Like many small businesses, the yoga world is no longer what it used to be. Back in March 2020, we thought we would be closing for a week or so. Here we are coming up to 2 years later, and the word most commonly used in the industry is “PIVOT”. While live classes have resumed in some locations, class sizes are smaller and there is a hesitation to return among many people. It’s a different scene with class sizes reduced and mats squeezed in side by side may be a thing of the past.
As both a student and instructor, I had to pivot in the new reality as well. For teaching, dealing with technology, camera angles and finding suitable space in my house were immediate challenges. Learning to be comfortable teaching with no immediate feedback, literally speaking to my phone and feeling like I was mostly speaking to myself!
I’ve learned a lot through this process and I’d like to share some insights, first as a student, and then as a teacher.
TIPS FOR STUDENTS: Getting the Most Out of Online Participation
Device: The size of your device matters! Many options available depending on your space. Linking to your television through air-drop or connected through an HDMI cable offers the largest viewing screen. Laptop or iPad works also while using a phone is likely too small and difficult to see. Ask around and search the internet to find a suitable solution for you.
Organize Yourself: Prepare your space and have props available. Really you only need your yoga mat with a small perimeter. Remove distractions like cell phones – put them in another room so you aren’t tempted to sneak a peak! Ask family members to not interrupt (except for dogs and cats).
Energy: commit to doing the practice. Confession… it’s easy to back off or avoid things you don’t like when practicing alone. Aim to keep with the energy of the practice throughout. If the instructor has not offered modifications or options, then do something else, but keep moving and breathing.
Instructor: There is a plethora of online offerings available with some big guns joining the scene (CNN, Apple +++). With huge corporate backing and hefty advertising budgets they are able to offer a range of classes for a very low monthly fee. Meanwhile there are many talented, experienced and skillful instructors that have lost their source of income. Think of supporting the small cog in the big wheel.
Knowing the style of yoga that works best for you, having a consistent practice and being familiar with the style and verbal cues of the instructor will add to your enjoyment of the class. Give the instructor a chance by trying a few different classes. Not only will this give you a better sense of their teaching, it will familiarize you with their language and cuing.
Interaction: Virtual classes can be recorded or you can participate in live, real time. Energetically it makes a big difference knowing that you are practicing with others, the instructor is really at the other end of the screen and perhaps taking time to watch you from time to time. It is possible to develop a relationship with the instructor, and even with other participants, online. As always, let the instructor know if you are experiencing any issues, ask questions and seek clarification for anything that is not clear. A skillful instructor can clarify by either watching you on the screen and/or by demonstrating. Personally I love the before and after chat time and through lock-down connecting with students and instructors played a big role in keeping up my spirits, feeling a sense of community and less isolated.
Upside of Virtual: Without doubt the biggest advantage is ‘the commute’. Just get to your space a few minutes in advance. If you are a bit late, no worries, join the class knowing you haven’t interrupted anyone. When you are done, put your stuff away and resume in better spirits!
Geographic Boundaries: The world can now come to your living room! As a student this has opened up opportunities to study and practice with talent from all over North America. Some instructors had been on my radar with a hope that I would visit them in person some day. Well Covid and pivoted teaching brought that ‘some day’ to my home! As an instructor, I have gained loyal students from various towns and cities across North America. Some students that attended my class occasionally when time permitted are able to dial in weekly with the eliminated travel time. I am always grateful and honoured to be invited to their living rooms every week.
TIPS FOR TEACHERS
Cuing: In my years of organizing and instructing teacher trainings, the teaching skill that I encouraged trainees to work on, hone and never stop honing… is cuing. This is what separates the ho-hum experience from an excellent one. This was the case in large class sizes as it keeps everyone moving in unison and with more clarity. Remember being in a class and feeling lost because you didn’t understand or hear the instruction, stop and having to look around to see what you are supposed to be doing. Online the need for clear cuing is amplified and imperative. Apply the “Three Little Pigs” test to your cuing – not too much, not too little, but wisely chosen to convey the most in the least amount or words. Ideally your words can lead the class with little to no need for students to look at the screen. Sometimes I ask students to look at the screen if I am demonstrating a move that I think needs to be made clear. Otherwise I want my words to guide them. Realistically as a student, there are times when I’m not certain about the instruction and need to stop and look. BUT if I need to do it repeatedly, I am turned off and lose interest.
KISS: Keep the sequencing simple to give students a better chance at keeping pace and staying with you. Keep your fancy, highly choreographed sequences for your own practice or a smaller in-person session. I don’t believe anyone has ever left a yoga class thinking: ‘the sequencing in that class was too simple”.
Space: Be considerate of the space your students may or may not have. A while ago I took a class with a popular instructor that I had been following for some time. My practice space is not large, yet ample for all I typically do. The class required a very large amount of space for rolling in many directions and a slippery wood floor to slide on. Also the sequences of moving through one pose into another was complex. So with not enough space, no wooden floor and unclear on what I was supposed to be doing, I sat out a lot of the class. I have never taken another class with that instructor. All this to say, be considerate of the space your students may or may not have; the props they may or may not have. Aiming to keep the practice to the space of a yoga mat, is a safe bet. Also a safe bet that everyone has a wall available, but be prepared to offer alternatives in case they don’t.
Props: Tell everyone at the beginning what props they need, including what household items they can use instead.
Love what you do: Without the interaction of live in studio participation, it’s more challenging to keep up your pep and easier for your voice and energy to flatten. Be aware and try imagining others in the room with you. I personally find laughter a good tactic to keep things real; cracking jokes knowing that somebody will chuckle along… being human and not afraid to show vulnerability. Words from a wise ashtangi, years ago have stayed with me, David Williams spoken with a South Carolina drawl: “…(teaching yoga)… gotta love it. If you don’t love it, you shouldn’t be teaching”. In whatever way you have pivoted your teaching, be sure you still love it and that will be conveyed to your students.