”I tried virtual yoga. Here’s why it may be better than the real thing”

[Another activity now only available in mediated form is yoga classes; this first person story from SFGate describes the (presence) experience it offers. See the original story for six more images and a video, and see a story in The Spaces for a picture and link filled “peek inside some of the world’s most striking yoga studios” offering virtual classes.  –Matthew]

[Image: Credit: Madeline Wells]

I tried virtual yoga. Here’s why it may be better than the real thing

By Madeline Wells, SFGATE
March 21, 2020

A few months ago, I finally caved into purchasing a membership at a small yoga studio just a few blocks from my apartment. For the first time in my entire life, I made a commitment to exercise two to three times a week — and I was even excited about going.

Then coronavirus came and upended basically every routine I’d carefully constructed over the past year. Before the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order, my yoga studio tried to adapt. Classes would be capped at 10 people, instructors would stop providing adjustments, props would no longer be provided by the studio, and everyone was asked to keep their mats six feet apart.

But it was only a matter of time before the studio had to close. With yoga being my main coping mechanism for anxiety and the state of the world being at its all-time anxiety-inducing peak, I dreaded the announcement (along with much bigger concerns like people I love getting sick or laid off from their jobs).

On Monday, Square One Yoga, which has locations in Emeryville, El Cerrito, San Leandro and Oakland, announced it would be going 100 percent virtual. Instead of meeting in person, instructors would teach classes via Zoom.

“I have owned this business for 11 years and we have never had to close,” said Square One Yoga founder Katy Cryer. “So at first the thought of closing just really broke my heart.”

But virtual classes have turned out to be a surprisingly effective solution.

“It’s turned into this really interesting thing,” she said. “Virtual classes are fun. Teachers do this for a living, and since I’m a small business, I can’t pay them when no classes are open. So this keeps them making money and keeps students moving their bodies while stuck at home.”

On the first day of the shelter-in-place order, I found myself in a downward spiral after a few hours of reading apocalyptic news headlines. So I signed up for an evening “moderate mindful flow” class, cleaned the clutter off my bedroom floor to make room for a yoga mat, and logged onto Zoom.

The vibe of a virtual yoga class is quite different from a regular one. People aren’t necessarily wearing cute workout outfits — instead, I spotted a lot of sweatshirts and even pajama pants. Dogs, children and bunnies popped into view. Every little square on screen was a glimpse into people’s private lives. It felt very intimate.

Of course, sharing video of yourself was totally optional, and at first I opted to keep mine off, worried others might judge the state of my room or my messy hair. But I found myself getting distracted without the hawk eyes of a virtual yoga instructor to hold me accountable, so I turned it back on and settled into class and lit a candle.

My room is the place where I feel most comfortable, so I felt cozier than at an actual yoga studio. But unlike watching a yoga YouTube video, the instructor could see everyone and offered adjustment suggestions based on what they could see of us on their screen.

When I logged on for another yoga class with my usual instructor the following day, I even got called out by name for a suggested adjustment (if that sounds embarrassing to you, it’s actually super helpful and not too terrifying once you get used to it happening in real yoga class).

Of course, there were drawbacks to doing yoga at home. My roommates came home during the middle of a class, and with my bedroom right by the door, their laughter and chatter were pretty distracting.

But there was also one huge benefit: at the end of the class, when it was time for Shavasana (a.k.a. corpse pose, where you lie on your back and meditate for a while), there was no rush to leave. A few minutes into the extremely relaxing pose, my instructor quietly told us she was going to log off and let us meditate for as long as we wished.

Talk about cozy.

At the end of the class, I felt about 100 times calmer. My back and neck, which had been sore from working at home in a less-than-ideal setup, thanked me for the stretches. It was the same feeling of tranquility and well-being that always washed over me after regular yoga class. And I felt a little socially fulfilled, too. I’d hung out with my favorite yoga instructor for an hour, and even caught a glimpse of my friend who usually goes to classes with me.

“I love coming to yoga class and being at a studio, but with online video you still get a sense of community,” said Cryer. “And it’s live, so you get the teacher’s real unedited personality.”

Of course, the studio is still struggling financially without being able to offer in-person classes. But if enough students sign up for the Zoom classes, they just might make it. Square One offers a week of unlimited virtual classes for $39 to entice new students, and asks existing members to not suspend their memberships during this time.

Other yoga and pilates studios are taking advantage of technology to keep classes going through the pandemic, too, whether it’s on Zoom or Instagram Live. With a lot of people newly discovering the joys of working out from home, I’ve got a feeling that even once the coronavirus outbreak is under control, we’ll be seeing a lot more gyms and yoga studios continue to offer virtual options.

“Like I said, I’m having a lot of fun doing it,” said Cryer. “It’s something I never would have done, and now I’ll probably always use it.”


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