Downward-dogging it with Cuomo

Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Zoom Yoga

[photo of author]

It was the second week of quarantine, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Not really, of course — but I was going pretty crazy. I’m one of those people with what they call a “daily yoga practice.” Or, if not quite daily, at least several times a week. And I hadn’t been to the yoga studio since mid-March.

I’ve been doing yoga at least a few times a week for almost ten years. I know the Sanskrit names of all kinds of poses. But I had no home practice at all. Until COVID-19, I probably hadn’t done so much as an hour of yoga at home in my life.

What I was doing, though, once California’s stay-at-home orders came down, was obsessively watching Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily morning briefings, topped off with a lot of MSNBC, a little CNN, and a little Netflix. I was on my couch, with my computer open in front of me, for too many hours a day. Eating too much, not moving enough. Not driving the L.A. freeways was great for my sciatica, but in every other way, my increasingly sluggish existence was taking a toll.

When it finally sunk in that I wouldn’t be getting to the yoga studio anytime soon, I went online to try to save a few bucks by pausing my membership. Imagine my surprise to find free, unlimited online yoga. Probably as they (cleverly) intended, I stopped trying to figure out which pull-down tab would freeze my membership, and perused the schedule with interest. Why not try it? It’s paid for, after all. I have a mat, I have a computer, I have some space. Why not? (At the beginning, it was actually free to the public, too, though you had to visit the site or get a link to find out.)

So I tried it. The first few classes weren’t great. I didn’t know the teachers, the Zoom interface had its problems. Sometimes I just quit after 20 minutes. Quarantine has done kind of a number on my attention span, and I just didn’t have the focus. Sometimes I started 20 minutes in. But it was free! Who cared if I only did half the class, or left in the middle to check email, or showed up late? The classes were webcast — the teacher couldn’t see or hear me. So that was the first thing I did that I’d never done as a conventional yoga student — took just part of a class. And I found that some yoga is better than none.

The next morning, while watching Gov. Cuomo’s daily briefing on TV, I thought, why not try a Zoom yoga class at the same time? So I rolled out my mat with my laptop at the short edge and the TV on the wall on the long side. I’ve done enough yoga that I could follow a mostly-muted class with the TV on. When I needed yoga instruction, I muted the TV, relied on Cuomo’s world-class PowerPoints, and unmuted Zoom; and then switched back. In lots of settings, I’m a skeptic about multi-tasking, which usually amounts to doing several things badly, all at the same time. But this was a better way to spend the hour than just watching TV, and to start my day with yoga.

I’ve kept at it, sometimes combining Zoom yoga with Cuomo, sometimes with a midday show like Nicolle Wallace, and if I’ve gotten to the end of the day without any exercise, with The Rachel Maddow Show. I confess, I frequently mute the loooonnng pre-commercial teasers she’s famous for, and get a few minutes of uninterrupted yoga instruction. (I’ll confess I’ve also done Zoom yoga during meetings I called into by phone. Works wonders.)

Here’s some of what I’ve learned from my experiment.

I can do yoga on impulse. And I actually do.

Before, the yoga studio schedule ruled my practice. Like most studios, classes were clustered in the morning and the late afternoon. I might get the urge to do yoga at 2pm, but all too often, it dissipated by the next class at 4:30pm, or I had a conflict at that later time. Now, classes start nearly every quarter-hour, all day long from 3am Pacific until after 8pm. Sometimes there are several to choose from. Feel like yoga-do yoga. It happens almost that quickly. Could I have done that before? Of course. But I didn’t.

It really doesn’t matter what I wear.

I don’t belong to the matched Lululemon-athleisure set, believe me. But there are things even someone as casual as I am won’t wear in public. Now, I can wake up and do yoga in what I slept in, and often do.

I’m never late because of traffic.

In L.A., I live close to my yoga studio. And I still cut it too close, way too often. One too many red lights, an unexpectedly crowded parking lot, and I’m running to make the class, interrupting the opening meditation when my 7.5 pound Manduka mat slaps down on the floor, or worse yet, arriving too late to be let in. Now, I can join in the middle if I want. It’s easier to be a good citizen of a Zoom yoga class.

Leaving early is OK. So is starting late.

It’s hard to leave a yoga class early. It always seems like an insult to the teacher, or like giving up. It’s just not done. So, in the Before, if I knew I couldn’t stay for the whole class without missing whatever I needed to do next, I just didn’t go at all. Now, I do.

All in all, quarantine yoga is no-excuses yoga. You really can just do it.

I have a much more varied practice.

In recent years, with the exception of the occasional yoga retreat or workshop, I’ve taken one hour yoga classes, once a day (late morning or late afternoon), mostly at the same studio, with a short list of teachers. In the past month, I’ve done yoga in 15 minute bursts, for an hour, for two hours, at all different times of day, with lots of different instructors. It’s loosened up my idea of what a yoga practice can or should be.

I’m supporting teachers I like and care about.

Last December, I traveled to Tucson, Arizona, for a three-day workshop with Darren Rhodes of Yoga Oasis. It was fantastic, but it was a big commitment of time and money. A few Saturdays ago, in quarantine, he led a “From Tadasana to Savasana” workshop over Zoom. We did (almost) all the poses in B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, a yoga “bucket list” event for lots of us. It started at 9 a.m. on a Saturday and is apparently still going… just kidding, we finished a bit before 5 p.m., but I actually left to do an errand at about 4:15 and was shocked they were just wrapping up when I got back half an hour later.

When I signed up for this marathon session, I really had no idea if I could get through it. But I was reminded of something a rabbi friend of mine had said on High Holidays years ago. He explained to the worshippers who came once a year that the synagogue charges for tickets to those services, so that the synagogue would still be there when they came back next year. I’d like Darren’s studio to be there the next time I can go in person. And I did a lot more of those poses than I thought I could!

Focused yoga practice is better.

Of course it is. Of course it is better not to try to watch the news, check email, or make coffee, in between yoga poses. Of course it’s better to commit an uninterrupted hour or more to yoga practice. But for too many of us these days — or for me, at least — the alternative to morning yoga-with-Cuomo, or evening yoga-with-Rachel, realistically, is just Cuomo or Rachel, with no yoga at all.

It’s probably no surprise that yoga has been good for my quarantine. It’s probably made being quarantined with me a lot better, too. The surprise is that quarantine has also been good for my yoga. And that, I didn’t expect.

Did you do yoga before quarantine? Did you start during this time? Has staying at home changed your practice? Send your thoughts and stories about yoga and quarantine to me at dianeklein66@gmail.com.

law professor, amateur acrobat, gadfly, baker @Lawprofdiane

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