Are you missing the human contact when you teach yoga online? You’re not the only one. The sense of connection that comes from practicing yoga together is my favourite part of teaching. Your students are yearning for it. What’s more, the need for authentic connection is stopping many people from doing yoga online - or leading them to drop out after trying it for a while.
So how can you create a deep sense of connection with your students while teaching online? Can you ever reproduce the ‘touch’ of a compassionate adjustment via webcam?
Not only can you deepen the connection with your students, you must. As social distancing continues and the mountain of free, high-quality online yoga content grows, your students need more than asana videos to keep them coming back. They need to feel connected to you and to each other. They want to be engaged in ways that make them feel seen, heard and validated. They need ‘touch.’
Here are 4 ways to bring ‘touch’ to your online classes so you can support your students through difficult times and make sure they’re still practicing with you when it’s safe to return to the yoga studio.
1. Teach what they really need
At the beginning of each class, invite your students to share what kind of practice they feel like doing. This has two major benefits:
i. It helps you know how to fully serve your students in the here and now.
ii. It encourages students to learn to check in with their own bodies rather than do what they're told.
If you’ve got several students and they all need different things, that’s great! Now you know what aspects of your class plan are going to work and what parts you can swap out for practices that are going to meet the needs of more students.
If you’re new to teaching, this can seem a bit intimidating. But give it a go. Even if you’re not confident making changes to your class plan on the fly, you can emphasise which postures in your class meet your student’s stated needs, eg. “Jen, you said you needed something to ease your tight hips - this pigeon pose is for you.’
Need some help planning your online classes and workshops? Download this free online class planning tool.
2. Connect between classes
If you don’t have a weekly newsletter, now is the time to create one. Your students need to feel connected and a well crafted newsletter will do just that. Here's the golden rule for newletters:
Make it 100% relevant to what your students want - not what you want to tell them!
For example, if students express during class that they love how relaxed they feel after yoga, write a paragraph about why yoga makes you feel relaxed and add a short video or audio recording of you delivering a guided relaxation. Let them know that you hear them, that you see their struggles during this challenging time and you’re there to support them.
3. Create community
Not only do students want to feel connected to you, they want to feel connected to each other. A private Facebook group is a great way to do this. Only invite students who come to your online classes and post a quick conversation starter each day. That could be a simple question like “Is anybody doing a self practice between classes? How’s it going?” or “Anybody having trouble sleeping - would some yoga tips for better sleep help you out?” or “What are you doing to practice self-care today?”
As students will responding, respond to their comments and connect them up to each other, for example: “Hey Jo, I love that you’ve been trying the warrior 1 sequence on your own at home. I think Kate was doing the same thing - Kate are you having a similar experience to Jo?” In no time at all, they’ll be engaging with each other and creating connections that will make them excited to join your classes each week to feel part of the community you’ve created.
4. Help students deepen their connection to self
As yoga teachers, we know that yoga is all about connecting with the self, becoming aware of and integrating our physical, emotional and psychological experiences. In group yoga classes, this sense of non-judgmental self awareness (swadhyaya) can be tricky to achieve when students are being distracted by the performance of other students, feeling self conscious about their own practice or trying to keep up with the class. Practicing online can take away some of these barriers, especially if students turn off their cameras!
Rather than cracking through the usual vinyasa, try experimenting with slower, more repetitive movements (such as moving in and out of down dog or warrior 2) and invite students to pay attention to specific aspects of their experience of the practice. Not what they ‘ought’ to feel What they actually DO feel.
We get very used to saying things like ‘this pose gives you a great stretch down the backs of the legs.’ What if your student isn't feeling that? Are they doing it wrong? Does it matter if they are? Instead of telling students what they should do or feel, try inviting them to notice what’s actually happening for them. For example, ‘feel the back of your legs. What sensations do you notice there? How does it feel in legs right now?’ This approach offers students the opportunity to connect more deeply with their own experience and become their own teacher. That’s much more aligned with the goals of yoga than just getting a good stretch.
Creating connection through virtual touch
While we can’t offer physical touch via the internet, we can create the conditions for our students to experience a sense of deeper connection with themselves, their fellow students and with us as teachers. We can build caring, supportive communities that provide students with the connection they are craving and keep them showing up to class. Yoga was never about teaching asana. It’s always been about connection. It’s just that in this socially distanced world, we need to find new ways to connect. We’re yogis; we can do this.
Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.