16 Apr

Yoga mat, blocks, belt, blanket, laptop. Laptop...?! 

Yes, laptop. Getting ready for yoga class these days has changed.

For a start, you don't have to leave the house. You don't even have to shower/dress/clean your teeth. Online yoga brings your teacher (i.e. me) to you – or, at least, enables you to see and hear me on your computer, tablet or smart phone.

So how exactly do online yoga classes compare with 'real' ones? What do you need? And how can you get the best out of a virtual class experience?

Most online yoga is offered via video conferencing platform Zoom – a company few of us had heard of before the Coronavirus crisis struck. A slicker, simpler version of the better known Skype, Zoom's advantage over its competitors is that it doesn't require users to have an account. They can simply click a link to join an online 'meeting' (or, rather, yoga class). Which is why I (as a self-confessed technical novice) have chosen to use Zoom. It's also why I feel confident enough to share my newly acquired knowledge with you here, and to invite you to join my online yoga classes.

Of course the first thing you need before you start is a device with a screen and a camera that will enable you to get Zooming. A laptop, tablet or smart phone will all give access to the service, but the bigger the screen the better, when it comes to seeing and being seen. 

Try to recreate the view that I would have of you in a face-to-face class. Remember, what your camera sees is what I will see, so, if space allows, have it facing the long side of your mat, and try to place it far enough away that you can be seen in full when you are sitting, standing, and lying down. Don't worry if you aren't able to do this, as I'll let you know if you need to change the camera angle during different poses.

Although I obviously can't make any physical adjustments, I'll need to see you clearly so that I can give verbal cues as you practise. You will also want to see and hear me, so place your screen where you can see it, and check at the start of the class that your audio is working. 

For these reasons, it's a good idea to join the class a few minutes before start time. That way, we can check the set up, and can make any adjustments necessary.

Once you've got your camera in the right place, you will need to lay out your yoga things. If you usually borrow equipment, you may have to improvise. Remember, though, that nobody used props in yoga before BKS Iyengar introduced them, and even the great man himself started with everyday household objects. So get creative, and don't worry if you're unable to transform your living room into a yoga studio.

If you don't have a yoga mat, choose a non-slip floor for your practice, or spread out a bath towel. Chunky books can stand in for yoga blocks, while a tie or a dressing gown cord can act as a yoga belt. You'll probably already have a blanket, but, if not, a folded towel will do the same job.

The day before the class, I will send out the Zoom link inviting you to join the session. All you have to do is click the link a few minutes before the start time, which will take you into the class. You'll then see me and anyone else who has already 'entered'. 

Zoom's default set up shows whoever is speaking full screen, meaning that it 'flips' between speakers. To avoid this, and enable you to see and hear just me during the class, I will 'mute' everybody else when we start. This will keep me in view at all times and cut out sounds from other students. It is also another reason to arrive ahead of time – you'll then be able to check in with me before we begin, just as you would in a regular class. I'll 'unmute' everyone afterwards, so that you can ask any questions or mention any issues you may have had. (We had a few early glitches, but they should now have been resolved.)

My screen will be set to 'gallery view', so that I can keep an eye on everyone throughout the class. I will demonstrate poses from my mat, so you can see me more clearly, but then I'll move forwards, towards the camera, to take a look at you all as you hold each pose.

The format will be familiar if you've attended classes with me before, and will include poses that you probably already know. This is to give you more confidence in your practice, and to minimise the need for me to correct you. I won't be introducing any new or more challenging poses, as I can't offer the hands-on assistance that I would in person. Instead, you will have the opportunity to explore core poses differently, deepening your experience and learning to trust yourself and your body as you move into each asana.

Of course, yoga is not about making perfect shapes or getting your head onto your knee, and practising at home – albeit with virtual guidance – is a great way to realise this. All element of competition is removed when nobody else is there. There isn't the distraction of other students, or the peripheral awareness that somebody is doing the pose differently or 'better'. 

You can focus fully on yourself and learn to 'feel' the poses from the inside out. Rather than performing a particular move, or simply following an instruction, you can spread your awareness throughout your body and notice the subtleties of each asana.

This is true yoga, the integration of body and mind, and, by the strangest of twists, this most modern form of communications technology can lead us to the realisation of an ancient spiritual goal.

In a time of enforced 'lockdown' and social distancing, fear and uncertainty, your yoga practice can bring you back into balance, and enable you to find an inner calm and grounding that will help you through the turmoil. This is the perfect opportunity to take your yoga practice to a different level. It's time to get online...

If you'd like to take part in the next online yoga class, let me know and I'll send you a link to join.

Hope to 'see' you there!

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