Oxygen Mask Theory – Self Care as We Pivot Teaching 

Why Self-Care is Critical in the Pivot to Online Yoga Teaching 

Do you know the oxygen mask theory?

Do you know the oxygen mask theory?

That announcement flight attendants say when you are on an airplane waiting for take off. “In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, put o your oxygen mask before you help others.”

If you don’t help yourself first, you risk not being able to help anyone else who needs it. If you don’t take care of yourself, you are in no position–physically, mentally or emotionally–to take care of others.

Loss of cabin pressure in a high-flying airplane is a crisis—a different type of emergency than the virus pandemic but a serious crisis nonetheless. It can lead to hypoxia, which is a dangerous lack of oxygen to the body and brain. It’s very easy to reach this life-threatening state without even realizing what’s going on. So put on your oxygen mask! Only then can you decide what to do next.

If you jump into teaching online and do not consider a longer term plan for this new “normal”, you risk burning out and depleting all of your own resources. You may help people initially, but there’s only so much you can give without burning out. When you are drained, you can’t help much. It’s impossible to pour a glass of water if your own cup is empty.

Pivoting into this new paradigm of online yoga classes is going to be a test of all your organizing and teaching skills. Putting on your oxygen mask first is the exact opposite of a selfish act. It’s an act of self-care over self-ish. Help yourself in order to help others!

How do I do that?

First, take some time for self reflection. Regular moments of silence and introspection can be extremely helpful in confronting many of life’s challenges.

Create a practice that is consistent for yourself and your students. With sheltering in place, time has become what the Bhutanese call “stretchable.” The structure of a consistent schedule for your individual practice, and for taking or teaching classes, can be very effectively calming. Example: Morning personal practice at 9 a.m. every day; 10-minute yoga break at 10:30 a.m., Mondays through Fridays; 20-minute afternoon meditation at 3 p.m. every day, etc., etc.

Be open to the change. We have so many great tools available to share with one another. No, a virtual online gathering is not the same as a classroom full of people. But, let’s be honest, that may not be an option for a long while.  And let’s acknowledge this is a big adaptation. When so fundamentally altering our modes of teaching and learning, it’s important to listen, discover what can be improved for yourself and your students, and adjust accordingly. Pay attention, be flexible and adapt. 

Take Your Time and Think Practically

Please don’t try to do too much! Don’t try to immediately incorporate all the latest bells and whistles or jump on every brand-new technology advertised. Lay some groundwork by setting up your new systems in advance and testing them. You might film yourself and watch your tapes with a newcomer’s eyes. Ask yourself, am I easy to understand? Are my directions clear and simple to follow? Can they hear what I am saying and see what I’m showing? Practice teaching on a video call with a smaller group of friends/family before bursting online with a free weekly hour-long yoga flow on Facebook or Instagram Live.

Test your sequences, room space, lighting, practice voice and music levels. Prepare by creating sequences for different class levels that work on camera. Practice your “right-left” demos; remember, when facing the class, it’s a mirroring. Be ready for microphone feedback, Air-pods falling out in handstand or any other such “live glitches.” Even with a “perfect” set-up, you may still encounter problems with web speed, audio or video delays, or students dropping out if they don’t have not enough user bandwidth. Practice your online “virtual” teaching not for perfection, but for peace of mind.

The more you rehearse, the more confidence you will have in your own voice, in looking at the camera and talking to your audience. Keep things simple. Use your words more and demonstrations less; some students may not be able to see you, but they can hear you. What counts is how you interact and connect through this new virtual reality.

Pivoting will require refining your teaching and experience of yoga. Understand what you are teaching and explain the benefits. There are lots of options for fitness, but Yoga provides different benefits. There are fewer live distractions online, since most people are at home practicing in space carved out between working and sleeping areas. You may not be able to see all of your students, as some or many may choose opt out of video, or there might be other distractions such as children and pets wandering in and out of a frame.

Privacy is an additional concern, so please make sure your students are aware of their own camera views. (No yoga in the bathroom on camera, OK?) Subtle tweaks to voice, aesthetics and tone can shift a class mood, so figure out who is your audience and what they need so your efforts will resonate. A stay-at-home mom needing a quiet break is different from someone sitting at the desk all day needing more movement and action.

Be Authentic

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic crisis is both a tremendous challenge and an opportunity to reinvigorate our practice of yoga.

Be true to yourself and act according to those actions. People will respect you for being honest. If you present a facade, people will feel it on a deeper level, and it is not an attractive characteristic. Be aware that the online connection is a far cry from professional stage-acting or speechifying. It’s actually more intimate; on some level, your students are inviting you into their homes.

Practicing what we preach about the benefits of yoga and rediscovering its tools for ourselves during “The Great Pause” is a welcome opportunity. It’s a chance to connect with our peers and other teachers to bolster our community support and success.

Take some time to reflect on your role and responsibility as a teacher. Why did you start teaching? Did teaching yoga serve you? Did it serve others? Revisit what you were looking for when you started as a teacher, and how those needs were met or not. This will help direct your focus and intentions for the future.

It’s a Different World

The world has changed, and it will not be as before. We cannot expect things to “get back to normal” after this time of quarantine. The planet itself has shown how much change can come in a short time. 

New skill sets will be required for teaching yoga in the future; we must be creative and open to change. Lessons from the past can help direct us in the future. We can now see students from around the world and they can find us and connect into a larger global community. I have seen some students who were with me almost 30 years ago, and the reconnection is sweeter for having shared long ago memories, and the passages of time and aging.

 This is a good time to examine what skills beyond the teaching function are available to you. There may be previous work/life skills that could be helpful in the transformation of yoga online. (Examples: lighting technician, sound engineer, video editor, etc.) The skills you can offer could help elevate your own neighborhoods and our community at large.

Make sure to check in with yourself. Take a moment for for self reflection:

      • What does teaching mean to me?
      • What do I gain from teaching?
      • What do I gain from practicing?
      • Weigh benefits of becoming a deeper practitioner vs teaching 
      • What other skills do I have?
      • Can they be of service to me now?

What is a Pivot?

The actual definition of Pivot can be a metaphor for us now. It is a word derived from late Middle English/French, from the root of pue ‘tooth of a comb’ and in Spanish pu(y)a ‘point’.

In Basketball, a Pivot is a movement wherein the player holding the ball may move in any direction with one foot, while keeping the other (pivot foot) in contact with the floor. This moment in time could be our metaphorical axis or turning point. It could be our opportunity to change course and/or find momentum in different, more productive directions.

A Pivot can also described as a fulcrum, the axis that plays a central or essential role in an activity, event, or situation. A fulcrum provides leverage so that, given proper alignment and appropriate force, it can do some very heavy lifting with relatively little effort. We can become that central axis for ourselves, using this fulcrum as a tool for directional changes and also for coming home to ourselves.

Out of Disruption, Strength 

At this moment of profound challenge and change, we can strengthen that deep support we’ve been seeking from the beginning of our yoga practice. We can find that deep courage to look inside, the deep love to accept and embrace who we are right now, pimples and all. We can learn to lean into the depth of this practice that develops strength, endurance, alignment, flexibility, relaxation and, most of all, adaptability to the changes that inevitably come.

May we all become grounded in the tree of yoga, rooted in spiritual wisdom, striving to become the best of ourselves, and learning to be resilient and creative in these turbulent times. 

Inhale, exhale, then proceed.

With love and respect,

Cora Wen