It’s not often that I compare myself to the Queen, but I did notice in her Christmas speech that she didn’t mention the words Pandemic or Covid once. In all my newsletters, posts and blogs I have made a concerted effort to avoid the elephant in the room. I wish I could say the reason is there are so many other things to talk about… but I think I just don’t want to add to the noise. It is loud out there. Or perhaps I am more ostrich-like than regal, burying my head in the sand (but doing a wonderful headstand while I am at).
Well, here we go again. Lockdown 3.0. We kind of knew it was coming, but that doesn’t make the news any easier to hear.
But in the Prime Minister’s latest lockdown announcement we heard that “roughly one in 50 people have contracted the virus, higher in some parts of the country, lower in others.” This means that we need to play our part to help those NHS staff and key workers who are working so hard and sacrificing so much to save lives.
But we are still allowed to feel sorry for ourselves, as any tentative plans we’d made for the next couple of months and a new year go down the drain – again.
Remember being a kid, the night before the start of the new school year? Fear grips your churning stomach – a new class, a new teacher, a new label as a ‘big girl’.
At the same time, excitement radiating from every pore at the idea of seeing friends, sharing (and embellishing) your summer holiday adventures and the ultimate joy of getting away from your older/younger brother/sister. (more…)
We’ve all seen the photos of the re-opened gyms in Hong Kong with perspex screens between each running machine. There have also been yoga classes with each student confined inside a plastic sheeting cocoon. It looks futuristic, other-worldly – and bleak.
On Tuesday, the government announced measures to further ease the lockdown from Saturday 4th of July – aptly Independence day in the States. There will still be social distancing measures in place, but these will now be reduced to ‘one-metre plus’ where two metres is not possible, and with the addition of face coverings, additional hygiene, and altered layout for indoor public spaces. However, gyms, swimming pools, and by default – yoga studios – are not included in the businesses allowed to open from the 4th.
As disappointing as this will be for many, there is a (yet unconfirmed) rumour that mid-July is now set as the date. At some point, in-person classes will return. So let’s take a look at how yoga classes can operate NOW under the current guidelines – and IN THE FUTURE when the restrictions are lifted.
Ways You Can Teach Yoga NOW
With the ongoing uncertainty around indoor yoga teaching, outdoor classes could be an option.
Currently, the limit to any group gathering outdoors is up to six people from different households. This is with the proviso that you observe the two metre rule unless that person is from your own household or within your support bubble.
However, there are rules and regulations for teaching in a public park too (of course). If your class is free you won’t need to worry about that. But if you’re charging then you’ll need to get a license to teach. There are no standardised regulations for outdoor exercise licenses, so you’ll need to check your local council’s website for more information on their licensing rules.
It will of course be weather-dependent, and with the great British weather being what it is, it will be worth building in some backup plans in case you need to cancel. Make sure every attendee gives you a contact number so you can cancel at short notice. You’ll also need to have an online booking and payment system (this one, for example) to ensure that you don’t exceed the current regulation of six people and to avoid any cash transactions.
Many yoga teachers made the move online within the first few weeks of the lockdown. Since then there’s been a steep learning curve as the technophobes among us have got to grips with new technology – as well as some not-so-new technology! Both teachers and students have begun to adapt to the ‘new normal’, and some interesting advantages have emerged.
- Classes can be flexible – with no venue to worry about, time slots can be changed as needed.
- Students are learning to be more responsible for their own bodies as they get to grips with practicing at home.
- Many more students have made space in their homes for yoga practice.
- Many students have invested in yoga equipment, meaning that they can practice at home.
- Teachers have enjoyed saving both time and energy spent on rushing to venues.
- Apart from subscribing to online platforms, there are very few costs involved.
- Your students don’t have to be local!
So, for now, there is plenty to enjoy about teaching online. However, there is also a lot that yoga teachers miss about the in-person experience. Some students haven’t made the leap to online classes and for them, knowing when we can teach in-person again is paramount.
