Virtual yoga: Exercising in an online world

Tracey Noseworthy demonstrates a yoga pose for a DoYogaWithMe video. Photo courtesy of Allyson Ell

By Mikayla Heiss
BU News Service

BOSTON – As gyms and studios close their doors, virtual yoga offers a fitness alternative for those in isolation. 

Yoga may reduce stress and help with weight loss. Using Wii Fit Yoga, researchers discovered virtual yoga programs can positively impact middle-aged women with lower back pain. With studios closed due to coronavirus concerns, virtual yoga allows those in isolation to engage in a physical activity and improve their mental well-being, according to David Procyshyn, founder of DoYogaWithMe.

“With the coronavirus spreading, a lot of people are feeling a lot of fear,” Procyshyn said. “Yoga helps you get out of that fight-or-flight response.”

DoYogaWithMe has been creating yoga videos for over ten years. Unlike in-person yoga classes, these videos can be watched at any time and repeated whenever the viewer likes, Procyshyn said. 

After offering a two-month free subscription to premium content in light of COVID-19, DoYogaWithMe’s online traffic exploded, according to Procyshyn. If the crisis continues, Procyshyn plans to extend the offer to help those in need.

Technology can present an obstacle for virtual yoga services. Lighting, audio and overall video quality has to be of a certain quality, Procyshyn said. The service should also be compatible, accommodating those with different browsers or devices. 

While some yoga providers were designed for a virtual world, others quickly adjusted. Transitioning to Zoom, the Eccles Health Sciences Library at the University of Utah changed their program to meet recent restrictions. 

Fig 1. The number of attendees for Ecceles Library’s yoga program. The library switched to all virtual services on March 18. Graphic By Mikayla Heiss / BU News Service.

Yoga programs in libraries have gained popularity over the past few years, and yoga was the largest movement-based program in public libraries, according to a 2017 survey. 

Donna Baluchi has been organizing the Ecceles Library’s program for over two years. Partnering with yoga instructor trainees allowed the library to keep costs to a minimum while providing a location for trainees to meet volunteer certification hours.

When instructors couldn’t make sessions, Eccles Library would show yoga videos. This resulted in polarizing feedback, Baluchi said. Now, with no other alternatives, people appear unified in their response to virtual yoga.

“Because virtual yoga is the only option to everybody, there hasn’t been any kind of pushback,” Baluchi said. “Everyone has been really grateful.” 

While quarantined, research shows people may become frustrated, bored or feel isolated due to reduced social contact and a loss of routine. Virtual yoga may provide some element of community and structure, according to Vyda Bielkus, CEO of Health Yoga Life.

“Now more than ever, we are all sitting in front of screens, and I think we didn’t realize how much, when we’re not in the state of self-quarantining, we interact with people,” Bielkus said.

Using Zoom, people can join a class, surrounding themselves with others virtually, according to Bielkus. Classes also are a daily activity for those seeking structure to their day. 

Located in a studio in Boston, Health Yoga Life conducted in-person sessions before switching exclusively to virtual services, and Bielkus said it’s not just the students who are being affected by the change,  

As COVID-19 concerns swept Massachusetts, Bielkus said Health Yoga Life quickly virtualized their ongoing teacher training to ensure people could complete the certification process on time. 

Current Health Yoga Life instructors also cope with changes. In the studio, Bielkus said teachers would walk around the room, instructing verbally and determining if people were properly postured based on cues. Teachers altered their pedagogy for virtual services, demonstrating more frequently.

With a constantly changing environment, services are shifting to accommodate needs. Virtual yoga is one option for those seeking to improve their physical and mental well-being.

“People first come to yoga thinking, ‘Oh, I want to lose a few pounds. I want to get stronger,’” Bielkus said. “And then they realize, ‘Wow, this is really helping me feel optimally better and sleep better. I have more patience’: all of which we could use right now.”

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