Mabel Kurian says she has always found it difficult to stick to a fitness routine. “I would start off enthusiastically but after a while, as it got tough to balance work, commute time and social stuff, I’d eventually drop off,” says the 35-year-old software professional from Bengaluru. During the covid-19 pandemic lockdown, however, Kurian started a thrice-weekly yoga session with her former yoga instructor because her apartment complex in south Bengaluru was in complete lockdown and not being able to even go for a walk started bothering her.
Initially, working out with a screen acting as a medium was challenging but soon, Kurian and her instructor found a rhythm during their online classes. Six months down the line, Kurian says she has been more regular with her fitness routine than ever before. “Earlier, mornings were not suitable for my yoga class because I’m not an early riser and by the time I woke up and got dressed, it was time to start my hour-long commute to work. Now I can schedule classes at 9 or 10 am, which really works for me. I can schedule calls and meetings around the class or if it’s an absolutely non-negotiable work call, I can shift my class to 4 or 5 pm, not a problem,” says Kurian.
“I just finished taking a class online!” says Divya Rolla, head of the yoga vertical at holistic health company Cure.Fit, when we talk. “For me, the biggest advantage of online classes is there are no geographical barriers any more. As a yoga instructor, I always had a wish-list of gurus I wanted to learn from, who were based in Bali or Brazil or the US. This year, I’ve ticked off most of my wish-list,” says Rolla.
Rolla agrees that online yoga has helped people stick to a routine, and there are fewer drop-offs because of timing and commuting issues. “There has been a huge spike in online classes, and the spike has remained consistent even after yoga studios and gyms were allowed to open. Not just that, more people are showing up consistently, because now they can fit yoga into their daily routine,” says Rolla.
One of the top reasons people drop off from any form of regular exercise is lack of time. In fact, several self-reported questionnaires and studies from around the world have shown that scheduling challenges is the number one reason people stop working out or give up a gym membership or yoga class. Well, ‘Zoom yoga’ may have eased that a bit.
In fact, there's data from a new consumer study to back that up. According to the Amex Trendex, a trend report from American Express, Indian consumers are prioritizing their wellbeing with more time at home. As many as 54% of the respondents of the poll, conducted by YouGov among 1000 Indians, said that they have downloaded or streamed digital fitness programs in the last six months. Indians ranked first among six nations covered by the survey in this parameter, followed by the US where 30% of the respondents said they had signed up for digital fitness. "With so many working out from home and/or having more time for fitness, 70% say they are more likely to care about fitness moving forward, while 68% agreed they have an increased appreciation for it," say the authors of the survey.
“Well of course people could have done it earlier too but the truth is even among the yoga teaching community there were mental barriers to teaching online classes. We believed that you needed to be there, to touch and correct students’ postures. But when we were forced to experience it (taking classes online), we found it wasn’t that difficult. Everything is habit,” says Rolla.
Sarvesh Shashi, Founder, SARVA—Yoga, Mindfulness & Beyond, agrees that online yoga has helped people who have found it difficult to stick to a routine in the past. “Timings are more flexible and with more people working from home, it is less challenging to sign up for a class and find a quiet time and a quiet corner of the house. There’s more control over timings and schedules,” says Shashi.
Bengaluru-based independent yoga instructor Poornima Rao makes an interesting observation: she says many of her students, who used to come to her Koramanagala studio for in-person classes, dropped off from her online classes during the initial days of the pandemic and lockdown when she had to shut shop temporarily, but new students have been more regular and consistent. “I think older students who were too used to physical classes found it difficult to transition to the online space, but the new ones came with no expectations and were more open-minded. They have been very regular too--hardly any drop-offs,” says Rao. Many of her older students are coming back though, and many have preferred to join her online group or one-on-one classes than go to the studio, which is open now.
Ultimately, all exercise is about consistency and showing up. ‘Zoom yoga’ may just have forced us to relinquish the excuses—‘no time to go to the studio’, ‘traffic will be horrible at this time’, ‘I have to finish this presentation now'—and grab that yoga mat and get into a downward dog.