The year 2020 will be defined by a handful of key words: pandemic, Covid-19, masks, lockdowns, vaccines, and of course, Zoom. It is safe to say that the bulk of our lives last year, from work to funerals (at least for those of us who conformed to the limitations brought about by this worldwide phenomenon) happened within the space of those 24 squares.
I still remember how quickly the yoga world adapted, and I still marvel at the tenacious teachers who from one day to the next, set themselves up with a Zoom account, equipped themselves with microphones and wide lenses and shifted their entire teaching world online.
I was so scared and anxious at the beginning of the pandemic, that I was paralysed into reflection.
I retreated for about a month (whilst also recovering from the disease), to understand the nature of the beast, as well as my feelings, and how I was going to come back to support my community. I eventually learnt to Zoom and did all the other things too (hopefully with some welcomed improvements along the way).
Just over a year later, as we prepare to move back out into the world - hopefully vaccinated and still unsure about the extent of the trauma endured - we also share an appreciation for what Zoom has done for us and what the hybrid future of online and in-person yoga might look like.
ZOOM GAVE WHAT WE NO LONGER HAD
Yes, many of us are experiencing Zoom fatigue. It is a real thing. There are also many things I would change around the bad habits many yoga teachers (including myself) adopted early on and then found difficult to undo (like demo-ing entire classes, silencing student voices with the mute button and ignoring the opportunity to play with advanced settings to allow for music in classes).
However, it is important to recognise that Zoom allowed us to have something that our governments encouraged us to minimise (in-person) because of the risk of transmission of the virus, and worse yet, death. Zoom enabled human connection. Can you imagine a pandemic without the ability to see other people through a screen?! I can't even.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONNECTION
I've had some seriously lonely days during the pandemic. I've had days where touching my own body - rubbing my shoulders, my thighs or giving myself a hug - felt like a weirdly foreign out-of-body experience and at the same time like self-soothing necessity. Touch starvation is also a thing.
I believe that in the absence of physical connection, Zoom provided us with the next best alternative.
On days when I was feeling particularly lonely, I found myself choosing to practice on 'Gallery View' so that I could see all the other squares in the box. I also found myself lingering at the end of classes to see other people's 'yoga glows'. Still today, I look forward to my students also logging in early to have a chat, and staying on at the end of classes to let me know how they are feeling, to let me know what life is life for them.
I have all the time in the world for this connection, and in fact I have come to learn that this is how I supported my mental health in 2020.
Sometime in January 2021, I attended a virtual seminar delivered by the psychotherapist, Travy Jarvis. Jarvis explained that in the face of a considerable collective trauma, like a pandemic, there were important things to seek out and pursue, to support our own down-regulation and mental health.
Connection was one of them. The sense of having a shared experience and also of sharing a moment together could be one of the strategies we could use to avoid losing ourselves in the anxiety and fear of isolation and human doom.
For me, this not only explained my inclination towards gallery-view; it also explained why, when students chose to practice with their cameras off, I came away feeling slumped in dejection. But even squares with names on them, was much much better than no squares at all.
As you can see, after a slow adoption of the platform, I am now a clear Zoom-fan.
THE GREAT HALFWAY HOUSE
I do believe that our days of 'online everything on Zoom' are not yet over. The result of making the unimaginable possible means that there will be more concessions around what will and will not continue online. Zoom is here to stay.
In the shorter term, what I am convinced Zoom will continue to provide is a halfway house between being completely secluded and isolated, to being back out there in the world. I, for one, do not feel 100% ready to mingle and I don't know when I will be.
So while we dust off those dancing shoes, make plans to meet with old acquaintances and family members, schedule our next overseas holiday, and work up the courage to be with lots of people again, Zoom can still provide another thing that's really important in uncertain times: familiarity. A place we've - reluctantly perhaps - grown to know and trust; though sometimes we may also want to forget what it has done for us.