After President Obama’s second inauguration in January, Beyoncé got flak for performing the US national anthem using a pre-recorded version. At first, I agreed that singing live is not only superior, but also expected.
On second thought, her recorded version is still her. We hear her voice, her interpretation. So what if she sang it beforehand? Music is an art form experienced mostly through recording anyway.
I researched and found some famous renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner”: Whitney Houston’s 1991 Super Bowl XXV performance apparently was pre-recorded:
Marvin Gaye 1983 NBA All-Star Game performance was not:
Yet both are fantastic.
I proceeded to think about other forms of video recording—yoga videos in particular. Nowadays many yoga teachers film themselves doing asana, not only teaching poses, but simply doing them. Music is almost de rigueur (who knows, you might gain an audience with a “cool playlist”). While the videos can be impressive, I wonder if prospective students understand that a choreographed display does not necessarily translate to good teaching.
The teaching of yoga—Iyengar yoga in particular—is hard to capture on video. That’s because the demonstrations and verbal instructions are only the beginning. The real benefit of this method is the direct teacher-student interaction. Teachers observe and correct/adjust/advise students. Obviously this requires firsthand contact.
Are there many (any?) good Iyengar yoga teaching videos out there? I Googled “Iyengar yoga video” and found a random mix of websites and videos. The only name I recognized on the first page of URLs was Gabriella Giubilaro, who released a teaching DVD in 2005. I’ve taken only two workshops with Gabriella, so I’m no expert on her teaching or her style. But, watching a brief trailer of the video, I found her tone unexpectedly subdued. Further, on film there’s no way to convey how she exhorts students to move, how she ruthlessly exposes errors, how she steers her teaching to what she sees in the moment. I thought, “This captures only a fraction of who she is in person!”
Maybe in other types of yoga teaching, videos are a decent substitute for classes. If all that’s needed is a good sequence and a good performer, a video can do the trick. But in Iyengar yoga there’s no substitute for the real thing. That’s the difference between performance (such as Beyoncé pre-recording her singing) and teaching (which cannot be pre-recorded).
Note: I am not panning yoga performance videos altogether. It can be inspiring to watch the grace and power of the human body—and by watching one can visually imprint the right actions to replicate an asana. For starters, my Google search also found this 1991 video of BKS Iyengar, then 73, doing backbends, including doing Sirsasana dropovers in reverse.