An all-time spike in google searches for the term “online yoga” happened on March 22nd 2020. Why did we turn to yoga YouTube in a crisis?

Google Trends over 5 years for the phrase "online yoga"

A swift search on the keyword phrase “online yoga” into Google Trends revealed the, somewhat unsurprising, data that on the week beginning the 22nd of March 2020 there was a rocket surge in requests in the UK. It was on that day that Boris Johnston requested the British public “Stay Home, Save Lives, Protect the NHS” and seemingly the sudden imposition of restriction of movement sparked intrigue around the ancient practice of yoga. The dramatic spike in the graph stands out against the normal peaks of New Year’s resolutions and troughs of high summer to provide us with an interesting talking point.

What is it about online yoga?

What exactly drew the masses towards the practice? Was it the sheer boredom? Was it a reaction to existential crisis as life took a drastic turn? Or did people need support for their state of forced introspection?

I brought my practice online, every morning for a series of months spent in strict isolation my boyfriend and I would practice, normally via YouTube, with teachers such as Yoga with Adriene, Cat Meffan, and Living Room Yoga. Even though I had a regular practice before the pandemic there was something quietly comforting about the 30 minutes in the morning spent trying to avoid protruding limbs on the fluffy rug in my bedroom and laughing at each other trying to master another tricky transition, that unbeknownst to the teacher, hadn’t been delivered that clearly.

A shifted focus from teacher to student

That’s the thing about pre-recorded online yoga, as teachers we don’t know if the students are responding to our cues or simply turning off at the instruction of a pose they don’t fancy. We are taught in the extensive teaching qualifications to watch, to respond, to anticipate the energy, mood, and positions of our class and adjust accordingly. This is an impossibility online, however, in some ways demands more of the student. In a studio, ego is everywhere, Ian (27) is currently floating his legs into pincha mayurasana while you feel inadequate taking a child’s pose at the end of a hard day in the office. This shouldn’t matter but I would challenge anyone to say that hadn’t ever felt even a twinge of incompetency.

The yogic principles of non-attachment, self-study and non-violence invite the student to be compassionate, be curious about their own body and become free of external validation. In your own living room you can do just that. The sofa is there if you want to practice a headstand without fear of initiating a dominoes style exodus of the studio. If you want to skip out large sections of a sequence in favour of a restorative child’s pose you can do so without fear of offending the well-meaning teacher (who wouldn’t mind by the way).

The democratisation of yoga via YouTube and it’s unfortunate consequences for teacher pay

The global empire that Adriene Mishler has created since 2012 is the biggest piece of evidence that online yoga held popularity before 2020. Her YouTube channel “Yoga with Adriene” is still to this day the most common response I get when I ask how people got into yoga. I mean it’s how I got into yoga- a New Year’s resolution in 2014 led me to completing her 30 days of yoga in January. On her website it states that in 2015 Yoga with Adriene was the most searched for workout on Google. YouTube yoga democratises the practice and eliminates the social and financial barriers that exist in studios in London that offer classes for £20…

That is not to say you shouldn’t pay for yoga. We forget that you pay with views to Yoga with Adriene. Although the growth of the online yoga space has enabled teachers to teach to students all over the world and with zoom sessions and on demand content behind a pay-wall it has given a new income stream to an already tricky profession financially the rise of globally “famous” YouTube teachers has perpetuated the idea that the teacher shouldn’t be directly paid.

Bex Parker-Smith, a fellow yoga teacher wrote this brilliant poem that I feel really encapsulates the issue:

get a real job

i’m told

one where you work 9am

until you’re old

get a real job

i hear you say

one with PDPs

and proper pay

one with targets

paid holiday

get a real job

for pity’s sake


i pay taxes

improve CXs

send emails from three inboxes

i too know a few colleagues you might call toxic

i do PR

and i’m a PA

a business manager

who sorts financial aid

this is marketing right here

tell me where this is not clear?

my hours might not look the same as yours,

and while i work in studios not office floors

please think

the next time you come to me to feel less

stressed, distressed, duress

when i stand with you as you process

your work mess,

keep calm so you impress on that big pitch

that if we’re honest

you won’t remember a year on from it –

that my job

is real, needs skill, has value

and if we honestly ask ourselves just who

benefits most from my unreal job, fake work,

time in lieu, cop out, phase, lazy, hobby

that it is you, hun – actually.

Finding collective energy via zoom yoga

Covid-19 has forces us to adapt in order to find connection with others. Online yoga provides just that, in my Wednesday night zoom class that I have been running every week since May 2020 the little boxes’ backgrounds are so familiar to me. I feel so privileged to be allowed in some way into someone’s private world and they often have snuck away from family members to be alone with me. Often at the end of Savasana I ask students to zoom out and view themselves from above. This view to me is a network of connections formed across the world to my fellow yoga teacher who I trained with in Texas, to my boyfriend’s family in South Africa and my parents in the room next door to me.

Next time you do a pre-recorded class, at the end, imagine other people in their rooms doing the exact same thing, maybe even at the exact same time. Connection is there. There is no ‘right’ way to do yoga. Yoga is something around us and within us at all times but maybe the pandemic has taught us of the value of a quiet, intimate moment uniting body and mind.

To find out more about Olivia’s online classes click here for live and click here for on demand.