Yoga seems to be the perfect lockdown exercise. You don’t need much space; it can be practised in the comfort of your own home and has proven physical and mental benefits. But is it really that easy?
Now gyms and other sports facilities have closed, yoga classes have gone online. This is great news for those who want to continue their practice during a lockdown or who struggle to get to their local gym’s classes. But this change does come with a price. Iyengar yoga teacher Tanya Devonshire-Jones and student Lucy Dalley explained why.
What is Iyengar yoga?
Iyengar yoga is a purist form of yoga, developed by B. K. S. Iyengar in the 1960s, which focuses on precision and body alignment. Iyengar yoga teachers are rigorously trained, so the risk of injury is low; perfect for anyone suffering from an ongoing injury or chronic condition. But this is what makes online Iyengar yoga classes tricky. Can the teacher see students on their screen well enough to spot bad alignment or imprecise poses?
A teacher’s perspective
“Teaching with great precision without being able to see accurately is very difficult.”
It is difficult, but not impossible, and old hats will have less trouble adapting to this new teaching style. The reason: you know the poses and know what to look out for in each one. But for Iyengar yoga newbies or those who suffer from a chronic condition, it may be safer to wait until in-person classes are available again since the risk of injury is lower.
“My existing students and my intermediate students have transitioned to Zoom actually pretty well because they know the poses. It is much harder to teach beginners who don’t quite know what they’re trying to achieve in any one of these poses,” said Tanya.
Don’t worry, just yet. Tanya has taught beginners during the lockdown, though nobody who has never done a class before.
“If you can’t see but you suspect, you ask them and they’ll look and check.”
Any Iyengar yogi will tell you to expect hands-on adjustments in a yoga class. As Tanya said, sometimes you can’t tell whether your body is in alignment or not, especially if you’re new to the practice.
“Sometimes a student doesn’t quite know where the alignment should be, so you may need to turn hips or turn shoulders, so they’re in line or, pull someone’s arm a little, so it’s fully stretched,” she said.
Now, Iyengar teachers must find ways of giving unambiguous verbal instructions and corrections — tricky, since everyone responds differently — and study their computer screen a little harder to pick up any indications of incorrect positioning or alignment.
“It’s quite hard work for the teacher. You’ve got to be really on the case,” said Tanya.
Despite these difficulties, is there a future in online yoga classes? Tanya thinks there is. It’s been great for those who are less mobile and unable to travel, and when the lockdown is over, she’s planning on live-streaming some of her in-person classes.
A student’s perspective
“There’s an element of having to watch out for yourself.”
Online classes have emphasised students' need to look after themselves in class and double-check they are doing the poses correctly and safely since the teacher cannot see them so clearly. This is something more experienced yogis will find easier, but it should not discourage beginners from starting or continuing with yoga. A good camera will allow the teacher to see you in greater detail.
Lucy said: “I’ve actually gone out and spent probably £70–80 ($96–109) on a decent camera because I knew it was going to be long-term in the end. I’ve gone to quite some trouble to get a better camera.”
She also pointed out the importance of ensuring students can see the teacher from all angles. Some students use a phone or tablet, but the screens are really too small for a clear picture. Instead, Lucy does her classes via the TV screen. This, she said, makes it easier to understand the correct alignment and pick up on nuances that may otherwise be missed.
“There’s the whole social aspect. Not being able to see people in the flesh.”
Many yogis have made long-lasting friendships with fellow students and teachers but, though modern technology means we can socialise online, there are limitations. Being house-bound with a poor camera, small screens, or a dodgy internet connection make things all the harder and, after all, there is nothing quite like a hug.
“It’s great that we have all this modern technology but still, to have that warmth of other people…I can’t wait to get back,” said Lucy.
But, does Lucy think there are any positives? Yes, online yoga classes have made it possible to attend classes that are further away — maybe even in different countries — without leaving the comfort of your own home. In fact, some of the most senior Iyengar yoga teachers (all based in India) have started to live-stream their classes which have attracted hundreds of yogis worldwide.
“It does work.”
Post-lockdown, in-person classes will begin again; excellent news for serious yogis since these classes reap the best awards. Yet, there is also no doubt that the coronavirus outbreak has forever changed how Iyengar yoga is practised. Online classes will become a norm, and with a little effort from student and teacher could be very successful. For as Lucy said: “it does work.”