My experience teaching Gentle Yoga online has offered some unexpected insights into the surprising benefits of virtual classes:
- Convenience. Many students enjoy not having to drive somewhere (especially in bad weather), find parking, and get their “favorite spot” in the room. It’s a big time saver, too, when the “commute” to class is turning on your computer and logging in.
- Non-competitive. During in-person classes, I continually invite students to avoid comparisons with others—I’ll suggest they view their mats as their private “yoga island” and disregard the natives of other “yoga islands.” Yet, our culture’s competitive nature is so ingrained that many people can’t help but look around and measure themselves against what others are doing. This is almost impossible to do in the virtual space, where other students don’t appear at all or are only in tiny windows that are difficult to see.
- Community. One of the many health benefits of yoga comes from participating in a “sangha”— a Sanskrit term for being in a community of like-minded people. Even before the pandemic, public health officials were warning about an epidemic of loneliness and social isolation that can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Covid has made this worse, with one report suggesting that more than a third of all Americans (including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children) feel “serious loneliness.” While seeing people over a screen is not the same as seeing people in person, I’ve found that it’s still a helpful means of connection. And when other options are limited, connecting virtually can be a lifeline for the isolated.
To encourage sangha, I sign on to classes 10 minutes early and invite students to do the same so we can greet each other and chat. I also stay on for a short while after the class ends, in case someone has a question or wants to share something. While not all students avail themselves of this opportunity, many do–and if a regular student isn’t there, people can reach out to him or her. There’s been a surprising intimacy to many of these interactions—my students see me in my home, I see them in theirs. They’ve met my dog, Shanti, and introduced me to their pets and family members. We get a glimpse into each other’s lives and rejoice in our shared yoga journey.
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