Increase Your Reach: Distance-Learning Classes


By Brenda K. Plakans  |  

“I wish you had a class on weekends! At 6 in the morning! Can you make me a tape of our class sequence?” With successful classes, a teacher often has requests for ways to increase or deepen students’ yoga practice beyond regular meeting times. Often it’s not possible to add an additional class to your schedule; but while you can’t accommodate all of your students’ requests, you may be able to offer classes they can access anytime, anywhere, by going online.

Creating a distance-learning class can be a rewarding way to offer more of your teaching to your regular students while taking advantage of the possibilities offered by the Internet. It frees you from the scheduling limitations of a studio and expands your reach to include practitioners from around the world.

“It made me more mindful; just being on my mat allows me to focus and clear my head of my day,” says Jennifer Bishop, a student in Madison, Wisconsin, of her online yoga and creativity class. “It was fun to interact with women across the country and have suggestions and feedback about how they add yoga into their day, or practice their writing or music. It allowed me to jump off of those ideas and go further with my own work.”

What Should Your Online Yoga Class Be Like?

When creating an online yoga class, you are only limited by your imagination. In addition to asana, you can include nontraditional elements such as outside readings, activities like art or service projects, or writing exercises and journaling. Consider what’s successful in your studio classes—for example, sequences that help students discover new poses, anecdotes that inspire, useful descriptions of poses’ benefits—and explore how they could translate onto the Internet.

Before deciding on a format for your class, do research to see what’s already available. There are elaborate sites, such as Jamie Kent’s Yoga Downloads, a library of audio classes that are downloaded to an MP3 player for later use. Others are more personalized, such as Barrett Lauck’s Yoga Odyssey, a program that encourages a month of yoga through daily inspirational emails and weekly “chats” on a community bulletin board. Kimberly Wilson’s Creativity Circles are a combination of yoga instruction and creativity coaching. She uses sequences she has uploaded to YouTube to encourage students to use their time on the mat as inspiration for art projects they create during the course.

What to Leave In, What to Leave Out

When you’re planning your online class, think about what the Internet does best—connecting a wide and varied audience, assembling large amounts of information, presenting a variety of formats—and tailor your online sessions accordingly. You may have to leave some elements for your local studio classes (hands-on adjustments, a controlled environment), but you can expand your syllabus and how you present it to your students.

One of the most important things to consider is how to present the information. Will students be listening to prerecorded sequences? Reading and looking at images? Following a video? Will they deal just with you or interact with other participants?

Take advantage of existing sites to help clarify your original material. Lauck suggests compiling a list of other online resources—blogs, podcasts, recorded sequences. Providing links to others’ teaching material is a free supplement to your teaching, and it promotes those people you admire. “It was a great way for me to promote this person and learn from other peoples’ efforts,” Lauck says. Of course, you always want to give full credit to the resource creator.

The Internet can also allow your students to connect with one another through bulletin boards, weekly online chats, email, and social networking sites such as Facebook. This allows people to interact in a way they’d never be able to in a studio setting. “I assign a study buddy to everyone so that they have a go-to person besides me and the forum for motivation and support,” Wilson says of her Creativity Circles. “This brings a discussion element to the format, even though none of you are in the same place.”

Your Internet Home

Finally, you need to figure out where your online yoga class will live. Your students should be able to get all their information from one place so that it’s quick and convenient to reference.

A blog is an easy place to upload pictures and text and can be made accessible only by password, so you can limit the audience if you choose. Participants could be notified by email when a new posting is available, with a link to the site. Of course, you could also put the information on your own website or social networking group, such as Facebook.

Tools You Can Use

Both blogs and websites have a limited amount of memory available for photos, videos, and podcasts, so you probably have to use other sites to host those features. Photoshop Express, Flickr, and Picasa are free online photo editors that will help you edit and store your digital images.

iTunes and Audacity allow you to upload prerecorded MP3s (Audacity also converts other sound files into MP3s) and serve as hosts, so you can send students a link to spoken information. YouTube and Vimeo serve the same function for video and can host filmed items, such as follow-along practices or other clips.

Pay Attention to Detail

Whether students pay for your classes or take them for free, they expect quality. Careful planning and preparation before you go “live” will help assure that you’re providing a meaningful experience.

Double-check everything. You have to be painstaking as you prepare your materials, from extensive proofreading of text to color correcting photos to avoiding poor sound or image quality in downloads. Look at your class on a variety of computers and search engines; PDF files and external hosting can ensure a standard view on different machines.

Use quality equipment. A good microphone or camera will make all the difference in how your files look and sound. Use editing programs to clean up photos or voice recordings so your material is as easy to understand as possible.

Get the word out. Perhaps the trickiest part of teaching online is marketing. Start by informing your own students through mailing lists or networking. Try contacting blog authors you regularly read and ask to be linked to their sites. Post a blurb on yoga bulletin boards. Use the community aspect of the Internet to get the word out.

Remember that you’re still teaching a yoga class. Jamie Kent says, “Try to relax, be yourself, and make it as much like a real class as you can. You want the student taking your class clear across the country to feel as though they are right there in the studio with you, and to leave with that feeling of calm, serenity, and centeredness that we all love so much about yoga.”

Brenda K. Plakans teaches yoga at the Stateline Family YMCA in Beloit, Wisconsin. She also writes the yoga blog Grounding Thru the Sit Bones.