How We Can Teach Yoga in the FUTURE
Sticking to Legal Requirements – Guidelines are changing week by week, and the first thing to do before planning any move back to is to keep up to date with government and local council guidelines. You can sign up to get email alerts when the government puts any update on Coronavirus onto the Gov.uk website. Remember that in order to comply with your PLI (Public Liability Insurance), you will need to stick to the government’s social distancing policy and all other guidelines.
Pre and Post-Class Cleaning – If you own your own yoga studio, even if it’s a small cabin in the back garden, you will be responsible for adequate cleaning of the space before and after each class. Stock up on plenty of cleaning supplies and think about having a cleaning plan, such as focusing on high contact areas such as door handles. You should also keep a record of this cleaning, especially if you’re a studio owner. Students should bring their own yoga equipment wherever possible. Shared facilities such as toilets should also be cleaned as regularly as possible.
Class Hygiene – Both you and your students will need to practice increased hygiene measures, including washing hands before and after classes. You could also consider providing antibacterial wipes for students to clean their own areas. Hand sanitiser should be freely available throughout the studio/your class space. The movement of students during the class should also be reduced to avoid cross-contamination.
Social Distancing – Class sizes will need to be reduced to adhere to social distancing guidelines, which will involve pre-booked classes only. Once inside the class, you might want to think about marking out mat spaces using tape on the floor where this is possible. Physical adjustment of students is also not allowed due to the social distancing measures. You could consider getting the students to do their own physical corrections through demonstration.
Make sure you leave enough time between classes to reduce congestion in waiting areas. You might also want to have signs to indicate a socially-distanced queue system to enter classes, or if space allows, a one-way system of movement through the building – such as most shops have now introduced. Consider asking your students to arrive already changed to avoid excess time spent in the building.
Ventilation – While the weather is still warm it would be preferable to have windows open, as the use of air conditioning can re-circulate air, which could lead to the spread of infection. On this note, singing in enclosed public spaces is also prohibited as it poses a particular threat of spreading the virus. If you usually chant in your classes, then you could encourage students to sing silently in their heads, or you could play a pre-recorded version.
Face coverings also help to reduce the spread of airborne virus particles, and where possible, these should be provided. If you’re going to use these, they need to be put on before class, and not taken off till the class is finished.
Symptom Checker – The government slogan is currently ‘Stay alert’, which means that as a yoga teacher or studio owner you’d need to stay alert to the threat of infected students attending your classes. Make sure you remind students not to attend if they have any symptoms, or if anyone in their household (or extended bubble) has symptoms either. If possible, check students’ temperatures at the door using a remote thermometer.
Keep a record of everyone who attends classes so that you can comply with the track & trace system. Make sure you have up-to-date contact details for all students in case you need to cancel classes at late notice due to any risk of infection.
Think about Online AND In-Person Classes
When in-person classes can start up again there will be no guarantees that students will be ready to return to in-person classes. For many teachers and studios, an online and in-person hybrid will be the best business model until the new measures are normalised.
This means that you should be able to maximise the number of students able to attend. Consider offering bespoke smaller classes in-person, to be offered on top of your current online timetable. This means that those students who’ve been unable to do online yoga will be able to return to classes.
These are suggestions for how you might manage face-to-face yoga classes, but as mentioned quite a few times, guidelines are changing all the time. It might be that the social distancing measures are relaxed, on the other hand, we could end up heading back into full lockdown.
This situation has taught us that everything that we thought of as being normal life can change – and fast. So while we can do our best to plan for the future, it might also be wise to take it things week by week.
Carrie Owerko is part yoga teacher, part bio-mechanics movement scientist, part performer, and part pure energy ball. Her beautiful practice and inspiring focus on play have attracted a loyal following across a wide range of yoga methodologies. She has just launched an online platform called The Playground which is a library of pre-recorded classes as well as access to live-streamed classes.
