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An emotional experience – Teaching Yoga online live in times of the pandemic

Interview with Uday Bhosale

by Claudia Lamas Cornejo


When the COVID19 pandemic spread out rapidly and worsened in March 2020, it led to tremendous shifts and changes affecting many aspects of our lives and life itself. As educational institutions and others had to close down from one day to the next, also many yoga schools, institutions, teachers and students faced a situation, that no one ever thought would happen.

Uday Bhosale, who over his many years at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, conducted classes for children and adults of all levels and who is considered one of Iyengar Yoga´s most experienced teachers, was one of the first Iyengar Yoga teachers who tried out teaching in the context of an online live class. In the following interview he is generously sharing his personal experience of teaching Iyengar Yoga in an online live format, as well as its many challenges and new insights on teaching yoga in times of a pandemic.



Claudia Lamas Cornejo: How did you approach the new situation of being limited to your own house but wanting to reach out to your yoga students, what challenges did occur?

Uday Bhosale: Prior to this, we have always been used to in-person learning and teaching. But when it was no longer feasible to do so, online teaching seemed to be an option that we could try out. My wife Sonali and I thought of arranging a trial class. We gathered a few friends (virtually on Zoom) and I taught for half an hour. Soon we realised this is slightly different, but surely doable.

One of the initial challenges encountered was warming up to the idea of online classes. How can we teach someone while we are not present in the same room was the thought on everyone’s mind. Tech-phobia was another problem with many students and teachers. Not knowing how to install the application on various devices - placement of the device appropriately - rumours about the application not being safe and news about meetings being crashed: Zoombombers. All this was causing resistance for people to try online classes.

Getting the internet connection was another important challenge.

Uday and Sonali during an online life class, using their wall back home for Jatara Parivartanasana. Photo: Jacky Taylor 2020.

We started off with an intent to virtually reach out to students and gather them together for an hour-long session and conduct basic practice. It would even give some time for virtual socialising. Many friends from across the country or from different countries could meet up and chat before and after the classes began. Along with the asana practice, this appeared to be an important contribution for many who were alone and in isolation. A student in one of the initial classes, mentioned that it was an emotional experience to see some friends after couple of weeks in lockdown.

For some time, it felt like a mission for us to convey and propagate this mode of teaching. So that teachers can continue to earn their livelihood and students can benefit while being locked down at home. Slowly but surely the word started to spread.

Many teachers contacted us seeking help and we were glad we could share our experience.

With the help of Iyengar Yoga (UK) we shared a document with basic guidelines and how to go about teaching online classes.

CLC: What other difficulties of teaching online did you encounter?

Uday:

Over the months we have come to realise, this medium has both benefits and drawbacks. The biggest difficulty here is the absence of touch. The lack of physical presence of the teacher. As a teacher, I can no longer say to you, “Go ahead and try, I am here for you”.

The comfort and confidence that a teacher can provide while a student is reluctant or scared to try something, cannot happen (and rather should not be done) in this mode. The skilful physical adjustment that an experienced teacher can carry out for you, cannot happen.

It is only clear instruction that I can share as a teacher with you as a student and trust the ability of the student to follow it safely. This can be possible for relatively less complex and less threatening asanas.

Another hurdle, mainly in the beginning is about getting students accustomed to the use of device and placing themselves in front of the camera in a way that I can see and correct where required.


In action: Sceenshots of Uday's online teaching from home. Photo credits: Jacky Taylor 2020.


CLC: So, would you say, teaching online live does affect your teaching? Does, to some account modify your teaching even?

Uday:

A good teacher will always adapt to the situation presented. It could be with respect to the students in front or the location. The teaching approach changes depending on if you are teaching a small class or a larger group. So, this is totally a new medium and does require some adaptations and getting used to it as well.

It is important to convey clearly what I want students to do in the class, so clear demonstrations from various angles help. The best part here is, everyone gets to see what I am showing clearly. There is no problem of somebody else blocking the view which can happen in bigger classes or conventions.

Explain with clear instructions, demonstrate and then conduct while observing them, has helped me run the classes effectively.

Whenever, I need to see my students from a different angle, I ask them to face in a particular direction or adjust their camera where I get a clearer view of their asana. As a teacher it is easy for me to look at and check numbers of students within the same screen.

Along with this I encourage my students to judge their situation themselves while attempting something more challenging to their ability. In this mode, it is better to play safe and build the courage of the student over a period of time.

But we realised a surprising benefit of this scenario. Many students reported saying that they find themselves more focused and responsible than they were while in the classroom. They have no other distractions. They know their safety is their responsibility and they end up being more focused and careful. Some students even said they had no peer pressure as they cannot see others performing in the class. It was like a 1-2-1 class experience which come to think of it is quite something.

