Online yoga is no substitue to attending classes in a studio

As someone whose closest Iyengar studio is 3-hour return trip I miss actually attending a class and believe that Zoom or recorded classes are no substitute. Here’s my reasoning:

There is an energy about being in a room with others who share a passion and purpose. Have you ever felt tired and lacking in motivation but attended a class and then come out feeling calm and energised? A good teacher can ‘read the room’ and when attention is flagging, or energy levels sagging, can intelligently change instructions or sequencing to focus the attention of the class. In a studio, when the teacher calls attention to your breath you can hear other students breathing. This becomes part of the practice.

In a studio you can see what other students are doing and, although the focus should be on your own body, this can be incredibly instructive when you are learning. For example, the teacher says “straighten your arms” and you see someone in front of you standing confidently, reaching up with bent elbows you might question whether you look like that too and discover, yes, oh horror, your own elbows are bent! Also, seeing other students struggle with some asanas and not others puts your own struggles into perspective.

Attending a yoga school week after week, year after year with a continuity of instructors means that the teachers can guide you and push you when you are ready. “Today I’d like to see you do a headstand away from the wall”. A teacher in the room will stop you from injuring yourself through ignorance or ambition—for example twisting from your lumbar region or bending into a Paschimottanasana using your back. A teacher will from time to time adjust you when they can see that you need to make more space or move muscles in a certain direction. On a screen no one is Zooming into the bunched muscles above your buttocks! There is nothing to beat the sensation of being helped into an asana that you are ready for but can’t quite make the shape. Once you have the muscle memory of the shape it becomes possible.

In a classroom, a teacher can demonstrate focus points on a student and make adjustments to show how space can be made in an asana to allow energy flow. Watching this happen on a screen is very frustrating—you just can’t see. A teacher can spot you until you overcome fear in asanas such as dropbacks.

If you have an established practice and attend a school and then injure yourself, senior teachers are able to advise on alternatives to allow you to continue your practice and also assist your recovery.

Attending a class in a studio is a contract of sorts. All the students are silent and attentive. If not, the teacher brings their attention back to the room. In isolation, there is no such discipline. In Zoom classes in the first days of lock down, I could hear attendees (who logged in late and were not muted) having conversations, or getting dinner ready. Just as listening to music on your phone is no substitute for attending concert online yoga classes are no substitute for the real thing.


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