1. What was your first ever experience of yoga?
My first experience of yoga was a one-off lesson at college in Denver in the early 1980s. My modern dance teacher did some yoga, although at the time I had no idea what it was. I remember there was talk of chakras, we did some little sun sals and a couple of poses. What impressed me more than the yoga itself was that my teacher was really, really into it.
When I moved to New York in the late 80s/early 90s I sampled lots of different yoga classes. Then I took an Iyengar class, and I fell into that. I liked the precision and creativity at that time, but looking back I can see I was attracted to the teachers that were rebellious with the method even then.
2. Who are your greatest yoga inspirations?
Without a doubt, B. K. S. Iyengar. He was a fricking trailblazer; he lived, ate, breathed, and slept yoga, and it’s hard not to admire that. There’s no doubt that he was a genius, but also very, very human. Also my own teacher for a long time, Patricia Walden. I have great respect for her and she is devoted to her practice.
But as a person, Tao Porchon-Lynch is like ‘wow’. She’s inspired me on multiple levels. I met her once in NY after a class, and we were talking and she grabbed my arm and said, ‘This person told me I couldn’t do that, that person told me I couldn’t do another, but they’re all dead now!’
Also Richard Freeman and his partner Mary Taylor. I spent a week with them when I was going through a difficult time and they were just extraordinarily kind. The teachers that really inspire me are the ones I want to grow into – they teach me to be a better human, not a better acrobat.
3. What qualities do you think makes a good yoga teacher?
My bias is towards play! Also, somebody who has kindness, compassion, and humour. Plus, I think the role of the teacher is to help the students and themselves to be at ease with ourselves. I think that’s huge.
The truth is that people are different – I don’t like cookie-cutter teaching. Different students will react to different teachers and there’s going to be a student that responds to your honest exploration – if you’re doing it with integrity.
As yoga teachers we do our best to serve, there’s no right way to do it and there’s certainly not one way to do it.
4. What, for you, is the most challenging aspect of yoga?
The most challenging aspect of yoga is meeting myself as I am in the practice. I have to be OK with what I’m encountering. We try to control ourselves and our lives, but we are dealing with all aspects of ourselves, including the primal, autonomic animal side that kept us alive as cave people. And there are times when I haven’t been OK with the animal that I am.
5. How often do you practice?
From day one I have practised every single day, NO MATTER WHAT. It doesn’t mean the practice always looks the same – if I’m sick I have to adapt it. But I just do it, without expectations, because from that discipline comes creativity. For me, my practice is like my cat, I feed her, stroke her, look after her every day. My yoga practice is the same, I attend to it because it’s a loving act towards myself.
If you show up every day then that’s it, mission accomplished. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that. “I’m having a hard time today.” And that’s fine.
6. Is it important to try different types of yoga?
Personally I love a multi-disciplinary approach, through a variety of different movement methods, not just different methodologies of yoga.
Life itself is unpredictable and if we’ve been in this one, quiet room, with one way of moving, that’s not going to translate to being out in the chaos of the noisy streets. If you’ve practised with variability and deliberately challenged your balance, for example, moving your head around while balancing, your nervous system will be more prepared for the unpredictability of life.
7. How can a regular yoga practice help with daily life?
First of all, I don’t really differentiate any movement from yoga. Yoga is paying attention to your senses, your breath, being aware of your body, your face – yoga is an awareness practice that translates to anything and everything you do.
Yoga helps us to control our physiological response to stress. For example, part of my practice is to try to regulate the breath after deliberately putting my body through a stressful situation. Then I see how efficiently and effectively I can recover in as short a time as possible. This ability to shift gears helps with those everyday adrenaline surges from a stressful zoom class (for example).
Having a varied practice and trying small doses of a new thing also helps us to handle novelty and change, which is the one thing you can guarantee in life. It teaches us to be resilient.