CLC: …for the first time in modern yoga times, the student is “alone” with his or her teacher so to say… We have been physically isolated and virtually connected more than ever, though, as yoga students and yoga teachers around the globe – what do you think is the effect on our yoga community? What is your hope or wish?

Uday: In the beginning of the lockdown, there was a big concern on how the yoga teachers would survive as the classes would have to stop. Sonali and I volunteered to share about this medium. We even offered the classes at a negligible fee for teachers to experience how the classes could be conducted in this way. And now most of the teachers are happily teaching online.

Because the class is virtual, you can have students attending from any corner of the world. I had students joining at Midnight from Canada, or crazy early hours of 4:30 from South America. So this has opened up the possibility for students to attend classes with teachers across the globe. In some ways students are spoiled for choice as there have been many events and workshops conducted by teachers.

Personally, I feel this has allowed students to try attending classes with various teachers from all over the world. And they can still do it if they can manage the timings in different time zones. Over time, students will settle with teachers of their choice for regular practice.

I hope, that this way of attending classes will encourage students to get used to practicing in their own home environment. Practicing on your own in your space should become easier.

Students can be travelling and still not miss the classes.

The problem of travelling to and from the class is completely eliminated.

Parents can attend the classes while being available for their kids or even elderly at home if required.

It is very convenient for attending Pranayama classes. One can continue to be calm and peaceful at home much longer after the class and not worry of dressing up for the weather and travelling after the class.

My hope and wish is only that more and more people can attend a yoga class which they probably felt they could not due to time and travel constraints. And the message of yoga gets widespread. So that Guruji’s teachings will reach many more people!

CLC: You have been part of a research by Iyengar UK about Covid19 and Yoga practice – Can yoga help? Why and How?

Uday:

This pandemic has been unique in many ways. Right from identifying the details in the beginning to various strategies imployed by various governments to tackle its spread. One thing that has been unique is the way it has been affecting people. There have been varied cases, which have shown people struggle while recovering post the infection.

Hence the Iyengar Yoga (UK) Therapy committee conducted a presentation earlier in June showing suggested practice for patients recovering from COVID19 infection. Yoga can definitely help deal with the aftereffects of the infection and cope with the recovery procedure.

Just as the effects have been varied for individuals, the practice has to be recommended and administered accordingly too. With medical conditions I always remember guruji’s quote, “Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured”.

CLC: A last word "change" and another quote from Guruji Iyengar: “Change is nothing that should be feared, for without it there can be no transformation.

What is your hope for the future of Iyengar Yoga in the frame of the current situation and on this new path of teaching not online in person, but also online?

Uday:

If we go back to the times when Guruji started his journey: He revolutionized the way Yoga was taught. He faced tremendous criticism from the stalwarts in the subject and was accused of diluting the subject. Yoga was not meant to be taught in a group class previously. As he managed to do it effectively, the whole world gradually warmed up to the idea thanks to Guruji’s immense efforts.

I was asked by some colleagues, had Guruji been alive, would he have approved of these online classes?

As we all can only guess an answer to this question, seeing him the way he was always giving and sharing his knowledge, I strongly feel, he would have been delighted at this prospect of reaching out to students and helping them during such difficult times.

Yes, it is still early times and many of us are getting accustomed to this, we can only learn and improve from here to accommodate this new medium in our teaching and learning process.

The traditional method of teaching in a classroom has its unique benefits and those cannot be replaced by this mode of teaching, while we must familiarize ourselves with the benefits that this method promises to offer. Hence in future, whenever it will be safe for us to gather and practice together, we could have classes in both the ways and perhaps a mixture of both as some of the teachers have already been doing.

I think we have a duty to spread the knowledge of Yoga, we owe it to our Gurus as they did so when they taught us. They adapted their ways to make sure we get the knowledge, and so we must too do the same and adapt.

I wish that the message of Yoga and Guruji’s teachings can help all of us navigate these difficult times and come out stronger when this is all over.

Claudia: Thank you so much for your openness and time, Uday!

Uday: Thank you, too!



A big Thank you to Jacky Taylor for catching Uday's teaching and sharing her pictures with us, as well as to Dimitra Babaletakis for the final proofreading of our text.




Uday Bhosale

Further information on Uday Bhosale, his yoga classes and workshops: https://www.yogawithuday.com/


Find recorded classes on Uday's vimeo channel: https://vimeo.com/yogawithuday












Claudia Lamas Cornejo is an independent PR- Manager and Journalist, as well as a Iyengar Yoga practicioner and teacher.

The project "Iyengar Yoga blog" is aimed at shedding light on various topics related to the study and practice of yoga, as well as letting diverse voices of the Iyengar Yoga comunity have their say.

www.claudiyengar.com


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Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher

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