Are Online Yoga Classes as Good as the Real Thing? The Pros and Cons of Virtual Instructors

Practicing Yoga at home using online Yoga classes

Parking for 90 minutes: $10
Vinyasa yoga class: $20
Pressed juice and bran muffin from hip cafe next door: $12.90
Feeling of serenity and strength: Priceless?

Practicing yoga is a great way to destress, build strength, become more flexible, get in tune with your body, and boost your overall wellbeing. But it can be an expensive — and time-consuming — activity. Classes are usually pricey, starting at $15 and increasing from there, and when you add in related costs like transportation, clothing, mats, blocks, and other gear, you’re devoting a big portion of your paycheck to yoga.

Plus, most people struggle to make it to the studio on a consistent basis. And who can blame them? Between school, work, family, friends, and other hobbies, we’re all busy.

Enter: online yoga lessons.

online yoga classes on laptop

Taking a yoga class at home can mitigate (if not entirely solve) these issues. Of course, it’s not a perfect solution — virtual yoga courses present their own challenges.

Let’s dive into the pros and cons of online yoga, as well as how to enjoy all only the pros. We’ll share 8 tips on how to safely practice yoga at home as you follow a virtual instructor, and how to find the perfect yoga videos to follow.

The Advantages of Virtual Yoga:

The Advantages of Virtual Yoga

Benefit #1: It’s much cheaper

No matter how you slice it, “real life” yoga courses are far costlier than virtual ones. Drop in courses usually cost between $10 to $20, with studios offering slightly cheaper rates if you buy classes in bulk.

Online courses, on the other hand, are often available for as low as $5 for a class. Buy a monthly unlimited subscription package for $8 to $25, do five classes per week, and price per class is extremely low.

That makes practicing yoga much more budget-friendly.

Benefit #2: It’s faster

When going to a class is as easy as laying out your mat and pressing “play,” it’s a lot likelier you’ll do it.

Between getting in the car, driving, finding parking, and walking in (and repeating the process in reverse when you leave), an in-person class can often eat up two hours of your day. An online course, however, takes seconds to get started.

Benefit #3: It’s flexible

Much like that impressive woman doing a headstand in the front row, online classes are very flexible. Because you can choose from five- to 90-minute videos, it’s easy to fit one in. Running behind schedule? Do a short class. Got plenty of time to spare? Take a long one, or even binge a few in a row.

When you’re going to a studio class, you usually only have three choices: 45 minutes, 60 minutes, and 90 minutes. It’s great to have more variety.

Plus, you can practice whatever you want — not what the studio is offering on the time and day you’re free. Maybe you want a slow, relaxing class. Or maybe you’re looking for something that will move quickly and challenge you. All you need to do is search and pick your favorite option.

Benefit #4: It’s travel-friendly

If you want to maintain your yoga routine when you travel, you’ll love online yoga courses. When you’re in a new place and out of your normal routine, finding the time, space, and motivation to exercise is extremely tough.

Virtual yoga lets you prop up your screen anywhere, anytime, and go through a flow or practice a position. Doing yoga on the go becomes — well, if not effortless, much easier.

Benefit #5: It gives you access to amazing teachers

Most of us will never get a chance to take a yoga course from one of the best teachers in the world. In person, that is. You can take nearly unlimited courses with amazing yogis online. This is an awesome way to learn yoga from the people that inspire you.

Benefit #6: It’s less intimidating

Whether you’re a yoga veteran or a newbie, let’s face it: Walking into a yoga class can feel scary. Maybe you are nervous you won’t be able to do all of the poses or understand the teacher’s instructions. Perhaps you feel different than the other people in the class or worry you’re not wearing the “right” clothes.

These anxieties aren’t present when you’re practicing in your own home. Who’s going to judge you for wearing an old shirt, your cat? It’s often easier to get into a relaxed, meditative state in the comfort and solitude of your house or apartment.

That being said, online yoga comes with some drawbacks.

The Disadvantage of Virtual Yoga:

The Disadvantage of Virtual Yoga

Disadvantage #1: It’s not as safe

Without the expert help of an instructor, you might do poses incorrectly, leading to bad habits and poor form — and potential injuries. A teacher can help you make progress by spotting and fixing your mistakes.

Without this individualized attention, yoga is harder to learn.

