In Spring of 2020, the world of yoga essentially shifted overnight. Across the country, studios closed indefinitely and most yoga studios made an instantaneous shift to teaching class through live video stream.
In those first few days, I remember feeling a lot of panic about the prospect of teaching via live stream. And I wasn’t alone. In the messages the teachers at my studio were sending back and forth to one another, many had the immediate reaction of opting out.
They had concerns that were completely valid. They were worried that they didn’t have the right personality to teach virtually, they were concerned about their spaces, and they weren’t sure if they could teach effectively without having a clear view of the students to ensure they were staying safe and enjoying the practice.
Regardless, I decided to dip my toes in those unknown waters and I signed up to teach my class virtually. The results, to be honest, were quite incredible.
In the first virtual class I taught, my whole being welled up with emotion during the opening. There were over 30 students logged in virtually. The ability to ‘take’ yoga with all of these humans, in a time when we were supposed to be far apart was powerful.
But I felt something else too. Nervous? Panicked? A little unsure? Probably all of it. When the class ended, I was filled with joy by all of the voices I heard coming through the airwaves. “Thank you!” rang through the air. And yet, I still didn’t know if the class I had just taught was any good.
Teaching virtually, in many ways, is like going back to the starting point as a yoga teacher. There are new skills you have to learn, new approaches to take, new quirks to work out.
Now, after six weeks of teaching online, I’m feeling much more comfortable with it – and even quite enjoying the virtual space! So here are a few tips I’ve found helpful when teaching a virtual or live-stream yoga class:
Set up your space.
This one might be obvious, but it’s a good practice to set up the space around you when you’re teaching a virtual yoga class in order to create the ambience and experience you want your students to have. Messy backgrounds can be distracting, and the goal is obviously to allow your students to focus on themselves, rather than the interesting assortment of items around you in your background. You’ll need enough space so the students can see your full mat, and see you when you stand, as well as lay down on your back. This may require pushing some furniture around! Maybe you place a few candles or plants around your mat. Maybe you keep the background simple. One thing is for certain, ensure you test out what your space looks like on video beforehand so you don’t miss something in your students view that you’d rather keep hidden – whether it’s a stack of dirty dishes or your latest artistic attempt at a self-portrait.
Invest wisely in technology.
In our experience, investing strategically in technology can go a long way. Particularly as it pertains to sound quality. For example, there are generally huge quality differences between using a built-in computer mic, a pair of wireless earbuds, and an external microphone. Having tried multiple options and spoken with other online teachers, we use the Blue Yeti USB microphone (commonly recognized as one of the best amateur podcasting mics). This works for us because it maintains a great quality, while not falling out of your ears or crackling when you get close to the mat (as earbuds tend to).
We haven't played around with different webcams, so we don't want to make any recommendation there. In our experience, good lighting goes a lot further than spending a few hundred bucks on better technology. However, this also may be a good area for exploration.
Welcome your students as if you were in the studio.
As students sign on to class on Friday mornings, as their names pop into my Zoom window, I make a point of saying hi to them as they arrive. Not all of them ‘unmute’ themselves to say hi back, and not all of them even have their videos on. Sometimes it feels like speaking to yourself. Nevertheless, saying hi and acknowledging those who are there, even virtually, creates a sense of community.
Try to keep it natural.
In addition to greeting your students as you would in the studio, open up your class and speak to the audience as you would in any other setting. Tell them about you, your class and what they can expect / what they need to know for the practice. What makes a live-stream class special is that you feel like people really are doing it with you! Laughing at yourself and narrating the experience is a great way to make the experience special and unique. The same is true if you are just recording the class to be watched later. Be yourself, speak your truth, and make it fun!
Lean into the technology, instead of away from it.
If you have students joining you in a live class, it’s smart to anticipate possible issues and address them with your students up front! Most of the time, the issues we experience during a virtual class are technology related. Before I start my class, I remind my students to do the following:
Ensure their sound is on ‘mute’ so that any background noise they have won’t be experience by others;
Encourage them to turn their ‘video’ on if they are comfortable with it. This makes the virtual class feel much more like a community class, and it allows you as the teacher to see their practice and offer verbal assists;
Ask them to use the ‘chat’ function to request poses and communicate privately about injuries or conditions they’d like you to provide modifications for;
If students have a question mid-class, I ask them to ‘unmute’ themselves and speak the question aloud;
Finally, I copy a playlist (link to playlist page) link into the chat and I encourage them to play music on their own if they would like to!
Find a mixture of demo and personal attention.
Many of the teachers I know, especially the more advanced teachers, tend to use their words more than their bodies as they teach. (We have a whole post on balancing “teaching on versus off the mat!”) In the studio, this tends to work out just fine, as there are usually other students who know the correct postures who the students can look to if they need a visual cue. However, in the online format, this isn’t the case. When I talk to students who have participated in the online classes, they often say that they find the visual cues of the teacher doing the poses to be beneficial to them. So, my advice is to demo the practice more than you might if you were in the studio. With that said, part of what makes the virtual class seem personal is if the teacher is able to look at the students as they practice and offer words of encouragement or adjustment.The key here seems to be balancing your time on-mat and off-mat strategically. If you are doing something complex or new, you might consider demoing it. If you are moving through a more basic set of postures, or the students have experienced the flow once, you might walk over to the screen and comment on what you see as you continue to cue. Like many things in life, this too is a balancing act!
Keep your eye on the time.
For some reason, time seems to act in a funny way when you’re teaching virtually. My experience is that time seems to move more quickly and I struggle to get through all I have planned. Your problem might be the opposite! You may end up with too much time and too little movement. The only way to know for sure is to test it out. Regardless of how time is moving, be sure you have a clock nearby so you can check in periodically. Even in the virtual space, it’s always a good idea to respect
Perhaps the most important tip I could provide about teaching online, however, is to just give yourself a little bit of grace. It’s not an experience that many yoga teachers are used to, and yes, it might feel awkward at times! Try to treat it lightly, try to have fun, and enjoy the magic that does exist within the virtual class experience.
Have any other tips about teaching yoga online? Comment below!