(This story is being republished in light of Yoga Day 2022.)
Amrita wakes up at 6 every morning, drinks her morning tea, and turns on her laptop propped up on her bedside table. For the next hour, this little space between her bed and the closet is her 'yoga class.'
She diligently spends an hour in the morning practising different asanas and breathing exercises with her other classmates, each in their own tiny box, as their teacher–also in her own living room/ make shift yoga studio–guides them along.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is to not take our bodies for granted.
With a virus becoming the centre of our lives, the parallel boom in the healthcare and fitness industry in the past year and a half is hardly surprising.
But of all the fitness regimes that went online, yoga has emerged as the most sought after form of workout in the pandemic.
Yoga with Adriene, a YouTube channel run by American actress, Adriene Mishler, that had around 6 million subscribers in January of 2020, is now the most subscribed Yoga channel on the internet with 9.9 million subscribers.
Adriene is just one of many yogis and yoginis that have amassed great following during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is it that makes yoga the perfect candidate for pandemic fitness?
The Zoom Yoga Boom: Why Yoga?
Both Priya (freelance yoga instructor) and Zubin (founder of the AtréYoga studio in Delhi) attest to a growth in people's interest in yoga during the pandemic, a huge reason for this being how easy accessing these classes have become.
"We have clients from ten years ago who moved away rejoining us now," says Zubin.
"It was a bit of a yo-yo scene with the numbers.There was a boom in the first wave, then it settle a bit and then people came back again, people are coming back again. But overall its definately been productive for us."Zubin Atré
One reason for this is the obvious convenience of it.
Yoga, is by design, the perfect 'lockdown workout' –one you can do with ease in isolation, without equipment, even in cramped spaces.
"You don't need fancy equipment, and you don't really need any training, you can just decide to wake up one morning and do yoga, and just do it," says Amrita.
"Working out is something that I have always meant to do but never was able to get around to it. But now, because its online I'm able to squeeze it into my day without any hassle. I don't have to get dressed and I don't have to leave my bedroom."Amrita
Amrita also goes on to talk about how these online classes have become more than just exercise sessions.
"It's an hour that I get to myself to unwind, you know, away from the kids, work, and chores," she says.
When asked about the most common reasons people sign up for these online classes, Priya says, "There are the obvious reasons– stress, health issues from sitting at the desk for too long, and also just the need to move and the need to breathe."
Breathing to Keep Your Wits About You
Another appeal of Yoga is that it is a holistic wellness regime that helps not only with physical but also mental health–something most of us have struggled with in the last year and a half.
Elevated levels of stress came with being thrust into a situation none of us have experience navigating, and many found themselves seeking solace in meditation and breathing exercises.
"It's been stressful for us all, and I find yoga really helps me with relaxing," says Amrita.
"Now doing deep breathing exercises like pranayama have just become a part of all the daily sequences," adds Priya.
Many companies have also been organising group sessions for their employees.
"During the pandemic there have been so many of these corporate companies which are asking us to take yoga sessions for their employees," says Zubin.
A lot of corporations are interested in organising group session for their employees–to ease stress, help with ergonomics, and to ease the physical stress of working from home.
“An interesting requirement that came was from a company that said, we are about to lay off a lot of people and we need you to first do a session for them before we break the news to them.”Zubin Atré
Inside an Online Yoga Class
It took a couple of classes to get over the awkwardness and the virtual barrier between them but a few classes in, everyone in her batch has eased into the whole 'online thing', Amrita reports.
Priya also talks about how the online experience is both more and less intimate at the same time.
“Initially, the first class is very formal, but in a few classes people start loosening up," says Priya. "The comfort level at this point is quite interesting."
"It's more intimate because you get to see people in their personal spaces, people aren't so bothered about what they are wearing or whether they were passing gas," laughs Priya.
"But there's definitely a barrier when it comes to communication, and transfer of energy that will always be there," she adds.
“Even if we can see, as trained yoga teachers where someone is placing their joints, and how it should be aligned, there is only so much we can do virtually. And that barrier is always going to be there with online classes.”Zubin Atré
Navigating this can be difficult, especially instructors can't physically help the students with their poses. But they find ways to work around this problem.
“We use the shape and position of their mat as a reference for our instructions. This kind of puts each and every student within a single space.”Zubin Atré
And what about preventing accidents and ensuring the safety of the students?
“This is an internal dialogue that happens to me all the time," says Priya.
What I have found works for me is, first giving them as many modifications as possible before telling them the final pose. That works.Priya Panchwaddkar
“You have to be very clear with your instructions. You’re not just addressing one person, but many people who are following you just by your words," says Zubin.
He adds that though they are not able to do a full physical assessment for new students, they make sure to speak to them in as much detail as possible about all their underlying health issues.
Making the Move Online
"Our yoga studio looks more like a video production studio now," laughs Zubin. "As I speak to you, I'm walking on a green screen set up."
Zubin and his team have been doing this for around 13 years now, and having an established setup has its advantages.
They were able to make the best of the online transition, he says, given that they already had a good digital infrastructure in place.
"We were very technically strong already. We had mics, lights, cameras. Not just did we have them, we were already very familiar with using them. So for us the transition was very simple and intuitive.”Zubin Atré
But, for independent freelance instructors–teaching from their homes with just their laptops–it's been a little different.
"Finding clients was the most challenging part," says Priya, a freelance yoga instructor.
"When the pandemic happened, I wasn't thinking about what's going to happen in the next week or the next month. There was just so much uncertainty," she adds.
"But things gradually picked up. It started off with me putting stuff online, alot of friends and friends of friends wanted to join,and that's how it spread."Priya Panchwadkar
An advantage of yoga is that anyone can do it, and with online classes it has made it easier for anyone to teach it.
Along with students interested in learning yoga , there has also been a boom in those teaching yoga online during the pandemic.
"For freelance teachers it was quite hard to take offline classes anyway before, Especially for a person iIn a city like Mumbai (where priya is from) finding studio space can get quite difficult and even expensive."Priya Panchwadkar, Yoga instructor
"But with online classes, it has made it so much easier for people to start teaching from their living rooms," she adds.
But the flip side to this, she points out, is that "literally anyone with a laptop and a mat can now become a yoga teacher."
"The question now becomes, where is the authenticity? Who is an authentic yoga teacher?"Priya Panchwadkar, Yoga instructor
The Way Ahead
Is online yoga with all its conveniences, then, here to stay?
Both Zubin and Priya think so. Although, Priya expresses that she would like to have both.
“I would like to go back to physical classes as well, but this has connected me with so many people, I don’t think I can go back fully."Priya Panchwadkar