It’s hard for me to imagine, but I’ve been practicing yoga for 16 years.
I started in 2004 as a college sophomore getting my PE credits for gen ed. I was hooked. More or less consistently for the last 16 years, I have been taking classes in a studio or in a university gym.
So when stay-at-home orders in March meant that my yoga studio was closed, I was bereft. As anxiety about teaching online and about the safety of my husband who’s a health care professional and my immune-compromised father and other apocalypse scenarios reached a fever pitch, the one thing I always counted on in times of stress was gone. I tried to practice yoga alone, but I mostly gave up after a few sun salutations when I couldn’t get my mind to slow down.
When my teachers from the studio started broadcasting live stream classes, it was like someone had thrown me a life preserver. I had a thing in my days to look forward to, to plan around, to do. I was glad to see my friends, even if they couldn’t see me.
Yoga has taught me so much. The art of breathing and relaxation. How to prevent and relieve pain. How to stretch the boundaries of my body and how to take up space. A grace and joy in movement I didn’t know I had. I have guarded the privilege of yoga jealously in this time of isolation and anxiety.
In the week before classes started at the end of August, I decided on a whim to go back to the recordings of those early livestream classes. It had been long enough; I wouldn’t remember the flows. It would feel like a new class even though I had done it before.
What I noticed on this second viewing was how vulnerable my yoga teachers were. They were doing something brand new with this computer thing. How was it going to work? What was it going to be like to teach to a computer instead of a room full of bodies?
They struggled to teach without music at first and then with wireless earbuds and a recommended playlist for us at home. They struggled to place their mats where they wouldn’t bump their heads in Warrior 3. They struggled with pets and beeping washing machines and other people who lived in their homes. I was watching them learn while they taught.
More than that, they were just as scared and anxious as I remembered being in April. For some reason, this was clearest with my favorite teacher, Kayla. She’s my favorite because she’s creative and challenging and there is always a point in class where I cannot meet her expectation, and I still feel completely safe to try and fail or flail. I could see on her face and hear in her voice a mirror of my exact feelings. And she named them for me. I feel tired. I feel stuck inside. I feel anxious. I need to feel grounded. I miss you.
I watched as her livestream yoga space transformed. Candles appeared under the window sills. A picture went up on the blank wall between the windows. Potted plants appeared in the corners. An essential oil diffuser puffed on a low stool. I hadn’t noticed the additions week to week, but as I worked through the classes in order over a few days, I could see her confidence and comfort growing like a time-lapse video of a sprouting seed.
It was such a comfort to me to watch these videos from another time and to remember myself as a student. I laughed at her dog who interrupted with toys for playtime. When she was vulnerable with me, I felt seen and I felt empathy. When she messed up or had to go get her water bottle mid class or check her notes, I remembered sending her love. I never felt frustrated or mad at her for being imperfect. I felt grateful that I could still be her student. I even liked when she pulled up the waistband of her yoga pants and said out loud, like an instruction, “adjust your yoga pants.”
As I prepared to go back to teaching essentially livestream classes just like Kayla’s, watching her old classes was a little like seeing into my own future. I was going to have the same challenges and hiccups and awkwardnesses; I was going to feel lonely and stuck and scared. And I was going to figure it out, just like she did.
More than that, I was going to be loved while I did it. My mistakes and missteps were, I hoped, going to be met with grace and forgiveness and humor, the way that her missteps looked to me.
I think yoga has been a constant in my life because it is the place where I am a student with a teacher. I joke that I enter the world as a student. I became a professor because I loved college so much I never wanted to leave. I do love being a learner and a student. But I think being a student helps me to deal rationally with the anxious part of my brain that has no tolerance for human imperfections. My experience as a student reminds me that teachers are humans, and what I love about them most is their humanity. My own humanity is far more likely to be met with love and grace than I imagine. This was a second life preserver tossed by livestream yoga, and I’ve been clinging to it through these first bumpy weeks of virtual teaching in the time of Covid.