By Julie Marie Lopez
March 17, 2017
Full disclosure: I have an Instagram account and I use it to share information about my classes, workshops, retreats, and quite a few photos of my dogs. I have posted videos of my work online, and I offer classes in partnership with a mobile fitness app with moderate viewership.
As an industry, we give clout to exotic travelers and the digitally notorious. But, the daily work and consistent growth remains with the local studio teachers.
Pick up an issue of any popular yoga magazine and you will find the modern trailblazers of our industry loop into a circuit of continued faces at festivals, online, and in print articles. The yoga elite paved the way, scooped up endorsements, and, for the most part, left their studios.
Photo of one of Muriel Quinn’s workshops
Many have taken their workshops on the road. Some can be found in far-flung appearances at international locales, which is worth the adventure—if you can afford to get there. If not, then you may live vicariously—albeit inspirationally—through their Instagram feeds. A few of yoga’s recognizable faces have left public classes altogether and have consolidated all of their actual asana teaching online.
Taking classes online is a sure-fire way to feed the yoga masses. For many people, this is a necessary supplement to their daily practice. The innovation of yoga-meets-digital has opened the doors for many to try yoga for the first time or maintain a daily practice when getting to the studio isn’t possible. However, the online serving of yoga isn’t a replacement for a studio practice. Or to borrow an analogy from my studio-owner friend who is Greek-American (and thus a self-proclaimed food-metaphor goddess), ”It’s not a full meal.”
While I don’t think online yoga was ever intended to be a substitute for public classes, the proliferation of paid online content mixed with faces from glossy magazine pages, leading sponsored Insta-challenges, launching yoga apps, and upgrading the quality from grainy YouTube videos to full-scale production is starting to have the illusion of ordering a Michelin-star meal at take-out prices.
The reality is that this is much like sustaining yourself on dessert. It tastes good! It is well-crafted. The upfront cost is hard to pass up (and sometimes, still, free). Digital yoga serves a fantastic purpose when life doesn’t allow time for a studio visit. Yet, without consistent time in a local studio, with teachers who know us and continue to hone their craft every day through public classes, our yoga diet can quickly become devoid of the nourishment needed for a sustainable, holistic practice.
Before getting all troll-y on me, consider what yoga, in its essence, means: union, connection, removing the veil, and seeing past illusion. As teachers, we take this also to mean holding space for our students.
How can we do this via social media, online courses, and digital apps? Even if the classes were once “live,” it is still illusion.
I speak from experience when I admit that we can’t even help it. No matter how untouched a photo, how raw or real the video’s content, a message is crafted and served single-sided with no feedback or, at best, on a time delay. When filming for a fitness app, I don’t feel the vibe of followers in that very moment. I cannot keep my eye on a student practicing post-injury or offer support to the woman experiencing her first class back after childbirth.
There’s no opportunity to “read the room” online for how a sequence is landing, or course correct when intuition whispers to do so. While a digital teacher can participate with viewer’s feedback after the fact, what is offered during filming happens from assumptions gathered from experience, or from the audience there when it was filmed. The essential in-the-moment connection with a student taking live classes, which brings nuance, flavor, and true union is lost.
Here’s the rub. Each studio class is new. Every class is perfectly imperfect, and can never be made again in that way. Being there, in the flesh, being seen by a teacher and other yogis cannot fully be replaced. Nor should it be. Yoga’s impact is not measured in a-ha moments from handstand photos with a well-paired quote, hashtag digital challenges, or in five-minute videos of back-bending tricks.
Yoga asana’s impact on daily living, as part of a holistic system of yoga, creeps in subtly from consistent, dedicated work. Having online yoga available to supplement the studio-world is an innovative trend that opens up access. Take it like a vitamin.
As a student, get into a studio and have a full meal. Do the work, and keep showing up. Be courageous. Be seen. Nothing can replace an in-person, co-created experience with other students, and a teacher that is present, excited to learn about you and on board to support your growth.
As teachers, let’s keep innovating, but also never lose sight of teaching in the studio. It is where we can offer connected, nourishing experiences.
As a yoga collective, as we choose to continue sharing this path, our best investment remains with the local teacher and the brick-and-mortar studios.