When Willow Point Yoga closed its doors in mid-March and pivoted to online yoga, instructors had to change how they led practices.
Without the ability to see the students they were speaking to, they adjusted.
“We can’t really be specific about telling people to make adjustments for example, because we can’t see them,” says long-time instructor Orsi Foldesi, “but we can share what’s happening in our own body.”
In a typical yoga studio scenario, a teacher would have their place at the front of the class and would split their time on the mat demonstrating poses and walking between students, adjusting their poses. But when you can’t see the people you’re teaching, the process becomes a lot harder.
“Yes, it’s challenging,” says Foldesi with a laugh. “It’s a physical practice. So you’re doing a chaturanga (low plank) or something, meanwhile, you have to talk about it.”
She compares leading someone through a virtual practice to a pop star’s performance. They have to dance and sing at the same time, all while making it look effortless.
Willow Point Yoga, where about half-a-dozen instructors – including Foldesi– teach, closed its doors on March 14. That same day, Foldesi began a Facebook group where the yoga community could meet online to continue sharing practices. That group has since grown to over 700 members. Foldesi felt it was important to preserve that sense of community while studios were closed.
“To me, that’s the most important intention behind keep it going and keep it running is connection,” she says.
No stranger to technology, Foldesi immediately incorporated live video with her business. But the point isn’t to make money.
“It’s to maintain what we have and to invest in our future,” she says. “To keep the community going so when we have the green light, we can go back to someone. We will have our communities to continue business with.”
Foldesi said the COVID-19 pandemic complicates the teaching of yoga in-person, as physical contact is used to re-position bodies into proper poses.
“When you go to a yoga studio, you’re not only going there to copy the teacher, you’re not showing up to watch somebody and copy what they’re doing, you’re also there for adjustments and corrections and their attention on you,” she says. “You want them to look at you and help you with what you’re struggling with and that at this point is pretty much not possible.”
She’s been teaching primarily through Zoom, a video conferencing software, and live-streaming her practices on Facebook. But neither method offers a particularly good view of students as they move.
“I only see them from one angle and that one angle is not enough information for me to see if their feet are in alignment or their neck is too tight – stuff like that,” she says. That teacher-student interaction is the whole reason to charge money for a class.
Without classes to attend, some yogis aren’t rolling out their mats on their own time. The pandemic is weeding out those who have been practising for the wrong reasons from the most dedicated practitioners, says Foldesi.
She’s a practitioner herself, and a teacher, plus she also teaches instructors. But for the first six years she practised yoga, she had to go to a class with a teacher, never rolling her mat out at home. Of course, that’s a different story now.
“You kind of have to make it like personal hygiene, like brushing your teeth,” she says. “You have to love it so much that you can’t really go without, to continue to practise in a pandemic.
“And that is happening and that really makes me very happy, very happy. That means all these seeds are planted and people are taking home what they learned and continue staying committed.”
Originally, yoga was meant to be practised alone, at home. For hundreds of years, the idea of going to a teacher was only if you needed extra help, or had special concerns like back pain. They’d “prescribe” a set of poses, much like a physiotherapist will send you home with a list of exercises.
Now, with Dr. Bonnie Henry’s blessing, Foldesi and other local yoga teachers are once again offering classes. For Foldesi and her fellow Willow Point Yoga teachers, that means offering two free outdoor classes a week at public outdoor green spaces in the community. It’s a far cry from the 16 weekly classes that used to be on their schedule, but it means an opportunity for people to gather (at a distance) to practise yoga.
Partway through the studio shutdown, Foldesi received some other news: Willow Point Yoga won’t be returning to its usual indoor location. But instead of worrying about the future, Foldesi is focused on the summer and the pop-up outdoor classes.
“This is a great lesson for all of us to learn more about cooperation,” she says, “and just practise what yoga is really about.”
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