During the pandemic as we sheltered at home for months on end, we have all been forced to exercise in different ways. I’ve seen friends running marathons in their gardens and personally had to wait weeks for kettle bells to come back in stock so I could create a little home gym. (They now gather dust next to the sofa but I’m sure I’ll find a good use for them soon – doorstop?) Our state-sanctioned walks, runs and cycles became a source of solace – a time to clear our heads. And we’ve all rolled out our yoga mats in our bedrooms and living rooms and logged onto zoom classes.
These new habits for many of us have become a way of life, so can we – and will we - make it a permanent thing, even when the studios and gyms reopen?
“Gyms serve as a sense of socialising and community, which are important,” says Harley Pasternak, author of The 5-Factor World Diet. “But we are also realising that gyms are not essential. People have been forced to learn how to exercise without the gym and are now finding this sense of ‘Wow, I can do this – I don’t need all this stuff. There’s a lot more independence right now.”
A massive factor for many of us is time.Remember the days when you used to need to carve out a good two hours or more in your day to do a class in a studio? The stress of rushing there after school drop off or before or after work, worried you’d get there late and find the class had already started and you weren’t allowed in, having to forfeit the £15 you’ve already paid. You needed a yoga class to get over the stress of the yoga class! Now you can roll out of bed and onto your mat in your pjs, log on for an hour while the kids watch TV and Bob’s your uncle. You can even slip in quietly on mute if you overslept.
There’s more to it than just convenience though. The space is yours and yours alone. You have the freedom to play and advance your practice at your own pace. A home practice builds discipline and allows a sense of self-discovery and empowerment.
Tapas, which translates as ‘fiery discipline’ is one of the five niyamas or observances, within the eight limbs of yoga as set out in Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Showing up, on your mat, again and again builds discipline, which results in a sense of achievement which in turn boosts confidence and improves your mental health. The more you practice, the more you get out of it, so the more you practice and so on.
There’s far less ego involved when you practice at home. How many times in a class environment have you looked at the person practicing next to you and made a judgment – of them or yourself? I did this all the time. I tried not to but I couldn’t help it. They were right there, doing crazy scorpion handstands between chatarangas and putting me off my flow. Equally, I’ll never forget practicing next to my teacher in a class once and, wanting to impress her, I did a tripod headstand but as we came back to standing my foot got tangled in her hair! I wanted my mat to swallow me up. In my defence, we were all lined up like sardines in a TriYoga studio in town, 60 of us sweating en masse millimetres from each other. Gotta say I won’t miss that either.
Don’t get me wrong, I love studios and the energy created from being in a room full of like-minded people practicing and breathing as one. Seeing the shifts yoga can create in other people’s lives is important to witness as a community. It’s inspiring. But we can still get this across our screens if you look for it. Sometimes on a zoom class when I congratulate someone for achieving a headstand for the first time I can see other students glance up at their screens to see it too. This is heart-warming for me. It reinforces the connection between us.
I love the little chats my students have amongst themselves after class too. When I’m having a bad day, seeing their smiling faces on my screen lifts me up just as much seeing them in real life ever did. And I know for some of my students who live on their own, seeing familiar faces on a zoom yoga class brought a sense of comfort and togetherness for them during the darkest, loneliest days of lockdown.
Perhaps most importantly of all practicing on your own you will develop a heightened conscious awareness of who you are and your relationship with yourself will change. This, after all, is the main reason we practice yoga as opposed to another form of exercise. It’s “the work” as the Americans like to call it.
The beauty of zoom classes is that you’re on your own, but you’re also not. You’re still held to account by having a teacher watching you, who can give personal instructions (as long as your camera angle is correct) and cheer you on when you’re doing well. That counts for so much in my eyes. Livestream classes are not as impersonal as a YouTube class. You know your teacher has your back.
As a teacher, this is something that motivates me. I don’t want to solely teach to a red flashing light recording me doing my moves that you can download. I may well do this in the future – never say never - but I wouldn’t want it to be my only output. I want to teach living breathing souls who om when I do and breathe in and out to my cues. It means we can still feed off each other’s energy which is the best part of a class environment – even if it’s done through technology.
So while studios and gyms reopen and we get to practice with other human beings again, let’s not discount this newfound joy we’ve discovered of rolling out our mats at home and logging on to practice. At the end of the day, the best yoga practice is one you will actually do, again and again and again. For many of us now, that’s a home practice.