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Breaking Boundaries to Teach Online

By Rachel LandSenior Yoga Medicine® teacher, for Yoga Digest.

Times have changed, and teaching yoga has changed too. Not that long ago, we connected with our students in person and online yoga was something that other people did. Not any more.

Suddenly our only option is to live stream or video our classes, or not connect with our students at all. It’s as if our ideas of what it means to teach, and what skills are required, have abruptly turned on their heads. Lighting, video editing, and technical skills suddenly seem a crucial part of a teacher’s repertoire.

For many of us, the change has brought to light stories that we have been telling ourselves for years. Stories like: “My practice isn’t fancy enough to film”, “Technology isn’t my thing”, “I can’t teach if I can’t get a feel for the room” or “My students won’t respond to that”.

Some of these stories may be based in fact, but others are rooted in insecurity.

I’ve met hundreds of yoga teachers from all over the world, and whatever our differences there are core similarities too. Most of us don’t teach because we want to be the “star”. We are often introverts, behind-the-scenes types, thoughtful enough to be acutely aware of our flaws. Yoga is our comfort, our solace, our sanity, and we teach because we feel drawn to share the tools that help us with others. But ask us to market our offerings, to sing our own praises, and many teachers fall silent. 

Our work asks us to dig deep, to examine our actions and motivations with a critical eye. That practice is incredibly helpful, but it can also create a tendency to judge ourselves more harshly than we do others. To feel that we have nothing unique to offer, that there will always be someone else who can do what we do better. Who can offer more inspiring, more creative, more intelligent, more challenging, or more useful practices than we can. Who have a clearer voice, a better platform, or the technical skills that we lack.

But this is not the time to listen to our inner critic. Whatever other teachers have, there is a crucial thing missing, and that is the unique relationship we have built with our students over time. We may not have felt it as keenly as we do now, but our students have always had the option to practice with other teachers, whether locally or online, paid or free of charge, and they have chosen us.

Mahatma Gandhi said: The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” These words have never been so true. In these trying times, in the face of almost complete uncertainty, our students need yoga more than ever. There has never been more potent motivation to set our stories aside, to overcome our perceived limitations and reach out to our students in new ways.

Thankfully our students realize how new the online yoga world is for most of us, and are very forgiving in their expectations of production value and ease of access. This the perfect time for us to give online offerings a try.

What does that mean to you? It means that you:

  1. Find a platform your students will have ready access to: for example a private group on Facebook, an unlisted video on YouTube, or Zoom or Vimeo classes that you can email access to.
  2. Determine what core content will most benefit your students. Decide what class length, type, and level will be most useful and whether you prefer livestream or pre-recorded content. You dont need a camera, fancy lighting, or expensive recording equipment; your students aren’t expecting polished and professional delivery, they simply want to connect with you, so your phone will do just fine.
  3. Perform a test run, free-of-charge, with a friend, family member or regular student to iron out any technical hitches. Assess whether they can see and hear you clearly. Notice any visual or auditory distractions that could be reduced or eliminated. Decide what props will be accessible outside of the yoga studio, and whether or not you plan to “mirror” your students. Don’t listen to the voice of your inner critic telling you that it’s only worth doing if done “right”; these days your students simply need connection, however imperfect, to the comfort of familiar people and practices.
  4. Let people know that your classes or courses are available, and offer payment options. No need for a payment process to be embedded into your online platform, you may just choose to message interested students your bank account number, Venmo or PayPal details. If you are concerned about your students’ economic state, you can offer donation-based or sliding-scale payment options.
  5. Be consistent. You aren’t trying to build an online empire, so set a schedule that you can maintain without adding too much to your plate.

We are all dealing with unforeseen obstacles, pushed to learn skills that didn’t seem relevant just a few weeks ago. Our option is to leave our comfort zone miles behind us or stop teaching entirely. But we teach because we need to. Because the practice has been our support, our relief, our release, and we know our students need the tools yoga provides more than ever before.

Robert Ingersoll said: “We rise by lifting others”. And so we find a way.

Check out Rachel's new online courses to grow your yoga business

About the Author

Rachel Land

Rachel Land

Rachel found yoga as a teenager. It challenged her body, then calmed and clarified her mind. Over the next 20 years, through a Business Degree, a stint in corporate marketing, and international travels, it became a touchstone that she returned to repeatedly until it sparked the idea of something more. In 2011 Rachel finally became a Yoga Alliance registered teacher. Since then she has completed courses in Anatomy & Physiology, Nutrition, Sports Training & Development, Mentoring and Yin Yoga, and completed a 500-hour yoga teacher training with Tiffany Cruikshank and Yoga Medicine. She is a regular contributor to Yoga International and Yoga Journal, and a proud member of the Yoga Medicine teacher training team.

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