When Toni-Lee Viney held a “build your home yoga practice” workshop in Fort Collins earlier this year, she had no idea that this would become the new norm during a pandemic.
“I didn’t have a strong home practice, and I told my students: We’re working through this together,” said Viney, manager of undergraduate programs in Colorado State University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Now, she is learning along with the rest of us, creating and sharing yoga workouts on YouTube.
Building community through yoga
Viney, who has worked at CSU for 14 years, is the founder of Yoga on the Oval and has offered free outdoor classes at the university during the summer months for the last six years. During that time, subscribers on her email list have grown from 10 to several hundred.
“I have this community of people that has organically grown by word of mouth,” she said. “There are people on that list that I would never cross paths with otherwise. It’s a way for us to connect across campus.”
Viney said that creating the online classes helps fill a void for her.
“I love teaching yoga, and I’m not going to be able to do that for a while, the same way I’m used to,” she said.
Viney views the online classes as a way to help her stay connected with her students, while also staying active, practicing a form of “moving meditation.”
“There’s something about that ability to incorporate breath with movement,” she said. “You’re cultivating a breath that helps you through a lot of difficult situations in life. For me, just learning to breathe, and I’m still learning, is one of the biggest things I can take away from yoga.”
Viney initially tried yoga for the physical workout to get strong and to take her mind off the classroom while she was in graduate school at CSU. She received a master’s degree in communication studies in 2008.
“What I didn’t expect from yoga was the emotion and effects on the mind, those pieces connecting, and the very simple idea of learning to breathe,” she added.
All in the family
The first video Viney created is short, around 15 minutes, and her 4-year-old daughter Cecily unexpectedly joined in. It’s a moment that many parents can most likely relate to these days.
“I am just kind of rolling with it,” said Viney.
Her classes are meant for all levels, and she’s also started to develop videos around specific poses; the first is on how to do a forearm stand.
Where should a beginner start?
“Yoga looks the way it looks for you,” she said. “There’s no ideal way to do it. You might do it for five minutes one day, 90 minutes the next. My advice is that you should make the space for it, connect with the mat and give yourself grace, kindness and compassion as you challenge yourself to return to that space. Try it for a couple of weeks to see if it fits for you and give it some time to see if it will fit for you.”