The Covid Retreat | Why Yoga Became The Anchor In A Pandemic

It seems like every exercise class under the sun is now being offered online. I’ve seen practically everything on offer, from spinning and aeriel classes to gymnastics and ballet. Friends and family of mine who never did a yoga class before the pandemic have turned to it as an escape. UK retailer John Lewis has seen a 496% increase of sales in home workhouse equipment, with yoga mats being their best-selling item. Spinning brand Peloton too saw a 66% surge in sales of their spin bikes, despite the minimum price being €2290 for their ‘basic package’.

At least in the case of yoga though, the practice requires little equipment or space. You don’t even need a mat to start, and the popularity of it right now – a practice that calls for relaxation and meditation – most likely isn’t a coincidence.

“People are scared and unsure,” Lucy, a yoga teacher explains. “There is also a lot more free time for people who ‘didn’t have time’ for a practice before. This offers people structure and time to reflect.”

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An avid yogi and aspiring teacher myself, yoga has given structure to my day since I lost my job as a consequence of Covid-19. For the hour that I’m on my mat I forget about my anxieties and focus on my breath, on my body. Similar to myself, fellow yogi Catie who also lost her job has been doing a lot of yoga since lockdown began.

“I’ve gotten much deeper into my practice since I am out of work and have plenty of time on my hands, so I spend a lot of time practising yoga to keep myself grounded, keep my fitness up, and to keep me busy. It’s truly been my anchor during all of this uneasiness.”

Irish studios closed as quarantine began, but teachers were quick to pivot online and demand has risen, even offering meditation classes as the need for mindfulness grows in these uncertain times. But has the pivot online opened up yoga to more people?

In-person classes can be hard to access for many reasons. Studios can be intimidating to the curious beginner for fear of looking like you don’t know what you’re doing. Online you can let go of worrying about aesthetics. Although encouraged to turn on your camera during a zoom session, it’s always optional and you can simply turn off your webcam. You don’t have to look perfect nor does your room. If your body is tired, you can take a rest in a child’s pose and not feel as though you’re being lazy or judged.

Classes are now significantly cheaper too, ranging anywhere from nothing to €10 instead of the higher price of up to €20 euro prior to the pandemic. Teachers are using their social platforms to teach for free or a donation as you stream, making yoga accessible to those who couldn’t afford it before.

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Ruth, another yoga student in Dublin has noticed the increased demand for yoga during lockdown. “There’s a big focus on mindfulness and grounding right now – from those who practiced before to many more who are starting to explore this space in light of the stresses caused by the pandemic. Another reason is that due to the distance and general limits around exercise, the closures of gyms, trainings cancelled etc., people need a way to exercise effectively in their homes and yoga is ideal for this.”

Before Covid-19, my studio of choice in the heart of Dublin city was never empty. Classes would book out weeks in advance, strange faces became familiar hellos, goodbyes and warm chit chat. Yoga was our escape from the hectic pressures of modern life. So much has changed since then.

February seems like a lifetime ago. Yoga is now my escape during pandemic life, not an antidote for achieving work-life balance. It helps on the days I’m feeling lonely and isolated from friends. During a class I know that I’m not alone, even though I might be alone physically. I know that I’m part of a class. That offers some reassurance. By the end of an online yoga session my anxiety levels out and I feel calmer, like I can breathe again. Yoga has helped me survive the ebb and flow of uncertainty during this pandemic. It’s an exercise that pays close attention to the breath. Meditation is a coping tool for the current crisis. Doing yoga virtually in a time of quarantine has given some people a little bit of normalcy and routine in extraordinary times.

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