The Mental Health Pandemic: 4 Ways to Promote Social Engagement in Your Zoom Yoga Classes

According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, more than half of Americans report that the pandemic is harming their mental health. (1)

“Over half of U.S. adults (56 percent) report that worry or stress related to the coronavirus outbreak has caused them to experience at least one negative effect on their mental health and wellbeing, such as problems with sleeping or eating, increased alcohol use, or worsening chronic conditions.”

Right now yoga students may be:

  • Worried about everything.
  • Grieving the loss of people and/or their pre-virus lives, including their in-person yoga classes.
  • Wondering how they and their loved ones are going to survive this epidemic—either literally or economically.
  • Wondering how yoga at home or on Zoom might help them maintain or improve how they feel mentally and/or emotionally.

beginner yoga student practicing high lunge pose in online yoga class (sanskrit name anjaneyasana)

Yoga is particularly urgent right now. The Washington Post recently reported, “Federal agencies and experts warn that a historic wave of mental-health problems is approaching: depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide.”  (2)

The next pandemic is clearly going to be a mental health one. According to psychiatrist Najma F. Hamdani, “While we are in the midst of this physical pandemic, we have a massive mental health pandemic brewing in the shadows, and none of us are immune to it at this point.”  (3)

Yoga practice, while not a substitute for standard mental health care, can provide potent, complementary, person-centered support for coping with stress during this pandemic. It can also help people build greater resilience to meet the challenges that are certainly ahead.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this epidemic is the protracted isolation. Positive social engagement is physiologically critical for mental health and wellbeing. It’s great to offer yoga practice virtually. But how do we also deliver the social engagement aspect of yoga practice to the people who really need it right now, when there are some pretty significant concerns about getting anywhere near anyone?

4 Ways to Promote Social Engagement in Your Zoom Yoga Classes

  1. Open your Zoom meetings a few minutes early and ask a question to encourage conversation, or do a quick sharing circle.
  2. Offer a special 30-minute class just for socializing, where folks only share and have fun. You can give it a theme or ask a specific question. You could even ask people to bring their own cups and tea and call it a “Chai and Chat” session.
  3. Use breakout rooms in Zoom. Ask a question and ask participants to discuss in breakout rooms. Suggest that they connect again virtually, outside of the class and check in about yoga or just life in general.
  4. Have fun! People love games. So create quizzes, contests, and challenges to increase social engagement. Here are a few examples: Guess the correct Sanskrit name of this pose and be entered into a drawing to win! (Prizes could include a free class, an eye pillow, a handmade something or other, a free spot in your next online workshop, etc. Another possibility: If a student has perfect attendance to a class series, they will be entered into a drawing to win! Or, how about 10-day pranayama, meditation, or asana challenge? Offer short, live videos every morning. If a student has perfect attendance, they can be entered into a drawing to win! Or, bring a friend for free one day and be entered into a drawing to win! Or, write a testimonial about how much you love our online classes and win!

beginner yoga student practicing head-to-knee pose in online yoga class (sanskrit name janu sirsasana)

If you have a contest with a drawing, make sure you do it live during a class to build excitement and fun. The gaming possibilities are really endless. And right now, creating a little fun can go a long, long way.



Reprinted with permission from Kristine Kaoverii/Subtle Yoga.

c-iayt certification logoCommitted to the widespread adoption of yoga as a population health strategy, Kristine Kaoverii Weber, MA, C-IAYT, eRYT500, YACEP has been studying yoga and holistic healing for nearly 30 years advocating, speaking, and teaching about yoga since 1995, and training educators since 2003. Her organization, Subtle® Health, LLC, provides holistic, mind-body training, education, and clinical services with the mission of enhancing community health infrastructure. She is the director of the Subtle® Yoga Teacher Training for Behavioral Health Professionals program at MAHEC in Asheville, NC, presents workshops and trainings internationally, and is frequently invited to speak about yoga at health care conferences. After completing her BA and MA at Georgetown University, Kristine trained extensively in many styles of yoga, including Viniyoga, as well as in Asian bodywork therapy and homeopathy.

She is the author of The Complete Self Massage Workbook and has published articles in the International Association of Yoga Therapist’s journal, Yoga Therapy in Practice, and other wellness publications. Her work has been featured in Redbook, BodySense, Women’s World, Natural Health, and Lifetime TV.


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