Thoughts on Teaching During Covid-19

Life has been different in New York State since mid-March 2020 when we were all directed to stay home and quarantine for the safety of ourselves, our oved ones, and our community. A few days before it was made official that gyms and studios would be closing, my studio, Samsara Yoga Center, made the decision to close our doors and move classes to a screen. Our small studio in Jamestown, NY as well as studios all over the country and world quickly had to adapt. These are some of my reflections of teaching and practicing from home.

 

Where is Everybody?

Going from a room of students to staring at myself teaching to a camera was initially awkward and uncomfortable, and still is, to be honest. As a yoga teacher I never practiced while I taught, meaning I didn’t plan a thoughtful, progressive class so that I could practice for 75 minutes with everybody else. Instead, I warmed up with the class so that I could demo new or challenging poses, but I also walked the room checking alignment and giving verbal and physical adjustments. Teaching yoga was not my time to practice yoga, it was a kinesthetic communication.

Now I have no students to feed off of, I have nobody to teach. I have no idea the level of the student who is practicing with me during the live filming and of course nor the level of student choosing to practice with the filmed video at a later time. Therefore, I have to include a lot of modifications just in case, which I do in a studio class as well, but this time it feels more overwhelming to give all modifications (which is impossible) just in case the person practicing has wrist issues, tight hamstrings, low back pain, or any other number of countless ailments.

One option to change all of this would be to alter this experience so that I could see  students would be to switch my classes to Zoom instead of FB Live, but I like the open schedule that filmed classes provide for my students who are mothers or busy and like many of us, whose schedules have gone out of the window and now can practice whenever they want, not just at 6pm on Thursday. Another reason I am not going with Zoom is because my ego does not want to cope with a screen of no-shows. It’s damaging enough to watch people come and go on a Live Stream on FB, but at least some people click on the live stream now and again to check it out and there are some dedicated students (my awesome sister) who practice with me week after week.

Maybe I should Just Quit

I have been practicing and teaching for a eleven and seven years, respectively, I have taught in many different locations as I moved around the world and traveled. My classes are sometimes full and sometimes only one student shows up and we have a 1:1 private class. I roll with the ebbs and flows of student population in class, but recently during virtual teaching I honestly considered calling it quits for a while. It felt futile. That I wasn’t reaching many, that I couldn’t properly teach, couldn’t react to students and give them modifications, that nobody was tuning in. And to be honest, I have lost the bulk of my yoga income due to the virus. I will be ok since yoga is my side hustle, but as well as being a primary passion in my life, I also teach yoga for an income, which has not been reduced to almost zero.

Then I listened to a couple of podcasts on adapting to this time and my creativity was reignited. Knowing that every other yoga teacher is also struggling right now didn’t necessarily make me feel better, but it made me realize that my dark thoughts are probably common. You really put yourself out there teaching a class and it doesn’t matter how many themes I teach on letting go of the ego, it is always there nagging me constantly. We all feed off of our surroundings, interactions, and increasingly more and more off of social media, all of it feeding our egos for better or for worse. Not having many watch my live stream, no privates, no corporate sessions, and no income was quite the kick in the gut.

Seeing the Bright Side

Thankfully, I have pulled myself out of that sense of defeatism and am switching my perspective from a place of feeling futile to feeling inspired  to be creative and work with our current situation. Now is a good time to try new things, to create the content that has floated around the back of my mind without ever being fully formulated. Now I have the time to bring my ideas into fruition. In fact, I did just that when I taught an Earth Day Yoga class, which was a blend of my two passions – environmentalism and yoga. As I mentioned in the class and a post, the more you learn about very real situations in our environment the more depressed you may become, yoga is a necessity to curb those feelings of sadness and to bring us all together to make the changes that are needed.

I can’t deny a truth that teaching online makes my yoga more accessible to people everywhere. Students that I taught years ago in Korea can now practice with me if they wish. I can practice with my old teachers and discover new teachers around the world. As much as I was hoping that people would donate, even something very small like $2 or $3 for a class, I no longer hold on to that thinking, because I don’t only teach for money (although I know that my skill is monetarily valuable and am not arguing that teachers should not be paid) but to spread the mental and physical benefits of yoga, especially when needed such as now.

There will come a time when I will be back to teaching in person. Until then I will develop more content that I haven’t been brave enough to teach, and if nobody watches, well, I can handle that. Maybe it will reach the one person that needs it and it will have all been worth it.

Yoga in the time of Covid 19

One day before schools shut down in NYS, the yoga studio where I work, Samsara Yoga Center decided to close their doors and make classes available online for students, a few days later, all NYS gyms and restaurants closed their doors. The past few weeks of teaching from home and practicing from home have been somewhat stressful as I learn the technology, but also really comforting and grounding. Friends from years ago joined my online class, which was a beautiful surprise. This past Sunday I simultaneously practiced with over 2k people and Sean Corne.

As a teacher it is slightly difficult to teach live stream classes or pre-recorded classes taught to nobody. The first reason is that there are no students to feed off of, to make real time micro changes to class when the students are fatiguing or to adjust common alignment issues. In order to give as many cues for as many bodies and abilities as possible it feels as if I am speaking too quickly and lose my breath (which can also be attributed to speaking fluidly through namaskara A & B.)

The other difficulty is the unreliability of the technology. Primarily the ability to decide to teach from home and to be available to anyone in the world with a couple of clicks is absolutely a blessing. However, when the camera doesn’t turn on, or as happened yesterday, you accidentally record from the wrong FB profile, and you are dealing with fixing the issues just as your class is set to begin and then once the camera starts rolling you have to revert right to your calm, teacher self is a chameleon-like necessary skill and causes real stress.

The primary thing that I miss about live, in person classes are the people. The energy, the community, the small talk. I practice mostly from home, but when I go to a vinyasa class in studio, I feed off of the high energy and feel so invigorated. This is something that I hope my vinyasa students feel when they attend our weekly vinyasa classes in studio and that I am looking forward to when we are able to meet again.

But to bring it back to the positives, I felt so connected while practicing with so many others around the world with a live stream with Sean Corne. Sean gave the practice so much meaning and united us through these difficult times. As people joined and commented on the live stream I saw that three of my friends were on which made me smile knowing that we were doing class together.

In my biased opinion, yoga is absolutely needed right now. Intentional movement of the body is beneficial to those of us isolated in our houses for weeks on end. Deep, calm breathing helps us find that body/mind connection and helps us ground. There are so many independent teachers and large and small studios offering online classes, varieties of styles to try, and the ability to reconnect with favorite teachers and studios from our past.

Some of these classes are completely free, but many teachers are asking for small donations for their time and skill and because we have lost our income for the foreseeable future. If you have a couple of dollars that you could spare and can donate a class fee or a small amount to the teacher or studio that you practice with, then that will help the studios pay their teachers, pay the rent and utilities, and keep them afloat. I have seen a beautiful outpouring of support for local restaurants at this time and would love to see a similar support for other small businesses in similar situations, except many small businesses are even worse off than restaurants right now as their doors are completely shut.

To support your local studio you can donate, buy gift carts or passes for the future, or shop their online boutiques. If you do not have the spare income to donate or give right now, then you can like, share, comment and keep practicing with them virtually.