The first live-stream yoga class I taught in March of this year was so powerful it almost brought me to tears. There were more than 60 people online and even though we couldn’t be together, we were still practicing together. During a difficult time, this was an amazing feeling of connection.
Over the next few months, I watched as, across the studio, student attendance online gradually declined and the novel experience became more normalized. The shift got me and my fellow teachers thinking about what could be done to make the online experience feel special. As I reflected on this question, I noticed that the most effective online yoga teachers seemed to magically make their online classes feel like a community. They had a knack for connecting with students and speaking in a way that made you forget that you were alone in your house.
As an online teacher, you face a significant number of barriers when connecting with students, including that student’s generally don’t sign on until right before class starts, the fact that everyone is on the same screen which makes one-on-one conversations nearly impossible, and the barrier of not being able to clearly read people’s expressions and body language. Teaching online versus in the studio can be a challenge, but creating community online is absolutely possible!
So, if you’re an online yoga teacher and you are hoping to create connections with your students in the virtual world, here are a few tips to help you get there.
Remember your student’s names and who is coming back!
The best way to let the student’s know you see them and acknowledge their presence is by using their names during class. When you begin class, read through the first names of those you see on the screen and say hello. If you notice students who are returning you might say: “Welcome back!” Or, if you notice it’s someone’s first time to class you might welcome them specifically. Some teachers I know go a step further and keep a spreadsheet to track the names of students who are coming back. This can be a good way to make sure you’re remembering all of your regulars, even those who miss a few weeks. When class is over, and students are signing off, many students will write in notes or visually wave. That’s another opportunity to use names and say goodbye as people go.
Create community by acting like it’s a community
No environment will feel like it’s a community unless a community feeling is intentionally cultivated. As the teacher, it’s your responsibility to cultivate that feeling of connection and community. This can be difficult online, but the simplest way is to simply acknowledge the power of a group of people practicing together. Remind students that even though they are far apart, you are still sharing in a common experience. You might even call the group a community and thank them for showing up, saying something like: “I’m so thankful for this community of yogis!” The key here is to be authentic in whatever your message is.
Create classes that connect with each other
Another way to create a connection to your students is by helping the students feel connected to your classes week after week. Think about whether there is something that you can tie into your yoga classes that repeats or builds on itself for a few classes. For example, you might pick a certain pose that you’re working on each week for a month. Or, you might pick an expansive class theme and each week you explore a new facet of it. (Many teachers like to explore the chakras during a multi-week period, or you might choose to do a series on the elements. There’s plenty of room to be creative!) When there is a consistent thread in your classes, students will feel more comfortable and connected.
Give individual shout outs and adjustments
Though it can be difficult to adjust postures virtually, giving a bit of individual attention during an online yoga class is still possible. The key here is to ensure your students don’t feel called-out, because everyone will be able to hear you as you make suggestions. Be sure the adjustments you provide are easy to understand, clear and positive. In most cases, your students will appreciate the support and be glad to know someone is watching out for them. Additionally, you can simply provide words of encouragement to your students as they move! It always feels great to hear that you’re doing great, especially during a challenging part of class. If you are giving shoutouts and adjustments, be sure that you include as many of your students as you can and not focus on one individual too much.
Allow a space for commentary and live-speaking
There will be some students who want to actually talk to you outside of the class time. You can give space for this by staying online for a period of time after class ends for conversation and questions. As you end class, let the students know that you’ll stay online for anyone who wishes to chat. Sometimes your students will sign off, but there are always a few students who will want to stay online and talk with you. This is a great way to get to know your students better and make those human connections.
The major benefit of live-streaming yoga classes right now is that you get to connect with real people, even in a time period where human connection is difficult. Even after the pandemic ends, live streaming yoga is likely a trend that will continue. Though it may not feel as natural to form connections virtually, by putting in a little extra effort your students will feel like they are not just showing up for yoga, but they are showing up to be part of a community that’s been created.
If you are a yoga teacher or student, let us know what you’ve seen that’s worked well to form connections in the virtual space in the comments below!