I've been researching how to teach yoga on Zoom so my class for people with multiple sclerosis can continue with real-time teaching while we're sheltering in place due to COVID-19. The first thing I did was take an online tutorial to learn the basic tech parts—YouTube has quite a few that walk you through the steps. Then I looked for tips on how to adjust my instruction when teaching through a screen and found helpful posts on Accessible Yoga's Community Facebook page.
In particular, I was curious about how to create a sense of community among students and how to encourage awareness of the body, breath, and mind when teaching online. I wanted the sessions to maintain the closeness that the students had already developed during real-life classes. As I read through comments such as, "Touch and intimacy CAN happen online," I wondered how teachers were able to witness something like intimacy through Zoom. So, I reached out to a few instructors and here are some nuggets of useful information from them.
Michael Borden, a teacher at the San Francisco Integral Yoga Institute who has transitioned to offering his class on Zoom, recently posted on Accessible Yoga's Community Facebook page that he agreed with Kate Lynch's comment, "Touch and intimacy CAN happen online." I asked Michael to explain how touch and intimacy could manifest in a class where no participant is physically in the same room as another.
Michael replied, "For me, the 'intimacy' manifests itself online in seeing/hearing the students and feeling their energy, and sending energy to them. I attempted to convey instructions primarily by my voice, so students could 'go within,' and trusted that the teachings would come through."
"Both my regular class students and those I didn't know expressed gratitude afterwards to have a place to practice and join in community. Not the same as an in-person class; but it's what is available in the present reality."
I was encouraged to hear that students could get a sense of community even though miles apart and that an instructor's voice alone could be powerful enough to get students to go within.
Next I contacted Kate Lynch, a yoga teacher and meditation coach in Brooklyn, New York, to inquire about her online comment, "Touch and intimacy CAN happen online." I asked her how she became aware of this happening online. Did students give feedback that points to it?
She answered, "Reach your hand across to your opposite shoulder. Squeeze. When it's ready, let your hand move up a little towards just behind your ear. Then down towards your outer shoulder. Open your jaw and sigh. Bring your other hand across to the other shoulder. Give yourself a firm hug. Breathe into your upper back. With those instructions we can use self-massage and embodied movement to create a high-touch experience for ourselves."
It became clear to me that physical closeness wouldn't be needed for me to include gentle touch in an online yoga class. Since most of my students live by themselves and are sheltering-in-place alone, self-massage might be appreciated right now when getting a hug from a friend is out of the question!
Another comment Kate had posted was, "My students are comforted by seeing each other. They CAN move and breathe together." So I asked how she was aware of this happening—do students give her feedback that points to it?
Kate replied that her students gave her feedback that, "They are comforted by seeing each other (and me) in this new way: kids, pets, mess and all. The circumstances have forced me to let down some of the boundaries I have had in the past. I've never been aloof or polished anyway; authenticity is essential to me. It feels important to show up in my vulnerability, for students to know that I'm not always coping either and show how much I lean on the practice right now. It's not all love and light."
It was important for me to hear that when a teacher showed her vulnerability the students were comforted by it during this time of crisis. As an instructor who usually tries not to show vulnerability, I'm going to change that behavior from what I've learned from Kate!
Kate continued, "During class, I invite students to leave the video on and suggest gallery mode, so that it feels more like being in the space together. I encourage them to unmute as we chant together, not worrying about how it sounds but just making a joyful noise together! I mute their audio during the asana portion so they can tune in to my voice more easily. I sit, I lead, and I watch. I try to offer specific verbal encouragement, rather than general or reflexive platitudes like good job. I use their names. If I see body language I interpret as confusion or suffering, I respond to that—to normalize the collective experience of confusion and suffering. I lead them back to breath, and inner wisdom. I cue breath for a few namaskars so that they are actually breathing in unison."
"On Zoom, I'm getting away from demonstrating at all, so that I can sit, look, and attune to the students in their little rectangles. Rather than turning everyone's video off, I invite them to allow me into their space so I can support them during the practice. Then I talk them through a simple practice, offering variations depending on what I see."
I liked what I had heard from Michael and Kate, and after taking a few deep breaths I realized I felt ready to make the transition to teaching on Zoom. I'm ready to adjust my teaching methods to the format of communicating through a screen, allowing my vulnerability to show a little, and using my voice more than demonstration to lead students through a class of poses, breathwork, guided relaxation, and meditation.
Thanks to Michael Borden and Kate Lynch (see HealthyHappyYoga.com) for all their help.
Patrice Priya Wagner, RYT 500, C-IAYT, teaches yoga to people with disabilities and offers meditation workshops in Oakland, California, and has been published in New Mobility Magazine, Works and Conversations, Artweek, and Kitchen Sink. She is Managing Editor of the Accessible Yoga Blog and a founding member of the Accessible Yoga Board of Directors.
This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, Editor in Chief of the Accessible Yoga blog and co-author of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being.
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