Disadvantage #2: It’s not as communal

While practicing solo is definitely soothing, there’s something special about practicing yoga with other people. Bonding with your classmates is common — and not surprising since you’re all participating in a deep, typically meaningful experience. If you enjoy walking into the studio and seeing familiar faces, or making friends in class, online yoga might not be ideal.

Disadvantage #3: It’s easier to put off

If you’ve committed to a class, you’re probably going to show up (especially if you’ve paid in advance). However, if you’re planning on doing a video — which you can access anytime — you may put it off. “I’ll do it before lunch” turns into “I’ll do it after I run my errands” turns into “I’ll get to it when we finish dinner” turns into “It’s time to go to sleep, guess I’ll practice tomorrow.”

Do you need something or someone to keep you accountable? That might be an obstacle for online courses.

Disadvantage #4: It’s harder to follow

Some have a hard time following a virtual instructor.

“It’s hard to do the poses and simultaneously check the screen to make sure you’re doing them properly,” says Lindsey Allen, a graphic designer who’s been practicing yoga for several years.  “I’d much rather take a class in person, where an instructor can make corrections to my poses.”

Allen suggests streaming the videos to a TV instead of a laptop screen if you’re experiencing this issue.

So Should You Enroll in an Online Yoga Class?

So, will online courses be responsible for the next generation of yogis? Or should you stick to the millennia-old tradition of practicing yoga in person? The answer is… both!

You don’t have to choose one or the other. Supplementing real-world classes with online ones — or vice versa — is the perfect way to make your practice convenient, consistent, and affordable, as well as effective, safe, and challenging.

Here are a few tips on how to enjoy all of the pros and none of the cons of online yoga classes at home:

1. Don’t start with an online class

If you’re entirely new to yoga (like, never done any guided yoga), it’s better not to start off with online classes alone (although online classes would still be better than attempting your first poses entirely on your own).

Take a few in-person classes to learn the proper poses (at least that basic ones) to be able to apply them to your practice and flow at home. An in-person instructor will be able to see your strengths and weakness, point them out to you and tell you how to fix them. You’ll get to know what the right form feels like in each pose so they become second nature to you. This will give you a frame of reference for you to start following with a virtual instructor.

2. Find the right online yoga class

Not all online yoga classes are created equal – what makes a good yoga video? Image quality? Sound? Music? Nope. What makes a good and effective online yoga video is the instructor – the rest are just bells and whistles. A good yoga instructor should be able to guide you primarily vocally, then visually, by explaining poses on themselves or someone else. Look for videos where you could mostly understand the instructor while your eyes are closed, so you’ll be able to follow along even if you’re not looking at the screen.

Do your research and find professional online yoga instructors who are virtually able to teach you how to do poses. Read reviews, watch their free videos and take advantage of their free trials. Don’t compromise your safety.

3. Pay extra attention to your body

While at an in-person yoga class, your instructor’s got your back, which often results in you doing the pose however you think is right thinking “if I’m doing it wrong, he/she will tell me”. While doing online yoga at home, however, the onus is entirely on you – which is actually a really great advantage! You’re forced to connect with your body and truly listen to every muscle and bone to make sure your alignment is correct.

4. Engage in an online community

Often times, the best online yoga classes also have an online community. That could be on their Instagram, a closed Facebook group, a forum, or pretty much anywhere! Follow that community for inspiration, support, connections and advice around something your truly care about.

5. Use the pause and rewind buttons

If you’re flowing along with your virtual instructor and he/she gets into a new pose you’ve never heard of and can’t manage on the fly with your head opposite to the screen, pause and rewind. There’s no need to fluster or feel frustrated that you had to stop. Watch your instructor do the pose as many times as you need to before you proceed along. It’s worth it.

6. Know when to stop

“Painful” is different than “challenging”. If you feel sharp shooting pain, numbness or tingling down a limb,or any intense pain in your knees, elbows, wrists, hips or neck, then adjust and soften your pose until it feels better. If it doesn’t get better then snake out of it. Don’t push. (Now would be a great time to engage in that online community with questions!)

7. Always end in Savasana

A good yoga video will always close in Savasana, but if it doesn’t make sure you do it yourself yo bring closure to your flow and reap your sessions benefits throughout the rest of your day.

Namaste.

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