Pivoting from In Person to Online in Response to COVID-19

The yoga is still yoga and teaching is still teaching, but the coronavirus pandemic has made yoga teachers adapt their techniques and use a lot more technology to operate through stay-at-home orders and social distancing. 

We’ve been discussing tips and technology for teaching online with quite a few people, including our panelists for Best Practices in Virtual Teaching and some themes have emerged.

Nerves are Normal

Maia pretends to put on apple-smashing boots during a virtual yoga class.

Maia Horsager of Kumarah Yoga teaches full time for a school, teaching multiple classes a day and seeing the same students more than once a week. School buildings closed in March, but teaching didn’t stop. “The biggest challenge at the beginning was building my confidence in teaching in front of a screen. I started with YouTube videos and I was worried I’d have to cut and paste my videos because I thought I’d make so many mistakes.” Said Horsager. “But, as it turns out, I was able to just put my notes and sequence up on a big paper on the wall and do the whole thing in one take. I just used my pretending skills.  I DID make mistakes, but I’m a human and it’s ok for our students to see that. I just name it, take a deep breath, laugh if needed, and move on.” 

You Will Make Mistakes

Loraine Rushton of Zenergy Yoga has been teaching virtually since well before the pandemic but told Lindsay about one of her learning curve moments during an Instagram Live interview. “One of the early classes I taught, I taught the class on mute and I didn’t know I was on mute because I had them on a big screen and …. because they are children they just follow you  so I didn’t know they couldn’t actually hear me!,” laughed Loraine.

Loraine teaches a virtual class surrounded by her stuffy friends.

Lara Hoecheiser of Flow & Grow Kids Yoga told Lindsay “I look back on some of those first videos and think ‘oh, I’ve gotten so much better at being on camera and making videos!’ … Everyone should know it’s an evolution and your early work is still good work even it it is not perfect.”

Two Way Interaction is Essential

In adult yoga, it’s not unusual for the students to be represented by a sea of little black screens and usernames, which can feel pretty disconnected. Lucas Rockwood, who gave a presentation for Yoga Alliance on the subject of online classes, says that he encourages students to keep their video on so that teachers can give individual feedback. Lucas and other teachers have sent their students suggestions or even guides for how to organize their yoga space for optimal watching and being seen.

One tip he shared is that hearing other people get good personalized feedback can encourage students put their video on too. And once you hit a critical mass for video on, most people will join in. But if you are looking at lots of little black squares, you don’t want to be swiping through gallery screens looking for students you can address directly during class. Instead, set your Zoom settings to automatically hide non-video participants. You can still reach/count non-video participants in the participants window and chat but everyone you are looking at will be on video. 

For kids classes, some instructors are insistent that video be on. Video off can actually seem like a violation of privacy for the other participants because we don’t know who’s watching class being a video-off zoom participant screen. When we can all see each other we are all “in class” together.

Our executive director Jen Mueller also runs Breathing Space in Washington DC which officially states that, for safety reasons, student video must be on during class, but it is ok if it must be turned off temporarily for some reason (life with kids and all). If a student turns off their video a lot, instructors will check in with the family outside of class to see what’s going on and find out if there’s a way to make the student more comfortable. 

“I once had a toddler who was having a rough time of it refuse to get dressed, but he wanted to do yoga. Of course it’s ok for video to be off in that case. I’m going to meet my students where they are at, but the general standard is video-on,” explains Jen.

Interaction May Look A Little Different on Zoom

Many kids yoga teachers keep their classes unmuted so that students can freely talk to the instructor during class. Jen Mueller usually only turns off sound for classes with kids 5+ if there is background noise, and the she mutes selectively, or during relaxation, so the only sound students hear are from me. Her weekly classes for toddlers though, operate a bit differently.

“Even in person, 2 year olds aren’t that reliable about answering questions or brainstorming pose ideas and I tend to keep the class on mute once we get going to deal with inevitable toddler background noise. So, I make sure to I log on a few minutes in advance to chat. That’s when students will show-and-tell and some families will connect with each other. I warn parents in advance by email what props they might need and the questions if we will have pose brainstorms during class. When parents log in they often put their child’s special pose request for the day or answers the brainstorm questions into chat and I’ll prompt them to do that (or unmute and talk) as the class goes along as well. Then I just announce which child requested the pose,” said Jen.  “I also watch the gallery view of my class and respond to what the students are doing throughout. It’s not fun as being in the same room, but it is very interactive.  

For older children, there are lots of interaction options and games to play. Andrea Creel of Shining Kids Yoga is a fan of games that result in the next yoga pose for class. Spinners, dice, and other techniques could be used, but simply allowing a student to pick from predetermined options using pose cards is also great and gives the student a sense of agency in class.

Don’t Hesitate to Change Your Methods to Meet Your Students Needs

Melissa leads her chair yoga class through a guided visualization.

We know as kids yoga teachers that we need to be flexible in our class planning. If our lesson doesn’t meet our students where they are at on a particular day, we need to be ready to adapt. Teaching virtually gives us some different options we might not have considered.

Melissa Sheh of Yoga Foster says:  “My favorite tech tip to keep students engaged with virtual learning is to have a few online meditations on hand. When I notice students are feeling tired or fatigued from staring at the screen, I offer for them to lie down and I share my screen/computer sound and play the meditation. At Yoga Foster, we’ve developed over 25 3min meditations that cover different topics like anger, sleep, grief, etc, so these are a great go-to when everyone needs a little break!”

Jamar Malcolm Peete also incorporates online resources that his organization, Holistic Life Foundation, put together for students to practice from home and supplement their live classes.

Shari Vilchez-Blatt of Karma Kids Yoga takes advantage of the virtual platform and plays with the effect of changing positions relative to the camera or turning the camera on and off again to create surprises for her students. Kids love that.

Know You Are Having an Impact Even When You Don’t Always See It Immediately

Maia Horsager says, “My biggest motivation to continue is hearing how much my students missed it over the summer. And hearing that they’ve started their own yoga or meditation practice by involving their families. I’ve had kids email, call, and send me messages on Google Classroom, asking when we have yoga. They share how it helps them feel calm and remember they have people who care about them. This is the kind of impact I want to continue to make.”

More Resources and Tips

Learn more with our workshop Mastering the Virtual Kids Yoga Class (recording) and panel discussion Best Practices in Virtual Teaching (Live 9/26, recording after)

Cover photo features: Shari Vilchez-Blatt from Karma Kids Yoga (left), Lara Hochieser of Flow & Grow Kids Yoga (center top), Malcolm Jamal Peete of Holistic Life Foundation (right), and Jen Mueller of the National Kids Yoga Conference and Breathing Space (center bottom).