Some time ago a friend of mine who had never done yoga before asked me to start private one-to-one sessions. I love teaching beginners, she was my first private client, and I was thrilled. We had our first call, where we talked about her idea and intentions and my proposal on how to go on with this delightful quest. Right at the start of our call, she said to me almost shyly; “Petra, actually, rather than yoga I would like to learn how to still my mind and meditate.”
This was such a crystal-clear example of how the idea of “yoga” as we know it from social media became almost repelling to some people.
It hit me so hard. I am aware that yoga is perceived mainly as asana (postures) in the West, but this was such a crystal-clear example of how the idea of “yoga” as we know it from social media became almost repelling to some people - people who do not care about twisting into fancy poses and sculpting their “yoga bodies”, who do not want to post “yoga selfies” on their Instagram, people who seek the actual yoga that brings clarity and stillness of mind and helps us live skillfully in everyday life.
There are so many ways in which the western capitalist ego-driven culture turned yoga bad, made it exclusive, snobby and an appropriated billion-dollar industry.
There are so many ways in which the western capitalist ego-driven culture turned yoga bad, made it exclusive, snobby and an appropriated billion-dollar industry. From expensive memberships to designer studios, yoga mats and clothes worth hundreds of euros through classes available only to young, slim and able-bodied people to avoiding chanting and use of Sanskrit not to make students uncomfortable, stripping the practice of its cultural elements making it “appropriate” and attractive for the western market… I could go on forever.
Now, in the midst of pandemics, studios are closed and yoga moved from the real world to the virtual. The addition of technology into yoga may not sound like an opportunity to change the world of yoga from less ego- and profit-driven to more accessible, unless you take a closer look.
For the past year, we have been confined to our living rooms and fellow practitioners become tiny squares on the screen. We are on our own, left to our own devices. All of a sudden nobody cares about our latest Lululemon outfit matching our expensive mat. On most days, we are happy to make it out of our pajama, and we have probably finally realized that we can practice in whatever (comfortable) clothes we find lying around. The option for students to have their cameras off allows the shy or socially anxious to join a class without stress, not to mention it becomes lot easier not to compare yourself to the other students in class.
With much of the logistics of getting to a studio gone, yoga has become so much more accessible.
Less space for ego is great, but more accessibility to yoga is my favorite on the list of positives of the pandemics. With much of the logistics of getting to a studio gone, yoga has become so much more accessible. There is no need to drive anywhere, to worry about parking and stairs. It is such a relief for anyone living with chronic illness, challenged mobility and other health issues that would normally stand in a way to a yoga class. Nowadays, your yoga class is right there, readily available in your living room, in the comfort of your home, with nobody watching (unless you leave your camera on and help your teacher out of the darkness) and nobody to compare yourself to.
I have also observed with great joy that students leaned more into the subtle practices. Chanting, meditation, mantras - I’ve always taught them in my classes, but only now I feel lot less resistance from the other side of the screen. We are all tired, the lockdowns are never-ending, exhausting and the light at the end of the tunnel goes on and off far too often. Who has got energy for a demanding session of arm balances and pretzel twisting? A chanting session, calming pranayama or long guided relaxation under your favorite blanket is like a hug we all need so much more than flipping our arm in Natarajasana.
Don’t get me wrong, I miss guiding people through their practice in real life, connecting and laughing together. I miss feeling the atmosphere in the room and the subtle exchanges of energy. Teaching online is like teaching in the dark sometimes (more on that in another post). But I am happy to be challenged as a teacher, if it can bring yoga back to people regardless their ability, background, age, size… simply back to ALL people. If it can bring the true yoga back.
When studios re-open, it’s my hope that we can all meet there wearing old sweatpants as we enjoy a practice that respects the culture it comes from and reflects diversity of people, their bodies and their needs.
The world will not go back to normal. After the pandemics, the yoga world will be different, running in some hybrid online-real life mode, hopefully bringing together the best of the two worlds. When studios re-open, it’s my hope that we can all meet there wearing old sweatpants as we enjoy a practice that respects the culture it comes from and reflects diversity of people, their bodies and their needs.
Thank you for reading.
 I am aware that the world division in East and West is problematic. I’m using it here for the sake of simplicity and without aiming to enter a complex debate.