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With the world plunged in a crisis never before seen in modern times, there is one shining light that has stood out – the digital transformation of yoga at a speed and in directions no one expected. With most people across the globe confined within their homes or within strict boundaries of social distancing, the billion-dollar yoga industry was not entirely in the dark regarding the opportunities offered by technology. 

Even before the pandemic, famous yoga teachers had hundreds of thousands of followers on platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Many yoga shalas, especially in America and Europe, offered some classes or published self-practice routines online. Some teachers and yoga brands contributed content to self-learning apps for smartphones. However, these were, in most cases, just extensions of teachers’ and shalas’ core business – group and personal classes and workshops conducted in shalas, retreats, ashrams and students’ homes. The traditional method of teaching yoga personally from master to pupil was still what most serious yoga teachers swore by. Enthusiasts and serious students travelled thousands of kilometres to locations like Rishikesh, Bali, Goa and Thailand to learn yoga from the true gurus; while also yoga practice at shalas became a sought-after clique in many global markets.

The pandemic brought forth a digital expression of the ancient tradition. Looking back at the last four months, we have observed a concerted effort from yoga teachers and shalas to attempt to shift their entire work online. The “first wave” of online yoga, in the form of pre-recorded yoga routines and training modules as smartphone apps for self-learning yoga or meditation, has been bolstered by the “new wave” of online yoga, which has come rolling in faster than anyone had previously expected. Not only are the YouTube and Instagram videos flourishing more than ever, but also some core components of yoga teaching are now made available through conferencing apps like Zoom, Skype and WebEx, such as:

Group classes

The regular group classes held in shalas are now taught online, like a virtual studio. Live instructions and corrections are presented to the students using technology. 

Individual or personal classes​

The teacher and student connect through a personal meeting, wherein the teacher can provide the same personal attention to the student.

Workshops

Shalas and teachers offer ad-hoc or special workshops, such as yoga nidra or yoga for mental health, that address a specific need or offered as a theme-based package.

Teachers’ training

Yoga courses are typically attract students from all around the world seeking to have a deep experience of yoga or to begin their journeys as yoga teachers in future. A rising number of yoga schools are now offering these online, through video-conferenced closed groups.

Do note that Amrutha Bindu Yoga offers all of the above online now. We were among the first in Bengaluru to make this transition, so that our students do not lose the continuity of their yoga journey. In addition, we also offer a number of live online master classes and workshops hosted on platforms like Instagram and Facebook, besides publishing regular videos on our YouTube channel.

The digital transformation of yoga teaching has a number of obvious and hidden advantages over conventional teaching methods. Through our experience of teaching yoga online during the last three months, and by listening to the voices of each of our students, we have understood the many benefits of technology. At the same time, we must be mindful that learning or teaching yoga online is not the panacea of experience. Just as any journey of transformation (yoga included!), one swallow does not make a summer.  While the transition to online teaching may have been an enforced one and one that has taken place in the blink of an eye, there are several bumps in the road that we need to be aware of and avoid.

BENEFITS

Ease of access

The online world is not limited by physical boundaries or distance. Accessing yoga classes needs only an internet connection and a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Greater choice and reach

Students are no longer limited to the yoga teacher or shala in their neighbourhood, nor do they need to get on a plane, book a retreat and pay handsomely for these to learn from the best teachers.

Greater flexibility

With most people working from home, more flexibility in planning daily routines has set in. Combined with time saved on commuting, students can now schedule yoga classes based more on their convenience than yoga being pigeon-holed into specific times of the day. Yoga teachers and shalas, too, have been able to rejig their schedules to make classes more accessible and available to students.

Increasing practice time

With better access and flexibility, students will be able to dedicate more hours every week for their yoga practice. In the “offline” world, a student could, on average, practice yoga for around 3 hours a week, but in the online world, that average could easily rise to 4 or 5 hours a week. More yoga, more joy!

No more inhibitions

It can be very challenging to practice yoga during a full class and not compare or compete with the neighbour -feeling inadequate or perceivably not at the level of others in the group. Practicing yoga online means that you are there for you alone, completely focussed on your own practice with no distractions or opportunity to compare or compete. Practicing yoga at home makes it solely about your yoga journey, which can create a much more meaningful and impactful experience.

CHALLENGES

Commoditisation

Yoga, at its heart, is an individual voyage of self-discovery. No two people will derive the same experience or same benefits from a class or even an entire course or workshop. An unfortunate tendency in the online world is to make every offering into a commodity, and yoga teaching is not immune from this. Devising a fixed, standardised “script” without paying attention to individual and group needs, for example, can be detrimental to the student, both physically and emotionally.

Price war at the expense of quality

With any digital business, there is a perception of lower costs. This has led to various players within the yoga industry to exploit the online medium as the basis for a price war, to present the least expensive offer to potential customer. Some shalas, especially large studio chains that also offer other fitness disciplines, are looking to undercut everyone else by offering eye-watering low prices for their yoga classes. Unfortunately, this price war will (and already has started to) sacrifice the experience, compassion and wisdom that are essential for any yoga teacher.

Not a complete experience

Yoga is a practice that has the master-student relationship at its heart, where the master lovingly guides the student along the journey of self-realisation. This involves being physically present with the student as she/he practices yoga – be it for observing the student’s progress first-hand or for making necessary corrections and providing vital feedback to the student. Although technology is advanced enough to allow the teacher and student to interact via high-definition video, the experience is not quite the same as being in proximity.

Is online teaching of yoga the future? Will online yoga teaching completely replace traditional yoga shalas? Our opinion is that the nature of yoga is such that it can never be completely effective in an online avatar. In the present moment, online yoga offers a bunch of exciting advantages and benefits, and may well be the only option available, but it can never be a full substitute for the traditional methods of imparting the wisdom of yoga. Besides, this is just the beginning of a transitional phase, one brought about by circumstances than by conscious evolution, and there are yet a number of lessons to be learned. We cannot outright reject or accept online yoga teaching, but we recognise that it is a compelling option for teachers and students alike, and one that is here to stay.

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