Photo by Avrielle Suleiman on Unsplash

Holding Space from a Distance

Teaching Yoga with Zoom during the Covid-19 Pandemic

“Yoga teachers talk about “holding space” for their students or for a room. It is an important part of finding calm in yourself and finding calm within a group of people. I wouldn’t have thought that it was possible to do that over a computer screen. I’m finding over and over again that that is possible. We really can find really meaningful social connections, we really can share and occupy space and similar experiences in real time over our screens.”

The following is an interview with Tara Atkinson, a yoga therapist and teacher who teaches diverse communities in Portland, Oregon. Since the Covid-19 Pandemic she has started teaching a daily yoga class on Zoom.

Learning to Teach Yoga Using Zoom

Up until about two weeks ago, I was teaching a little over twenty regular classes a week. Very quickly, many of the places I started to teach closed down and I was trying to figure out what options were out there. Over a weekend I taught myself how to use zoom. And surprisingly to me, being tech help to people, because that is not my not my strong suit.

I think that there’s long been the possibility for video formats of exercise,whether that was simply like VHS tapes way back when, or online versions, but I think for a lot of people, it was a last choice of possibilities. Certainly would have been for me both as a teacher and as a participant, but it really is the only option we have available right now, if you’re looking to be led through an exercise routine.

Starved for Social Interaction and Seeing Familiar Faces

People are so starved for some sort of social interaction and something that feels familiar in their life. It seems everyone has just fallen into it so quickly. I know my regular students that I used to see multiple times a week or so are happy to see familiar faces on their screen, and to be led to a yoga practice by someone that they know. Many of them have actually invited and neighbors and friends who have joined us. I’m actually more surprised that people who didn’t know me well beforehand are enjoying the classes as well and finding that as a good connection. We’re all sort of shut into our own homes.

Yoga for Mental Health

I get literally several emails each and every day from different people telling them how important that I’ve been teaching a 9am class, Monday through Friday and how important that is to a start of their day, and their well being right now. That it’s really keeping them sane and grounded.

I think it’s so easy right now for our fears, and our thoughts to feel like they’re spiraling away from us…things that can bring us back to our own bodies, to our own selves, to the space that we’re actually physically standing in at the moment are huge helps.

I try to always incorporate both in the beginning, particularly in the beginning and the end of my class, mindfulness tools, or a mindfulness tool that we really focus on implementing during class. Lots of those is just coming back to breathing. It can be like that physical tether of your feet or your bottom on your yoga mat, that you’re really feeling grounded in the space that you’re in. I think it’s so easy right now for our fears, and our thoughts to feel like they’re spiraling away from us. We almost become untethered, and don’t really feel like we’re at all settled. So things that can bring us back to our own bodies, our own selves, the space that we’re actually physically standing in at the moment are huge helps.

Holding Space From A Distance

When you’re in a room in front of people, so much of that connection comes from occupying space with people.Yoga teachers talk about “holding space” for their students or for a room. It really is an important part of finding calm in yourself and finding calm within a group of people. I wouldn’t have thought that it was possible to, to do that over a computer screen, to hold space for a group. I’m finding over and over again that that is possible. We really can find really meaningful social connections, we really can share and occupy space and similar experiences, in real time over our screens.

Face to face vs. Virtual Connections

Certainly being able to look at someone particularly look at somebody in the eyes or to truly feel their presence, are things that happen much better in person than they do over over a screen. To really make eye contact with someone over the screen, you have to be staring into the camera and not into the reflection of their eyes on your screen.

Those kinds of connections can be much harder, but I find that if you actually are looking at people, listening to them you can hold space to them for them. But you have to be really in tune to what’s sort of going on with the noise in the room and the people that are there. And all of your rooms I should say. I’ve had, you know, up to 40 people dial into these classes, and we’re obviously all in different places.

I look forward to the point where we can actually do yoga in person again, but it’s certainly possible to do it when we don’t have the ability to be together.

Focusing on staying Present and Making This Day Better

My greatest hope is more in the real time moment rather than looking ahead to the future. It seems like the future holds so many unknowns for all of us right now. I guess my greatest hope is just that I get to connect with my students every day, and then the hours in their day afterwards they are feeling a little more centered in themselves.

If you can think back to going and meeting your best friend for the first time or your partner for the first time, it takes a long time to build relationships with people and may involve, doing different things and having a multitude of experiences with them.

I can imagine the day when I get to go back into a room and see and actually see the faces in real time, in real space of my students and how much closer we will be for the spiritual experience that we’re having, that’s kind of magical. You can keep building those connections with people.

Listen to the full interview here:

Writer, artist, host of Disobedient Femmes & The Voice Plays podcasts. Interested in personal transformation & collective liberation. suzannelagrande.com

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