accessible yoga during covid

Making Yoga accessible in times of remote livestream classes

This is quite an interesting time to become a yoga teacher or continue to be a yoga student in the dawn of a global pandemic that puts us all behind our windows and in front of our screens. In the following article, I’ll be exploring some deeply personal/subjective experiences as a student combined with talks organised with my community of yoga enthusiasts, as well as friends who I’ve taught online over the past few months. In no way do I want to suggest that offline classes going remote are anything more than a first world problem we’re currently facing, however, it was a beautiful distraction to write this and I hope to make it a nice read for you too. 

Namaste Yoga Students

From a student perspective, things I’ve never done myself before (watching flows on YouTube, signing up for an online platform) became more or less commonplace over the past few weeks, and the soothing yet rigorous voices that used to lead us into our asanas in our local studio have now almost completely transferred to Zoom. Never in my life would I have associated sound issues on my laptop (coming both from the internal speakers as well as its wonky Bluetooth connectivity) with my lack of motivation to go all the way on some of the days – and it seems like I’m not alone in this. 

I’ve mostly stuck to my regular teachers online in the first month, partly because I’ve tried adding a new voice to the roster at the beginning of the pandemic and it really didn’t inspire me to move. Second month saw me in a new job, with some more finances to experiment with, so I went for some well known teachers in our community, and damn they’re good. When speaking to my Yoke friends and mat confidants, they were also sceptical of new teachers at first, but then slowly began testing the waters in the second month indoors.

For teachers who have a consistent base of students taught throughout a number of years across a number of places, expanding online could provide them with a new income stream. Adding a recording/live streaming aspect to a class, especially when cue-ing is on point and verbal alignment indications are clear, is something that almost any experienced teacher could do to enrich the practice of those they are not able to reach live even post pandemic. 

Ahoy full-time Yoga Teachers

Switching to online teaching comes with extra hours you need to invest into making this right. Marcus Veda mentions that “It was a few weeks of big change and much technical learning. And finding out the limitations and possibilities.” It’s not convenient to not see your students practising and relying only on your voice (and sometimes demonstrations) for them to get it, to the point to which Alan Ellman explained “the teaching itself is very different. There is no sound other than my voice and music. There is very little feedback. It’s incredibly difficult to see what the students are actually doing in their tiny little boxes so it’s hard to give individual feedback and instruction.” It’s also completely counterintuitive to promote something as intimate, caring and inherently connected to touch in a format that can be perceived as dry. 

But from the perspective of a yoga teacher, this format also makes it accessible to those who’d benefit from your classes and would never be able to reach you otherwise. It gives you another level of satisfaction to make yoga truly transparent and open for all. “Having also practiced many online classes I know how much it’s possible to get from the classes so it makes it all worth it” says Alan, and Marcus agrees “I was so grateful there was a way to still teach classes that I soon overcame any idealogical objections”. The drawback of currently not being able to teach live in a studio or open space effectively gives you the perfect opportunity to experiment with platforms, prototype new ideas around how to innovate your classes that you could use for students across the world. To conclude with Laura McVicker‘s thoughts: it wasn’t hard to teach a Zoom class, but she had to make the decision whether to demo or watch students, with “no luxury of people in the front row being able to lead the class”. The most annoying thing currently are all the booking forms and admin: “I’m looking at how to make that easier”, she adds.

Best practices – newsletters and social media

In the following part, I’ll be walking through some of the best elements I’ve seen applied in the past weeks that could go a long way even after we’re back to “normality”. A surprising one is the weekly newsletter with links to join classes – as a teacher, you’re really able to leave a piece of your heart and keep in touch with students in a slightly different way than you would on social media. Staying authentic will probably bring the people most likely to actually enjoy your style into your virtual studio. Keeping people up to speed with what’s going on in your life, offering them value without them having to sign up for a class (but that definitely supports them in choosing to do it) is a content marketing tactic that can improve your relationship with students in more ways than one.

Being active on online networks is also a crucial part, now more than ever, of getting people you’ve met to remember you, and getting the ones you haven’t met yet to understand what you’re about. With all the variety at hand (free videos on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook; paid video on demand platforms where one can easily pause for a pose), it’s key for students to see whether the teacher fits their vibe – enough for them to go on a Zoom call with you live, maybe even from a different timezone. 

I’d mention “practice what I say, not what I personally do”: on my Insta, you’ll see no references around the fact that I teach weekly, because I’ve been keeping it really low-key with a group of friends so far and have only recently started to branch out to my work mates, using WhatsApp and Slack heavily as my weekly newsletters.

New Yoga Teachers (I see you, Sampoorna crew)

Ok, now on to some remarks from a new yoga teacher perspective: first off, I want to make it clear that I’m in a lucky position to not rely on teaching as a means to pay rent, but more as an addition to the things I’m currently working on. My idea is to develop a crowd of people genuinely interested in moving forward with yoga and seeing whether this will lead to a side hustle eventually. 

So after gathering my friends in London for a round of yoga at my favourite studio, followed shortly after by the pandemic reaching new proportions in the UK,  I’ve been playing around with teaching yoga to my best friends from around Europe every Tuesday night. It’s safe to say that not all of them are super passionate about it, and I’ve gotten a few students churning, but it’s such a cool way of connecting with them on a different level than through our regular chats and honestly, it’s fun to make sure that everybody moves. 

It seems as though for most of my current participants, it’s a level of physical exercise they are used to doing so it’s currently proving to be at a medium intensity. I’ve also worked with this group long enough to explain the poses we’re going into properly and avoid any tendency of them rushing through the flow.

We’re currently connecting on Skype since I’m not charging them to take part in these sessions and it’s still an overseeable amount of participants attending who all have my ID. You should go for whichever option fits you best though: I’ve seen Zoom applied mostly for yoga, but you also have Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex for an online conference style and Facebook/Instagram/YouTube livestreams – anything that gets your juices flowing!

Some end thoughts and an open invitation

I’ve seen different approaches from my fellow Sampoornies: some offering free Instagram live videos, others doing donation based classes (Zoom studio style), some continuing with their self-practice and documenting it online, others going radio-silent. We’re all trying to cope with the situation as much as possible and there truly isn’t a recipe for success in this time. One thing I will say though, is that this can only show us how to deal with uncertainty. We’re all scattered across the world, we have this new network of people available with whom we can interact with and we can learn from one another what works best for each of us. 

This approach may or may not be the right one for you, but if I learned anything during my yoga teacher training, it was to pave the way for others (who are like me or completely different) to take a leap of faith and practice yoga – asana, breathing, meditation, anything that gets you going. So if you’re open to giving it a try with a new face, I invite you to join any of my Online Tuesday Yoga Nights. 

They’re free and take place every week on Tue at 6.30pm BST for 60mins – all you need to grab with you is a mat (fluffy carpet, towel will do as well) and two somewhat equally thick books (optional straps and bricks for those of you who have these props). 

Just sign up here to be notified of the joining instructions for our next session and I look forward to seeing you on the mat! Please also comment below if you have any other questions, comments or tips about this or anything yoga-related in general. Namaste!

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