When I did my yoga teacher training, I never thought that I would be teaching online yoga classes. In my mind, the online “celebrity” yoga teachers with their big white smiles and dancers’ bodies were fine, but that wasn’t the type of yoga I wanted to teach. I knew the importance of creating a safe physical space for students and online classes just didn’t seem all that powerful to me.
Well, in March 2020 all of that changed for me...and pretty much anyone who wants to continue working in the yoga industry. Even as we move back into studios, the genie is out of the bottle: online teaching is here to stay and all yoga instructors will need to be comfortable teaching remotely.
Teaching remotely can be completely different from teaching in-person. Probably the biggest challenge is not receiving feedback from students. Unlike being physically together, online teaching doesn’t allow you to see how your students are moving—you can’t see if your cues are getting through. You can’t hear or see your students’ breath to determine if the class is challenging. The thing I miss the most is catching a student's eye and giving them a quick nod to let them know that they are on the right track.
While I’m no expert in online teaching, here are some things that I’ve learned since having to make the transition.
1. Get students moving quickly
It’s a lot harder to hold space for students in an online environment. When you are in a yoga studio you can lean on the serenity of the space—being in the studio does a lot of work in setting the scene for relaxation. This isn’t the case when a student is at home. Beginning an online class with silence and stillness just isn’t as relaxing as it is at the studio. I like to get students moving fairly quickly with simple movements that connect with the breath. Seated stretches, cat/cow or half or full sun salutations are some of my favourites.
2. Classes can be challenging without being complicated
Online classes have a lot going against them: the instructor can be harder to see and hear, the student has to contend with whatever might be distracting them in their home, and they could also be dealing with technological hiccups like an unreliable laptop or a slow internet connection. Online is not the time to bust out a complicated 30 pose flow. Remember that there is comfort in the familiar.
3. Keep student safety in mind
Similar to the above point, an online yoga class is not the time to teach headstand or deep backbends. Without being able to see the students’ bodies and being able to determine if they are ready for advanced asana, I just don’t feel comfortable moving a class in that direction.
Sometimes, despite our urging, students feel they don’t want to bother an instructor and let us know when they are dealing with an injury or having an issue. Since starting to teach online, I’ve been very careful to mention when a pose would be contraindicated in pregnancy. Other areas where students commonly have issues are knees, lower back, and shoulders. As much as I can, I like to include variations for those who might struggle with these areas. That being said, if an online student is being tight lipped about what is going on in their bodies, there’s only so much we can do.
4. Try to make is easy for students to see and hear you
Make the space you are filming in as bright as it can be. I teach my classes in a dark basement and have recently invested in some light boxes. Test your setup before class and make sure you will always be in frame.
While I don’t like demoing all of my in-studio classes, I physically move through all of my online classes. Again, I don’t want a student to become anxious if they briefly lose connectivity or sound and aren’t sure where we are in the class.
Speak loudly and clearly. Be aware of when you are talking into your mat and try to position yourself so you aren’t talking into a wall.
There are technical considerations such as cameras and microphone. I hope to write about that in another post.
5. Have fun and accept that stuff will happen
Having to rapidly make the shift to teaching online during the Covid-19 pandemic has come with required understanding and patience from everyone. The following are all things that have happened during my online classes: my daughter fell upstairs while trying to climb a bookcase (don’t worry, she was being supervised...sort of), my cat has vomited mid-class, and a Zoom update has kicked me off of a call. We’re all humans. When these goofs happen (and they will) laugh them off as much as you can and move on. We’re all doing the best we can.
What did I miss? If you’ve moved your teaching online, what is something that you would tell a teacher just starting out? What's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you while teaching?
Hi, I'm Gillian.
I’m obsessed with helping women live their best lives. Together we'll use yoga and mindfulness to build confidence, reach goals and have some fun!
Let's do this!
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