Yoga in the Time of the Pandemic

As the planet and all of us on it is going through enormous changes and adjustments, the yoga world has also been turned upside down.

When I began exploring yoga in the mid-70s it was a mystical art and we practiced on small rugs and beach towels in people’s living rooms. It was cozy and somewhat esoteric at the same time. For some of us it would inspire a journey to India.

Later yoga would start to blossom into a burgeoning industry: fancy yoga mats, glossy magazine, conferences, yoga centers big and small, even yoga studio chains. Any gym that wanted to be taken seriously made yoga classes available.

Different styles of yoga started to appear, with more athletic ones becoming especially popular. It was possible to be in big yoga rooms with a hundred plus sweaty people, mat to mat with a live DJ. 

Yoga gurus, yoga rockstars, yoga celebrities!!

Frankly though, the yoga itself was getting kinda lost in the excitement.

Now we’ve done a 180, or so it seems. As it is increasingly unwise to be in tight rooms with others “breathing in and out“, gyms are struggling and many yoga centers have closed, some for good. Yogaworks, one of the larger chains nationally and owner of all the Yoga tree outlets in San Francisco, filed for bankruptcy a few weeks ago. Sixty yoga centers around the country closed as a result. 

Many of the gurus had already passed away, while others were tragically exposed. The yoga rockstars?! Well, they live on Instagram. 

Yoga space right before class

Now, the rest of us, practitioners and simple teachers alike, are once again in our living rooms, hopefully going back to the roots of the practice. After all, yoga is ultimately a solitary practice.

For myself, almost by accident, I started offering online classes just a few days after the initial closedown. I was encouraged by my daughter Yunji to do so immediately. She told me emphatically not to wait and procrastinate so that people would get into a new habit right away.

Then Enso, a studio in Half Moon Bay where I worked, was on the same page.

I had my doubts, whether I could do it and if it would even work.

I could and it has! 

In fact it continues to surprise and humble me.

Of course I miss the physical contact with the students, yet many of them have developed a true practice at long last.

Instead of doing yoga once a week, it’s become an almost daily ritual as intended. 

No more comparing to others, vying for spots on the studio floor, circling to find parking. Ahh…

Collectively we have been going deeper than I would have ever imagined. My personal practice has changed as well. I used to drive about a thousand miles a month from place to place to teach. Now I drive less than a hundred. It has given me time to be more diligent in exploring little nuances of the practice.

The proverbial curse of any yoga teacher is that the more you teach, the more your own practice suffers. It’s almost a cliché!

View from the yoga room

Now as I teach just one class a day, I have more time to think about it, ponder and truly look forward to the morning class.

Later in the afternoon, I have the opportunity to explore and inquire on my own.

I used to joke in my in person classes that I don’t practice yoga to touch my toes but more to stay sane. It sounded kind of cool. Nowadays this has become true, more than ever. For a lot of people actually, judging by the emails I receive almost daily.

I have noticed in myself and others that during this time of increased anxiety it’s often hard to concentrate, whether reading a book or practicing yoga. This is where I see the place and need for intelligent online classes. Back in our own spaces: bedrooms, living rooms, maybe even the backyard, we’re now at long last becoming our own gurus.  

The teacher provides structure and ideas, the students modify according to their own bodies and become still enough to listen to their own breath. 

I do my best to be so precise with the language in class that regular students hardly need to look at the screen. This gives them a chance to use their internal eyes and go deeper within. 

It’s also been delightful to reconnect with friends and students who moved away years ago and that are now back practicing several times a week.

On the other hand I’ve talked to students that cannot (yet) wrap their heads around doing yoga online. Some of them have developed a simple home practice, using what they have learned throughout the years. Others dropped yoga altogether, alas. I recently spoke with someone who did the latter and she told me that her body had noticeably aged. I encouraged her to join us.

I truly believe we need our yogic skills now more than ever and though we’re practicing physically apart, a new community is taking shape. Two students in our class are twin sisters: one in Hawaii, the other in Half Moon Bay. They greet each other almost daily in class. A mother in New York invited her son to join the class from France, while her sister participates from San Mateo!

I look with curiosity every morning to see who is showing up, sometimes adjusting the class accordingly. 

Where we are going, what will be the lasting impact on our yoga practice of the time of the pandemic remains to be seen. Too early yet to tell. It’s a fascinating journey though. 

Be well!        🙏 Robert 

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Robert de Nies


  1. I have to admit that I was feeling anxious and lost in March of 2020 when the pandemic forced Primetime to close. I asked around and no one seems to know how to get a hold of you, my favorite yoga teacher. I feel lucky to have connected with you and started your classes. Since then, I have structure that I need in my life. I learned skills to calm myself down and ease the tightness in my body with the breathing. I feel I can now handle the challenges of life in these unprecedented time. In a way, I am in a better existence now than ever: No more fighting for a spot on the floor or dealing with the intensity of the public classes. Yoga with Robert is a blessing.

  2. Great article, Robert. Happy that I can continue with you “on the screen.” You are an amazing teacher and I always feel better after your class.

  3. I love it, Robert! I agree with you, yoga is such a personal journey….. no fancy yoga outfits, no competition to be best . I just love to be there in my bedroom in the morning with Dakota, my dog, and do my yoga practice. I have combined your routines and Margaret Kramer’s to make my own. It calms me down and helps put everything in perspective.
    Thank you for being such a wonderful teacher!!
    Namaste and forever grateful,

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