Like every other adult woman in my Seattle neighborhood, with its Subarus (sensible) and almond milk (organic), I consider yoga an essential part of my routine. It’s one I picked up from my mom; we’ve been going to Seattle yoga classes together ever since a running injury first forced me onto the mat in high school.

Since then, we’ve been devoted yoga buddies, but like blasé hand hygiene and working in offices, our yoga practice was recently halted by the outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, and for good reason: Social distancing isn’t really possible in a yoga studio, where all manner of hands pass over all manner of props, people walk around barefoot and crowded classes often involve maneuvering around (if not straight into) the prone, sweaty bodies of your neighbors.

But I need yoga more than ever in a crisis, so it was a relief when we found out last week that our neighborhood studio, 8 Limbs, would be livestreaming classes on Zoom. I was so frazzled from working on a coronavirus-related story the day classes opened that I decided to “attend” as soon as I could, and texted my mom an invite. She said she might be working too late to make it. (My mother works in health care policy; this is not an easy time for either of us, professionally speaking.) I was bummed she couldn’t make it, but ready to remind myself I live in a body, and not just an overtaxed, overthinking brain.

At the appointed time, I put away my work, but not my laptop, rolled out my mat on the floor of my living room and was flooded with relief to see one of my favorite teachers, MJ, smiling in greeting as the names of my fellow students popped up on-screen with each login. The class was a gentle all-levels flow, and it was just like any studio class, with a few major deviations: MJ called up her music on Alexa; we were muted during class and so all of the oms and chanting were performed on the honor system; and, at one point, MJ’s dog appeared in-frame (honestly, an upgrade).

One upside to taking yoga over Zoom? Getting to see the dogs who hang out in your teacher’s yoga room. (Courtesy of MJ Daniels)
One upside to taking yoga over Zoom? Getting to see the dogs who hang out in your teacher’s yoga room. (Courtesy of MJ Daniels)

I’d thought it would be impersonal to take yoga through a screen, but it felt jarringly good to become reacquainted with my breathing and to be able to look out at my view of Green Lake and the Cascade Mountains while moving through sun salutations. And though there’s a feeling of emptiness that comes with following prerecorded exercises on YouTube or an app, I was surprisingly moved by the knowledge that many other people were taking class with me from their own living rooms, even if I couldn’t see them. It didn’t feel like a YouTube video. It felt like community. Maybe that’s one of the unintended consequences of the pivot to Zoom: a melding of our private and public contexts into something that feels a little more holistic than either one on its own.

In class at the studio weeks before, I would sometimes compare myself to the people around me, or get irritated when someone breathed loudly next to me or knocked over a water bottle. All of those distractions were gone now, and I felt nothing but gratitude for everyone in this strange experiment with me.

“I thought I’d feel all alone,” said MJ. “But I can feel you all here with me.”

Bizarrely, I knew what she meant. At the end of class, we unmuted ourselves to say thank-you. And then I saw I’d gotten a text. It was from my mom. “I’m at yoga with you,” she said.