle arrival into the classroom, set up and routine out of the window and replaced with; Can they see me? Can they hear me? Can I see them? Are they on mute? Oh balls my internet has gone down. All new and all weird.
As a student also trying to find a space where you can set up your mat and be undisturbed for an hour was challenging. Whether it be your child, dog, cat, the Amazon delivery or in one reported case their partner angle grinding in the next room, it seemed like there was always someone or something determined to ruin your zen!
However, once all of the teething problems were out of the way and we settled into the new normal I started to realise that despite it being different, online group classes did have their benefits:
Commute-less. No sweaty train or car commute to the studio, gym or yoga space or fighting over that last car parking space. Simply step away from the desk, roll out the mat, quick change, socks off and you have arrived. You can even eat your dinner at a reasonable hour, jump in the bath after or roll into bed if you have that luxury.
Home sweet home. Being in the comfort of your own home means you can set the scene - smells, sounds, cushions, blankets go wild! You can create this little space of sanctuary just for you. I also think at home there is less room for comparison. Comparing yourself to the other person on the mat next to you is hard not to do. How much more flexible they are, their perfect body etc etc all can distract you from your flow. At home you can really get in the zone, focus and listen to your body, feeling the postures rather than thinking about the aesthetic. You write your own story, your own practice.
Time is on your side. Sunrise, lunchtime, Sunday classes. Suddenly more time options open up as well as having access to teachers and schools from all over the world. A class you previously never had the time or option to travel to now you can! With more free time on the cards for a lot of us, it's much easier to cultivate a regular dedicated practice, a rhythm and routine. Something which every day busy life sometimes robs us of.
Trying something new. With so much more at your virtual fingertips you have access to so many different styles of yoga, maybe something you didn't feel confident to try before in a real life class but would give it a go at home without the pressure of everyone watching and you feeling like an idiot. Or maybe even trying yoga for the first time as a beginner, a virtual class is less daunting for some, the equivalent of hiding on the back row of a class!
Community. Although you are not in the same space physically you are still holding a space with a group of like minded people. People who are all going through the same ups and downs as you and have chosen to practice as a group, to connect and see a friendly face. This union of souls, despite not being together physically is still really tangible. For me being able to practice live with a group is something that has kept my spirits level during an uncertain time.
It's amazing how when we are faced with adversity us humans really are adaptable. We don't need necessarily to be in physical company human to human to connect. We have created the technology to shift yoga to a virtual setting but it's comforting to know a different technology is also within us that allows us to connect with ourselves, all of the time.
Practicing yoga gives us a pause, a chance to slow down, breathe and observe those habitual ways of thinking, that monkey mind or voices in our head that influence our actions and can lead us to anxiety, stress and unhappiness in our every day lives. Taking a pause and tuning into this place of observation does not require a flashy studio or does it need to be done at a set time and place. Transitioning to a home work and yoga space has taught us that tuning in and listening to our bodies and minds can be done anywhere - when we are at our desks, on the bus, in a traffic jam, queuing for the bank. We are carrying the technology within us to engineer inner peace and calm - to access it means calving out time, steady focus, disciplined practice and in turn shifting to new way of thinking and being. Adapting in uncertainty is something we are very much accustomed to now so whatever the future of virtual vs in real life holds, we've totally got this!
Yes, I'm not going to deny I do miss the energy within a classroom and being able to see all of my students bodies in full, hear them breathing (I realise that sounds creepy), walk around and have a good old chat at the end of class. For now I am embracing and accepting what we have to work with. Virtual yoga despite the label is still yoga in it's essence, it's just a different beast, one however that still gives us time for that essential inner technical maintenance.