How do you feel about teaching yoga online?
I know that when we first got shoved into the digital space in 2020 there was quite a bit of resistance, anxiety and uncertainty with taking our beloved face-to-face offerings onto the screen. Let alone the urgency in which we all had to quickly level up on our tech skills!
To be perfectly honest, I myself tapped out of doing regular livestream classes, and opted for putting pre-recorded classes on my website for people to practice at a time that suited them best.
It's only now that it feels right for me to begin doing some regular livestream classes and I'm really excited about it!
I thought it might be helpful to write about some of the common aspects of teaching online that can be daunting, uncomfortable, and so very different to teaching together in a studio, as a way to help support those of you that are teaching your classes online, or would like to start doing so.
1. Classroom versus screen
It is very different being in an actual room with people versus seeing them on a screen. All of that instinct to walk around the room, offer adjustments, or quietly check in with an individual is not available, and it can feel really uncomfortable!
Most of the time you won't even be able to see your students moving properly, as they may be off the screen, their child or cat could be in the way of the camera, or they might have even chosen to turn their camera off on that day.
I know a lot of teachers would say that they can adjust their energetic frequency to the frequency of the room, but that does not feel the same when you are teaching through a screen, so we have to explore new ways of keeping our energy steady when we could be teaching to a bunch of names written on squares!
2. Navigating the technology
Some of us are overwhelmed by technology at the best of times, let alone creating links for a class, everyone getting access to the meeting, adjusting the sound, other peoples microphones, getting the camera right, and of course, having a good internet connection!
It can take some time to feel confident with all of these new parameters before you can settle back into your grounded yogi self.
Across the globe, many a tear has been shed in frustration of the tech not working.
I may not have been running regular classes, but I have been running Yin Yoga Teacher Trainings online.
Recently I was guiding a yin yoga practice during a training and I thought I was all ready to go with my tech. Everything was charged up, plugged in, well lit, I was good to go. It was not until the practice was over that the group let me know that they could barely hear me throughout the entire class. I had forgotten to switch my microphone settings over from my laptop mic, to my lapel mic!
So when I was really far away from my laptop, speaking quietly and mindfully into my lapel mic they could barely hear me, and none of the students felt comfortable to speak up and let me know!
Even though I was disappointed in myself that I had not offered my best to the group, it was a great learning moment for me to lather the students in permission to tell me if my tech is not working.
We are all in this together and lots of unexpected things can go wrong when working with technology.
There are so many more moving parts when we are teaching an online class.
Don't be afraid to ask the students for confirmation that they can hear you and see you, and it can be a good idea to do a few tech checks before you go live (which doesn't always guarantee things won't go wrong), and if you happen to be doing anything online during a planetary retrograde, put your seatbelt on, ask for the utmost grace, and I wish you the best of luck!
3. Formulate a way for students to ask for help
This one is tricky. My preference during a face-to-face class was always to let the students know that putting up their hand was a great way to let me know that they wanted my assistance. I would also give them some reasons why they might want that (not feeling any sensation in the Target Area, they are experiencing pain, the posture is too strong, etc). But it does not really work to create a breakout room in the middle of an online class and take that student off for a one -on-one workshop.
For brand new teachers who have no experience teaching in a studio at all, I feel that this would be the most challenging aspect of teaching online for them. Teachers that have got some face-to-face experience under their belt will probably be able to speak to some of the common challenges that arise in their classes, and address them to the whole group as a way of supporting them in a mildly presumptuous way.
The benefit of many years of teaching classes in a studio is the data collection that happens when observing common issues that arise in bodies during class. Personally, I found this extra beneficial for yin yoga postures, because they are explored in a singular static way, rather than a flowing moving sequence.
So before the group sets up for a particular shape, lets' say Butterfly for example, I can flag the common things that I have seen come up for students and weave that into the options that are available for each student to experiment with.
I use my words to help the students (hopefully before that issue has come up for them) but of course, all of our bodies are different so there will be lots of other things that come up for people that I am still completely unaware of.
Maybe that is where mentoring can play an important role now for those who are predominantly teaching yoga online and don't have the years of face-to-face teaching to draw from?
Even though it might be a little too late, sometimes staying back for 5 or 10 minutes online after the class is finished can be a nice time for people to share their experience with you, or some feedback on the class as a way of communicating and learning for future classes.
4. The importance of your words and how much to demonstrate
The strongest teaching skill we have in an online space is our words!
This is where developing our cues, language, pace and rhythm really shine. As with all cues, being able to see the group and get visual feedback on how the words have landed is really helpful, but as mentioned above, might not always be that easy to see what our students are doing.
How much to demonstrate with online classes will be different to when you are face-to-face, and different depending on the style of yoga.
If you have lots of new students, or if it is a flow class, you will probably find yourself demonstrating a lot. If it is yin yoga or restorative, you may want to demonstrate getting into the pose, and use that as a place to talk through props and options, but perhaps come out of the posture and watch the students as you manage the time for each pose. Of course, it is entirely up to you and your instinct.
We also want to be creating a connection through the screen. We all want to feel that we are part of the practice together, so however much you demonstrate it can help to use phrases such as "let's all take a deep inhale together" or "the next place we are going to is Banana" as a few examples.
I tend to find it quite nice to change the view of my screen at the end of the class for meditation and savasana so I can see everybody. If nothing else, it reminds my energetic field that I am guiding a collective of people, even if they are not physically in the room with me.
5. The students will be ok
At a certain point we have to let go a little, and trust that students will be ok during the class.
If we have given good disclaimers at the start of the class reminding students to pay attention to what they are feeling, come out of a pose if they need to, return to Childs pose or something similar, we have to trust that they will take care of what comes up for them.
If you are a teacher and have been teaching online this past year and a half, I'm sure there is soooo much you have learned, tweaked and refined for yourself, please do let me know in the comments what have been your biggest learning curves and challenges from the past two years.
I give you my biggest applause at navigating your way through a completely new environment and being so incredible at adapting and being open to change. People need their yoga practice more than ever, and I'm so proud of the global yoga community for being able to continue sharing their amazing offerings with their respective communities. Well done everyone!