8. How has the Coronavirus pandemic impacted your teaching?
When COVID-19 hit, I was in Australia in the middle of a workshop tour. When it became clear that I had to cancel the tour I then flew to LA and spent the night in an airport hotel and the next day I flew to New York and there were four of us on the entire jet – it was surreal.
When I got back I did a few Zoom classes, because like every other yoga teacher all my classes had just been canceled. Then we decided to expedite the launch of my new on-going, ever-expanding platform – The Playground.
9. How do you think the yoga world has reacted to the Coronavirus?
When the lockdown started there was a real sense of urgency in the yoga world and there was this mad dash to start teaching online, and to begin with all the online classes were free, which concerned me. We need to have a long-term vision of how this is going to be and make sure that we value the time and commitment we put into teaching. People are actually willing to pay, and it encourages them to make a commitment to yoga.
I would also hate to see the small studios suffer – some of my friends are studio owners and it’s their life, they work 24/7 to make ends meet… We need exchanges with other humans for our health, we knew it before, but now we know it in the visceral sense.
10. What to you are the pros and cons of teaching yoga online?
I like teaching online and I’ve done it for a while. My newly launched platform is great because it means there’s a place where all my students can access all my playful practices and educational resources. Because I teach all over the world (or I have been up to now anyway) there’s a support for students between annual trips.
However, I miss the interaction with people, so I never saw it as a complete substitute for teaching in-person, but as a supplement to.
I’ve also had my share of stressful zoom encounters. On one class we somehow lost every single registration and then had to manually re-enter all the data. It ended up being ok, but it was like literally down to the wire. There is this stress around it, but luckily my husband’s around more so he can come to my aid!
When I’m teaching live online there’s a different energy to it than the pre-recorded classes. When it’s live there’s no shouting ‘Cut!’ if something goes wrong, you just have to make it work – because things go wrong, things will not go as you planned, and you have to improvise just as you would in an in-person class.
11. What’s important to you about in-person teaching?
The in-person thing is also important and I’m still doing that, or I plan to anyway! I’m a person who learns best in different ways, so I take in information via audio, visually, through my body, and through play. I have to come at things from multiple angles for me to feel like I really understand it, and I like to facilitate that type of learning process too.
It’s like the difference between going to watch a movie and going to see a play. When you teach in a physical class, there’s this spontaneous interaction. It’s facilitated by the teacher, but it’s a magical space where human beings can engage in a non-repeatable event.
The in-person experience is significant and it won’t be going away – it might change, it might be different, but if history’s taught us anything it’s that humans will gather.
12. What would you like your yoga legacy to be?
I would like my legacy to be that play is important for adults.
Play can be a huge support in our learning process, it can bring joy to our lives and our practice, it can add an element of fun, and fun is often something that is underrated. I think it does really matter!
Yoga is seen as a serious subject, but I think play is divine. We’ve been playing forever – through sport, theatre, narrative, imagination – and we exercise our capacity for creative thinking via play. Play and creativity are our divine nature and if we want to connect to that then I think it can be a wonderful means to move towards the mysterious.
13. What would you like to say about the current coronavirus pandemic?
This current crisis has challenged every person across the globe. We’re living in a unique time and as a global population we’re experiencing a type of global stress. In the U.S. there are some things that are happening right now that are really sad, such as the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent riots. Humans are very taxed right now, and I feel we need to dig a little deeper and ask ourselves those important questions about what we really value, and how we treat each other.
We also need to remember we’re going through a lot! And to have a huge amount of compassion towards ourselves and each other, and how might we come through this experience with something of value.
There’s an opportunity here to make our world a better place. Yes – it sucks! But yoga helps us to reframe things to see that there’s an opportunity in adversity.
Carrie is kindly offering YogaLondon Blog readers a 10% discount for membership to her new venture, The Playground. The code for one-time usage for 10% off any of the 3 subscriptions is PLAYFUL10.