Adapting to Change: 3 Ways to Teach Yoga in a Digital World
It’s common knowledge that we’re all increasingly distracted from the environment around us by a new — and constantly developing — environment. That is, the digital world which our minds inhabit at numerous moments throughout each day. For some of us those moments become extended into minutes, hours, or even longer; and the lines between ‘reality’ and ‘virtual reality’ are more and more blurred. Because are our digital lives not as real to us as our physical ones?
We can maintain meaningful connections with friends and family via our phones. We can use myriad messaging apps to talk about our experiences, our emotions, and…well, cats. Of course. And we can share our yoga practice online, in a way — through images, videos and Instagram challenges we are able to connect with a community of people studying the same philosophies and moving their bodies with similar intentions to our own.
Our online experiences are a part of our real lives; and I personally don’t see this as an inherently bad thing. But it is clear that in order to stay healthy — both physically and mentally — we have to find ways to adapt to a shifting definition of reality. And to practice conscious awareness of our relationship with technology; with our phones, tablets and laptops; and with the online platforms we tap into every day.
The Internet can be a place for connection and learning, but it’s also a method for distraction. And with platforms like Facebook and Instagram, for example, dedicating huge marketing budgets to figuring out how to pull us in and keep us there, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of digital lethargy and addiction. Our phones pull our attention away from the present moment all the time — and we catch ourselves staring at them without really knowing why.
Yoga has a role to play in adapting to change. And the job of the yoga teacher is far from redundant in a world where some aspects of human life are now taking place online — and where new aspects of human life are appearing in response to new technology.
Here are three ways for yoga teachers to adapt to technological change by offering teachings which specifically address the problems and benefits of increased digital connection. So that yoga can continue to be a supportive and life-affirming practice — even though today’s mind-environment is shifting all the time.
1. Give People a Break
In spite of all of the opportunities that technology brings, a growing body of research shows that people are suffering from stress, depression and anxiety as a direct result of constant access to the Internet and social media. Studies even show that people can become addicted to mobile phones — and even if we aren’t addicted, we are highly dependent on our devices and perpetually available to the demands, dopamine hits, and self-esteem kicks that are thrown at us online.
As a yoga teacher, you can give people a break. A real break. A short period of time where no devices are present. No messages can be received. No calls can be taken.
Make it a rule that your students leave their phones in the changing room, or switched off in their bags, during practice. And bring them into the present moment in a physical and embodied way. Let them be just here, and encourage them to let go of that pressure that tells them they need to check in online and make sure they haven’t missed anything. Give them a chance to feel their feet and notice their breath and appreciate the way the natural light changes as it shines through the window.
2. Weave Yoga Philosophy Together With New Research
You can draw on new research into the effects of digital connectivity to add another layer of relevant support to your classes. This doesn’t have to be explicit — you don’t need to tell students that the way you are teaching is specifically intended to help them find new ways to navigate through the issues that the Internet brings up.
But you can learn about the ways in which online platforms affect mental health, and arm yourself with up-to-date knowledge on the stress-relieving effects of yoga and meditation. You can explore the relationship between yoga and the nervous system, and between the nervous system and the Internet.
And then you can connect this new knowledge with old knowledge; with the yama and niyama, and with understandings of the body and the seasons drawn from Ayurveda. Some researchers are already producing valuable studies which demonstrate how traditional yogic practices can have a positive impact on those suffering from the effects of elements of modern life — such as this study which considers how yoga can support people recovering from addiction.
By developing your understanding of the potential effects of our digital dimension and looking carefully about how you can tailor your classes to people who rarely have the chance to connect with their bodies and with the physical world completely, you enhance your ability to teach yoga in a way that is truly valuable for the people in front of you.
3. Use Technology to Teach
It’s not all bad. Technology actually provides the potential for reaching students who can benefit from your teaching in new ways. By sharing video or audio classes online you can share yoga practices with people who don’t have access to in-person classes. By offering one-to-one classes via Skype or FaceTime you can connect with people who need a more personal, tailored approach to learning but who can’t get to — or don’t feel comfortable with — private classes face-to-face.
And there are undoubtedly as yet undiscovered ways of sharing yoga online; which makes this an exciting time for yoga teachers who are interested in exploring methods of using technology in a positive and supportive way for their students.
It’s like all things in life. Technology isn’t just bad, and it isn’t only good. There’s light and shade. Wonderful things, terrible things, and a whole array of in-between experiences and effects. So our job as yoga teachers in this changing environment is to pay attention. To practice what we teach: present moment awareness and connection. And to be open to changing the things we teach, the way we teach, and even the way we deliver classes in order to form solid relationships with present and future students.