My first yoga mentor gave me this advice as I embarked on the path of becoming a yoga teacher, "It only takes one student to make a yoga teacher."
Long before there were gyms, wellness centers and studios dedicated to yoga instruction, teachers taught small classes in their homes or they would teach in alternate spaces like church basements or dance studios that were happy to receive some rent money for otherwise empty hours. Back in the 1960's and 70's some universities would offer yoga classes in programs like the Free University at UAH where I first attended classes ... free yoga classes taught in the student union at night or on the lawn of a building during off hours. Yoga was not mainstream then or a reliable way to earn a living.
Prior to 1990, yoga training was a bohemian and countercultural choice. A different world view. Since that time, due to many factors, yoga allowed itself to be appropriated by the fitness industry and that industry relies on customers. These customers (aka yoga students) are necessary to pay the rent, utilities, teachers and support staff. This is now a big problem to solve during the time of coronavirus limitations and, sadly, some yoga venues won't survive it.
Initially there was a mad dash to implement online classes to keep a revenue stream coming into the studios and to individual teachers. The teachers who had been doing online instruction before the pandemic restrictions were less disturbed by this format. They were well acquainted with how to present classes virtually, but most yoga teachers didn't know how to do it or feel comfortable shifting to online classes.
Standing in front of a computer's camera just isn't the same as standing in a room with students. Zoom, Skype, Google and Facebook alternatives are facsimiles of the student - teacher relationship but can only approximate what really happens when people are engaged in interactive learning in person. Fortunately, yoga isn't just a movement training. There are components of training that can be transmitted in a webinar lecture, such as explaining the importance of ashtanga (the eight limbs of practice) or understanding how the klesha (universal human afflictions) affects our personal choices.
While there have been a few awkward online experiences, there are many teachers who will thrive in the use of distance learning. Some teachers will definitely prefer online formats after they have adjusted to it and won't return to a studio this year. The same is true of yoga students. Some will enjoy practicing at home with the support of a guided online sequence and ask themselves, "Do I really want to buy a new set of classes at the yoga studio after it opens again?"
So, what can we yoga teachers do? As someone who has trained yoga teachers since 2005 I predict some positive benefits for students and teachers adhering to protective public health guidelines. For instance, the new limitations to ensure that each student will have six feet of personal space during an in-person class could actually serve the students much better than the 'packed' classes they attended in the past. Yoga classes will be less like a crowded sweaty party and more like the original feeling of yoga training - an opportunity to explore how the physical and the spiritual intersect. This exploration is personal and, by its very nature, introspective.
As for the teacher, s/he must learn how to instruct without touching students - the opposite of how I was trained - and instead find the best ways to demonstrate poses visually and the best words to describe the positioning and actions for each pose. In these new formats, teachers will discover the space and time to become better observers and responders to their students as individuals.
Because I've been downsizing my teaching life for a few years now, the restrictions aren't as discouraging as they would have been 20 years ago when I had a thriving studio with 120 students per week, each of my six classes filled to capacity. Today, having accepted that the coronavirus has altered daily life, offering yoga instruction in 2020 now feels like a full circle return to how it was before 1990. Big box yoga could become a thing of the past and maybe that is a correction that we can all benefit from.
My aspiration for all yoga students is this: May you continue to study with a trusted teacher in person as soon as you can safely do that. May you genuinely enjoy the smaller classes and all they have to offer you. May you truly benefit from online learning when that is your preference.