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When Aditi Shah started teaching meditation, she didn’t leave much to chance. She spent her time in between studio classes diligently writing out word-for-word scripts.
“When I say word for word, I mean word for word,” Shah says, laughing. “I felt so vulnerable sharing, I had to write everything down. That way it was like I was still conveying what I wanted to say, but I was just the vehicle—it felt a tiny bit less personal, which made it a tiny bit safer.”
During the past decade of teaching, Shah has grown more secure in her skills and more trusting of her intuition in letting go of that ritual. As her confidence has skyrocketed, so has her career. Shah joined the online fitness platform Peloton in 2018 to help launch its yoga and meditation programs. When the pandemic effectively shut down in-person classes in 2020, Shah was ready to meet the virtual wellness explosion.
To date, she’s taught more than 1,000 online classes that span high-energy power vinyasas, lower-vibe slow flows, restorative yoga, Yin stretch sessions, and meditation practices, including an “Intro to Meditation.” She feels that leading others through meditation virtually can pose unique challenges.
“I’ve found that in some ways, teaching online meditation can be easier, and in some ways, it can be a lot harder,” says Shah. But she continues to believe there are benefits to practicing and teaching meditation online. Here’s what she’s learned as a teacher and as a student.
3 Challenges and Benefits of Online Meditation
1. Ultimately, More People Than Ever Before can Benefit From Meditation
Teaching an ancient practice via a high-tech approach can be intimidating, says Shah. But it makes meditation’s research-backed benefits, including stress reduction and improved focus, available to an unprecedented number of individuals. That includes those who may not have the time or inclination to attend in-person meditation but who want to explore the science of mindfulness, the power of breathwork, or the elements of metta (loving-kindness) meditation.
Teaching online has also challenged her to leave behind her highly structured ways and adapt the practice in ways that suit her students. Shah’s instructions are structured but not prescriptive. She invites virtual practitioners to explore their internal experience through guided breathing, inquiry, and visualization techniques, but also allows space and time for silent reflection. Her teaching, in fact, reflects many elements of her own practice.
With repetition, practice, and learning to trust herself, Shah has made her relatively brief meditation sessions, some as short as five minutes, accessible to anyone.
2. Connecting with Students Online can be Tricky—but not Impossible
“Really conveying a sense of intimacy and honesty through the camera can be challenging,” Shah says. “What I’ve found is that the only way to do that is to genuinely be willing to be honest and vulnerable.”
Presenting her authentic self was scary at first. “I think meditation IS about being an honest and compassionate reflection,” says Shah. “It’s one thing to do that with yourself; it’s another thing to share that with others. That’s vulnerable and at times difficult to articulate.”
Being vulnerable still feels like a risk in some ways, says Shah. “But it also means that maybe there’s hope of connecting to somebody. I think that goes a long way in creating a sense of intimacy and honesty.”
Shah says her ability to show up in an off-the-cuff fashion and with authenticity comes from a commitment to her own consistent meditation practice. “One of the lessons I learned from the practice itself is that many—if not most—of us, are having a lot of the same shared experiences,” she says. “Even if I’m experiencing something and I feel like it’s weird, there’s probably somebody else that has had some similar kind of experience—or at least doesn’t think it’s weird.”
3. Community—Online and Not Just IRL—is a Gamechanger
Forging those connections has taught Shah the benefits of being part of an online community.
“When you have meditation in person, it’s often in community, in a sangha, or a class. And what’s amazing about teaching it online is that you have so much more access to community because you can take the classes whenever you want,” says Shah. And from wherever you are in the world.
That community may look different than in-person but it’s no less essential. Shah sees members befriending and celebrating one another in online groups and sharing their wins on social media. Last August, Shah was able to see just how much her community had expanded since the pandemic-induced closures. A surging number of Peloton members signed up to attend her in-person classes.
Although she sees value in both recorded and live meditations for Peloton, the live classes—meaning they can be attended online in real time—are particularly special to her. “In some ways, you’re held accountable,” she says of students. “If you sign up, you show up and know you’re going to do it, and maybe it motivates you to try something new. I think it can be helpful the same way having a community in real life can be helpful — you can depend on a virtual community to help you show up.”
“It makes a difference on my end, too,” says Shah. “As a teacher, it’s nice to be able to see that there is a community forming.
How Online Meditation Helps Us All, According to Aditi Shah
In many ways, taking her teaching online has allowed Shah to connect to aspects of the practice in new ways, and offer those insights back to her students. She says sharing meditation within a community allows her and her students to see both the practice and life through others’ perspectives, allowing for a greater sense of empathy, compassion, and understanding.
“It allows us to tune into our own humanity as we see it reflected in others, and also recognize that we are connected through our humanness even when we have different experiences,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot of my greatest lessons from people who weren’t available to me in real life and face to face. And I don’t think that makes what they’re saying less valuable, nor do I think that makes me feel less grateful for or respectful of what they’ve had to share. Those teachings are part of what I teach, too.”
“The world is evolving,” Shah says. “Just because we’re doing this virtually does not mean we’re not doing it together. It’s really about creating community in a different way that perhaps is accessible to all of us. I think that’s really important and special.”
About Our Contributor
Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based independent journalist, writer, editor, and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alum. She’s written extensively on health, body image, entertainment, lifestyle, design, and tech for outlets including Vogue, Vanity Fair, Scientific American, Glamour, Shape, Self, WIRED, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, and many more. She has also served as the health and wellness editor at Fitbit, senior health writer at One Medical, and contributing editor at California Home + Design. She completed 200 hours of yoga teacher training in 2018 and is still trying to understand the physics of hand balancing. Follow her at @michellekmedia.