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  • Writer's pictureTracey L. Kelley

Sometimes Community Is All That Matters

I'm a firm believer that yoga is for every body (and say that frequently across this site). It's also for every mind and spirit—at least, in some form. But what I've learned over the past few months is that quite often, people really don't care what pose they're doing or if they're releasing tension or if they're achieving some type of enlightenment. They turn to yoga simply for a sense of community. Our foundation of belonging has been tested to its limits in a multitude of ways recently. It will sociologists years to decipher the depths of the repercussions. Even for the most introverted among us, we still relied on "our people" to be a safe haven of connection and support. So for all the negatives that accompany technology, there was probably no better time to celebrate the positives and why a virtual face-to-face helped bridge the divide of our lack of sharing a room with other people. Many yoga instructors pivoted on this notion long before I did, and offered virtual class opportunities within a few weeks of the pandemic in 2020. I resisted. For the entire year. In-person experiences are so powerful that I just couldn't imagine replicating that online, and worried about how to teach safely when I couldn't see them very well. However, based on requests from long-time students, I cobbled together a format for virtual classes that I hoped would suffice, featuring participants across my different outlets. Streamlining sequencing was a must: the classes were definitely mixed-level, so there was no way I could ensure the safety of someone trying, say, Plow Pose, for the first time without hands-on alignment assistance. We focused on the basics of breath-led movement (never a bad thing, really!) and returned to more foundational elements of physical practice. More often than not, the atmosphere of each class was restorative or yin in nature. Not everyone liked this approach, of course, and dropped away from the virtual sessions. They wanted more of a power-based Vinyasa flow class or dynamic pose sequencing, which is totally fine, of course. But if I'm not in the room, those aren't the types of classes I'll guide. When people choose to follow yoga classes online or through a streaming service, they're operating with their own agency and responsibility. However, when I'm facilitating the session, it's safety first, razzle-dazzle second. I pay attention to the person with the least experience or who needs the most modifications and regulate the class accordingly, giving more advanced practitioners their special individual cues to take their practice to another level if they choose. That's challenging to do in a mixed-level virtual class, especially when you're watching 16 little boxes in real time. But what I began to notice is the people who decided to stay in the virtual sessions had another, more critical intent: they simply wanted to move and breathe together, sharing a few stories at the top of the session and then quickly settling into comforting familiarity of our dedicated time, albeit somewhat of an augmented reality. They had their handy props, a few pets nuzzling around, a preferred lighting and temperature—and oh yeah, me, giving them a few cues. More importantly, according to consistent feedback, they had each other. Waving and smiling, saying hello to new people, commenting on pets—our virtual sessions provided an escape to the restricted outside world. In the true sense of the definition of "yoga", we joined together, united in purpose. Sure, maybe we weren't doing Plow Pose as a unit, but we celebrated our ability to share each other's lives and celebrate wellness, setting aside worldly apprehensions for 30 or 60 minutes of common peace. As often happens, students continuously teach me new things, and I'm forever grateful.

Image by shushipu from Pixabay

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