Finding yourself online
Discovering the true union of yoga when and where we might least expect it with a little help from the Yamas and Niyamas. By Andrea Marcum
I’m a yoga teacher in Los Angeles, and on March 17, 2020 everything I knew turned upside down in a wobbly, uncertain headstand I was pretty sure I didn't want to stay in too long. I found myself online, teaching classes on IGTV, Facebook Live, even started a YouTube channel…things I’d avoided like the plague (sorry poor word choice!) in ‘before times’.
We were so innocent in those early days, believing things would be closed for a couple of months and then, somehow, back to how it always was. In the meantime, we would bake banana bread and watch Tiger King.
But soon it became clear that right-side-up was a long way off and that when it came, I'd no longer be looking at the inside of a studio the way I'd been accustomed for my over 20-years of teaching. Chances are that’s true for you too, even if your yoga is more metaphoric than literal. Would you even have an office or store front to stretch back into?
People flippantly tossed around ‘end of days’ as a description for the times we were living, but it was starting to feel a little bit too close to the truth.
What was this ‘new normal’ and how were we supposed to navigate it? WTF was a pandemic pivot… especially for those of us with an almost non-existent online vocabulary?
For nine years, I had a bricks-and-mortar studio in LA called U Studio Yoga (U for the Unity and commUnity that built it with me. Now, U represents the world, as we practice together on my andreamarcum.com platform from Italy, Slovakia, UK, Central America, the UAE, all over the USA and more. It's as if we're building my studio all over again without walls.
Maybe you too feel like this isolation is the catalyst for collectivity, and the uncertainty of what comes next motivation to create your own road map?
Before you invest in a new iPhone and turn your living room into an eyesore of lighting and sound equipment to start your own U, know that your love for what you do may be tested. I don’t just mean whether or not you’ll still be fond of your favourite poses (insert lectures, recipes, workouts) after months of online offerings, I’m talking deep philosophical rumblings you might not anticipate.
Allow me to elaborate, using ancient tenets called the Yamas and Niyamas from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra to illuminate our digitally demanding path.
What’s tricky is that ahimsa includes our thoughts. Sure, at first you’re just excited that you are actually doing it and people are joining you on your IGTV, FacebookLIve, YouTube or Zoom adventure. But, when you read some of the comments, you may have a bit more trouble seeing the spark of divinity in everyone.
Not to mention, day after day, confronting your own on-camera image might incite a not-exactly-non-harming inner monologue (in contrast to the outward-facing uplifting dialogue you extend to your students, clients or team).
Is it possible that in the past you’ve been a bit dismissive of influencers and their seriousness when it comes to your profession? The truth is, now you see them as gurus able to conjure constant content with what yoga master BKS Iyengar called ‘effortless effort’.
You may find yourself stealing other people’s profound quotes, clever sequencing, or inspiring designs as it seems you no longer have a single creative idea of your own.
Gone are the days when you could wander the classroom or boardroom and use an energetic student to demonstrate or coworker to handoff to.
As you hear your ‘yoga voice’ tell others to take breaks and turn off their camera when they need to, it’s intermission-free showtime for you every single time that Zoom curtain lifts.
As for celibacy, it takes all you’ve got to get it up for another Eventbrite invitation, distance-learning/team-building breakout room or Vasisthasana two (side arm balance holding your big toe) so…
Aparigraha (Non-Greediness, Non-Possessiveness)
Because your online offerings are run by donation, you can’t afford anything, so you don’t have the means to be greedy or possessive.
When did all that hair and those creepy fingernail clippings get underneath the couch you never looked under until you were perpetually in downward dog/doing pushups next to it, or moving it to frame your shot? Oh, and that’s where that missing bit of dinner disappeared to last…um…year?
AUM (OM) has been replaced by USB as your mantra for ongoing discipline and the universal sound of connection.
You will learn more than you want to about who you really are when the instructions begin with ‘go to settings’.
Santosha (Deep Sense of Contentment)
Somehow, despite it all, you’ve never known a sense of fulfillment quite like this.
The emails you get from students, clients or team members who you didn’t even know were leaning on you share stories of their struggles, loneliness, breakups, miscarriages and how the laughter and connectedness while practicing, working or learning have helped things almost feel normal.
Ishvarapranidhana (Surrender to God/Humility/Modesty)
Your mind is blown, daily, by the community that blossoms organically from all over the world.
Somehow the little squares on our screens have become portals for the most humbling evidence of God (the universe, or something greater or higher) that you’ve ever witnessed.
It is an ROI (return on investment) like you’ve never witnessed before, and you know in the whole of your being that yoga (metaphorically or literally) is a conduit for the only currency that truly matters: Love.
It seems that you have found your Self online.
And now with vaccines and CDC guides changing the landscape, we will stretch our ‘capital S’ Selves out into another new chapter together. What will be the ultimate manifestation of this global, almost two-year-long meditation? Are we really right side up again, or will there be more upside-down wobbles? What ‘platform’ will we stand on next?
The Yamas and Niyamas remind us that everything old is new again and that interconnection can exist with or without an internet connection. They are 10 steps that bring us back to Source, as they have for thousands of years—a resilient resource to guide our re-Source as we navigate the path forward.