While most academic classes have been able to transition their content online, student fitness classes have had a harder time adjusting.
Rebecca Thorpe, a yoga instructor at Whitman, is finding one of the most difficult things about the transition to be the inability to cultivate the same environment as in-person classes.
“I think the energy of the class is far more important than any pose, breathing technique or meditation I may introduce. It’s the coming together as human beings and moving and breathing together as one body rather than twenty-seven,” Thorpe said. “I think we crave group connection and purpose.”
Without the environment to foster this kind of unity, Thorpe finds it difficult to connect to her students.
“Being an island isn’t very fun and it certainly isn’t healthy for the mind, body or soul for long periods of time,” Thorpe said.
As a student in Thorpe’s class, senior Bella Rivera also believes that not practicing along with other people in her class makes yoga more difficult because of the lack of community she’s used to in her classroom.
“Before the pandemic, we would all be practicing together – you can literally hear the breathing of people around you, and this unison really helps to maintain focus and strength,” Rivera said. “Now, sometimes I’ll practice a yoga video with one of my housemates, but usually it’s alone.”
It’s not just yoga classes that are finding it hard to maintain group unity. The club Z-Fit, which leads participants in zumba, is having a hard time with technology to make the class as seamless as possible. Co-leader of Z-Fit, Blair Bingham, is doing the best she can under these circumstances.
“On campus, Z-Fit was a club everyone could participate in. Online, this is much less of a reality. The need for high-speed wifi and a device you can watch and listen to the class from makes participation more difficult for some students,” Bingham said. “The benefit is, of course, that the class can go on! When we first moved to online courses, I never imagined it would be relatively easy to teach Z-Fit online.”
Senior Beatrice Solomon, who co-leads the club with Bingham, elaborated on the pros and cons of an online Z-Fit class. While being able to exercise without leaving the safety of her home, the lack of enthusiasm that an in-person class provides is something she has to adjust to.
“Some of the benefits of the Zoom classes is that parents and friends who do not attend Whitman are able to participate in the classes, and it offers a way to exercise without leaving the house. Some negatives are that the video and sound often lag, making it hard for students to follow along,” Solomon said. “Additionally, some students may not have the space in their house to participate. Lastly, online classes lack some of the excitement and community that you feel going to an in-person Z-Fit class.”
In light of unexpected circumstances, Thorpe is trying to be as accessible and authentic as possible for her students over the online platform. Even though she is not trying to make extravagant videos, she’s thankful that she is still able to teach.
“My goal for my online classes is to reach anyone who may need some yoga in their life. I’ve opened up my YouTube channel not only to my classes but to the online world. My classes are not fancy. There is no editing. No special lighting. No group of beautiful people behind me smiling through the class,” Thorpe said. “I am throwing on the yoga pants, putting down my mat, cueing the music and practicing yoga as authentically as I can. I hope my approach makes it accessible and puts everyone at ease.”
With more time at home, Rivera has more time to focus on yoga and improve her form and strength.
“I’ve really enjoyed this class, because it has also taught me about meditation, not just stretches and strength. Given all the time to kill now, I’m trying to practice as much as possible so that I can continue doing yoga when the school year is over, and hopefully incorporate it into my daily routine,” Rivera said.
Although the spring semester is ending virtually, Thorpe and others are looking for the silver linings.
“Teaching online has opened up an avenue that I never even considered before. I love teaching yoga classes so much! I’ve been doing it for twenty years. But in all that time, I never thought about sharing my classes online,” Thorpe said. “I’ve had some feedback from viewers out there and I’m really grateful that my classes have had the opportunity to make more people feel better.”