The benefits of face-to-face

During lockdowns, we all got used to logging on for remote calls.  Maybe it was remote learning with our kids.  Maybe we tried a few online yoga or fitness classes?

There is no doubt that these remote sessions were a life-saver.  They were a much-needed rescue from our limited social circle.

Even before lockdowns I have been in the habit of practising yoga using a couple of recorded online videos a week.  They are a source of inspiration for me, allowing to keep my practice and my class plans fresh and varied.

But there is nothing quite like being in the same room as others, practising yoga together.

When we are face to face, in the same room, we can really connect.  We can pick up on the mood of the room.  We can read the subtle body language, facial expressions, and even breathing patterns that reveal how others really are.

This leads to more fulfilling interactions.  We are literally, more real to one another.

In video calls, I find that we are a little one-dimensional and a little stilted.  We cannot get that 360 degree view of the whole room.  We can’t see how everyone in the room is responding to what is being said. 

When we are face-to-face, we scan the whole room and we use our peripheral vision to take the temperature of the group.  We get instant feedback so that if someone is confused, or if an idea doesn’t work for them, the other people in the room quickly pick up on this and help out.  This gives the group a sense of cohesiveness: we are literally ‘in this together’. 

This happens in yoga class.  Following the teacher’s cues, our breathing pattern starts to coordinate.  The teacher’s tone of voice will lead the energy in the room.  When we need to use all our energy for a strong posture, we will draw on the teacher’s excited, encouraging tones.  When we are settling down into seated postures, we will be soothed by the teacher’s deeper, slower voice.

We are echoing one another; shadowing one another; riffing off one another.  We move as one, breathe as one, feel as one! 

This is powerful stuff.  Humans are innately social beings.  Even the most introverted introvert thrives on feeling accepted and connected: having a place in the world.

In my daytime role as a speech and language therapist I have been really interested in the importance of face-to-face interaction.  When we make eye-contact with another person, we get a burst of oxytocin, also known as the ‘bonding hormone’.  This feel-good neurotransmitter literally bathes our brain and our nervous system so that we feel soothed, nurtured and connected.

I don’t know if we get this oxytocin burst when we make eye-contact via a screen, but I suspect not.  For me, online interactions feel a little intense, if they are one-to-one, and a little distant if they are in a group.  We never quite know who is looking at who, and what people are responding to. 

In contrast, face-to-face interactions feel more spontaneous, more free and easy, and, well…warm.  We know we are connecting, because we can feel it. 

As a yoga teacher, I know that I can give you personalised cues to help you get deeper into your practice.  I can see whether you prefer visual or auditory cues, and I can ask if you would like hands-on adjustment.  I can see the strain on your face when something is too much and we can dial it back.  I can see when you are ready to progress a posture into something new and exciting and wild.  I can use your instinctive movements and incorporate these into my sequencing.  We can take a yoga adventure together.

And it’s not all about the teacher. I love how in a face-to-face class, people look out for one another. They make room for a new person, and fetch them props. People gravitate towards the same spot each week and start to chat with the people around them. They follow one another and match the same option in a posture. They make eye-contact and smile at one another, and on occasion they gasp or laugh together.

We can’t care for one another in the same way in an online class.

There is nothing like being able to look around the room and see one another in a fierce warrior or a joyful goddess pose. Seeing the beauty of a diverse group of people joined together in this practice.

I finish each class with a Namaste as we bow to one another.  We bow to the light that is in each and every human being, and we honour this.  This is the ultimate benefit of being in the same room.  We can really show up for one another and show that we care.  It doesn’t matter how well we know one another: we recognise our shared humanity, and our shared joy in connection.

And this, ultimately is why we practice yoga.