After a decades-long boom, countless yoga classes around the world are now one of two things: cancelled or online.

Online yoga lessons might sound like a great idea during the pandemic – until you realise the instructor can’t give you proper advice or play music to you due to rights restrictions. (Photos: dpa)

While you might initially think this means a more comfortable and discrete environment at home, in practice yoga studios are admitting that you’re losing things like a group dynamic, expert advice on your moves and even something as simple as shared soundtrack.

Some studios are highlighting that online lessons afford participants a new privacy. “When you arrive in class, your camera and your microphone will be turned off,” Toronto’s Yogaspace tells people taking part in its yoga lessons on Zoom.

“You may choose to turn them on when invited by the teacher. Or just leave them off and practise in privacy.”

However not being in the studio comes with the disadvantage that the instructor won’t be able give you advice on your moves, and teachers say they need to ensure people are aligning their bodies correctly and keeping the proper posture so as to avoid injuries.

“I cannot have full access to my students. Because from the camera, we only see one angle,” says Lun Piseth, whose Nataraj Yoga studio Phnom Penh is among those forced to close in Cambodia.

He had had started by limiting the number of people in a class to five, keeping yoga mats farther apart and cleaning everything with an alcohol solution, but that was before authorities ordered studios to close in April.

Now, the group dynamic just isn’t the same on Zoom or Skype. “We don’t have the same energy [online as compared to] working with the same people in the classroom,” Piseth says.

Asked whether his studio is likely to continue online classes if the pandemic subsides, Piseth says the studio will more than likely return to in-person sessions. “Our experience with yoga is more like a place, like a community.”

Sapping even more from the atmosphere, instructors aren’t always allowed to play music to their students.

Announcing its switch to online lessons during the pandemic, London’s YogaWorks studio says their teachers won’t be able to play any music to participants.

“Due to music licence permissions we cannot stream online music so feel free to have your own music in the background (on mute!),” the studio says on its website. Some teachers are sharing Spotify playlists ahead of the lesson, the studio notes.

People practising yoga at the Nataraj Yoga studio in Phnom Penh in June 2019. (Photo: Courtesy of Nataraj Yoga/dpa)

The pandemic isn’t just bad for yoga lessons. Teachers, too, are losing out due to a lower number of students.

En Dara, who owns Karuna Yoga studio in Phnom Penh, says she’s losing money and no longer able to employ most of her teachers since moved classes online after closing in mid-February.

“Right now, they don’t have income because they stay at home and are not working,” she says.

Piseth says his studio and teachers are also earning less money than before, since fewer people – about six on average – are joining each online session. “For the studio, we try our best just for now, just for surviving.”

Using a tripod-mounted iPhone to film herself so students watching via Zoom can mimic her poses, Dara says she has no microphone and needs to speak more loudly than she normally would.

She also misses being able to adjust students’ bodies by hand and ensuring they don’t hurt themselves, especially when doing handstands or headstands.

And yet in spite of all the disadvantages, both instructors believe online yoga is a great source of relief at a time like this.

Everyone is very stressed due to the pandemic, but yoga can help people stay calm, according to Dara. “Some of my students cannot sleep at night because the pandemic is always on their minds,” she says.

Whether students are on Zoom, Skype or Facebook, online yoga classes “will be the best option for them to keep their health” and maintain their physical and mental well-being.”

Yoga teacher En Dara poses in her studio in Phnom Penh while broadcasting the class via Zoom.

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