At the beginning of 2020, more than ninety U3A yoga groups were meeting to practice together in homes, schools, church halls and community centres across the UK. Suddenly with lockdown this stopped.
This could have been the end of U3A yoga – when in fact it has for many been a brand new beginning. In May I contacted a broad sample group of yoga group coordinators to hear about what has happened to their group since March. Twenty people across the length and breadth of the UK responded to share their experiences. Overall they could be best summed up by the Croydon Yoga Group motto “Isolating not isolated!”
U3A Yoga Group meetings using Zoom
At least half of those who responded are continuing to meet using Zoom software, some to keep in contact and others to continue practicing yoga together. The wonderful things about Zoom are: it doesn’t require huge technical skill and you can use your phone, tablet, laptop or PC to join in. Best of all you get to see and hear the people in your group in real time.
Using technology can be quite intimidating but that didn’t seem to stop U3A members. In the words of one coordinator “ It took a bit of getting used to, being new to the technology. It was anything but calming for me for the first couple of sessions, wondering if the tech would work or not and getting used to sitting in front of a screen all the time, seeing myself! However, this morning’s session felt much more natural and I think we’re settling into it quite well.”
Where yoga groups have continued to practice together in this way coordinators have been “very careful to make sure everyone is well enough to cope with the session”. Some groups practice chair yoga while others have a chair version for those who prefer to practice sitting down. A group coordinator stressed in their response that Zoom classes are most suitable for people who have been practicing yoga for a while. Detailed instructions, taking into account each participant’s experience and health is much more difficult online. Practicing physical activity at home in front of a computer could be unsafe.
It was great to hear that group coordinators are taking extra care to make sure that people take personal responsibility for what they do and avoid being overambitious (no headstands in the kitchen!).
Other yoga groups have chosen to maintain connection by joining commercial zoomed classes together (after making sure that the teacher is experienced in teaching third agers). As zoom meetings can be recorded, members have also been able to revisit recordings in their own time to practice further.
I was amazed at the creativity and commitment of people in keeping their groups going.
Here are some of the other things they are doing.
Yoga group coordinators stressed the need for everyone in their groups to continue to be included, regardless of technical ability (or indeed access to new technologies).
In Croydon the group coordinator has been sending out ‘Home practice’ sheets (7 so far!) by email and post.
Another coordinator talked about the importance of always “communicating some chatty group news to make people laugh and of providing updates from other group members e.g. two falls, one shingles and so on”.
Several groups have taken to posting a yoga ‘Pose of the Week’ on their U3A web page or by using WhatsApp. This has helped take away that sense of “treading water during lockdown.” It enabled continued and lifelong learning as well as providing something to look forward to each week.
In one group a member had made an audio recording of one of the group’s sessions before lockdown. She had been using it to practice between meetings.
After lockdown she offered to share it with the whole group and their U3A webmaster arranged access for each yoga member. One group produced 2 home practice CDs for members to use at home while in another the teacher shared the lesson plans, scanned diagrams and voice recordings that she uses to her private students.
Each local U3A interest group is of course a part of a larger community. It was encouraging to hear about the use of weekly bulletins and monthly newsletters to maintain engagement during lockdown. One U3A was full of praise for the “membership secretary doing a marvellous job sending weekly emails to the whole membership with details of online classes, courses, exercise, puzzles and much, much more in order to keep everyone in the loop”.
Some groups have been looking beyond their own U3A to a wider yoga community, at what other U3A groups across the UK are doing and what they might share, as well as looking online.
For me personally as subject advisor it has been both a revelation and a joy to be in contact with so many U3A groups across the UK. Yoga is a wonderful way to maintain and develop physical and emotional health and wellbeing. It has therefore been really humbling to discover the professionalism of those involved in U3A yoga groups, together with their commitment to members and their enthusiasm for learning through lockdown.
Photo inset credit: U3A in London, Yoga group 2018 before lockdown.