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Online Yoga & Teaching “Off the Mat”

Updated: Sep 23, 2022


Before COVID-19 I had never taken or taught a yoga class online. As a student, I like the motivation I get from my teacher and the students in class working hard alongside me. You can feel their effort and that feeling is fuel. As a teacher, it's all about being in the room and walking around, engaging with my students, breathing together and feeling their energy. We co-create the class; I am constantly looking at them, attuning to them, and making decisions based on what I see. It's a conversation, I learn their needs by what I observe in their bodies. This communication is paramount to me.

If that doesn't seem familiar, it's often referred to as teaching "off the mat." Perhaps you take a yoga class where the teacher does the entire practice on their yoga mat so that they can model the postures and you can mimic their shape with your body? When I've come across promotions for online yoga, I've only found this style of teaching. I don't teach that way because it doesn't allow me to see my students. I use my voice to cue them into postures and they learn how to move themselves to find the alignment that is safest and feels just right in their different bodies. I occasionally demonstrate a posture when I notice confused faces, but then my eyes are promptly back on them, assessing how they are interpreting the pose as they move and breathe into it.

When studios were closed due to COVID-19, I chose to take some time off from teaching. I was concerned that I couldn't deliver the same quality of instruction online and I was also afraid that I would hate doing it. It's been months and I'm still not ready to be inside a studio, a lot of my students aren't either. One reached out to me to teach them privately through Zoom because that's how they felt safe. I had my misgivings, but now I was being asked directly to put aside my story and try something new. At the end of the day, it's not about me, it's about serving others in the way that they need to be served.

Now that I've done it... sincerely... I love it!

No, it's not the same. It's also not worse, it's just different. I'm talking specifically about a LIVE yoga class that streams through a platform like Zoom, where we are still co-creating an experience together. There's something special about each of us being in our own sacred place, connecting together but physically apart. Some students benefit from this by experiencing a greater ability to be vulnerable and open in the safety of their space. There can be less to pull your gaze away from your internal experience, less fear of judgement from classmates or the teacher, less need to perform and less pressure. The energy and connection, the communication is still there. I can't manually adjust a student, but I can still teach off the mat and my full presence is with my students.

I hope to be teaching in a studio again soon, but I will probably always offer some online classes and instruction because it's actually quite profound. And there are some perks - at least with my offerings! After Slow Down Flow, late in the evening, I turn the class off during savasana and if your savasana turns into a little snooze on your mat... snooze away. There's no getting up, going out in the bright lights, the shuffle, the shoes, the traffic. Just you in your comfy little home. After Wake Up Flow, hop right in the shower! That's what I do! You save time and energy and you are still part of something that is living and breathing and happening right now.

"Skeptical" is a kind way to describe my previous attitude toward online yoga. Now, it's certainly not the onlyway I want to deliver and experience it, but I genuinely appreciate LIVE online yoga and how it's brought me together with so many different people to do wonderful things. If you're skeptical, why not try something new that might surprise you, like it totally blindsided me? Every teacher is different so if something doesn't feel quite right, it might not be the online platform, it might be that the teacher isn't the right fit. Try a couple before you totally call it quits.

If you have thoughts or experiences with online yoga, live or recorded, or teaching on or off the mat, please share in the comments below. I love to learn about others' perspectives and lived experiences. Let's talk and grow from one another!


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