Lights, Camera, Yoga


By Sage Rountree  |  

Whether or not the stereotype is true, yogis are often thought of as computer illiterate. But putting in just a little time and effort to become Web-savvy can have considerable payoff both creatively and in terms of broadening your audience of students. “You can’t put out a 10-minute DVD for all the packaging and marketing. But you can easily put 10-minute clips online,” says award-winning director and producer James Wvinner, who also teaches yoga instructors how to create their own DVDs and online content.

Online video extends your reach outside your usual student base, both geographically and in terms of your audience. DVD production companies are only going to go after the teachers who have high visibility, but many phenomenal teachers out there are equally talented and deserve the opportunity to hit a broader market. “This is their opportunity,” explains internationally recognized teacher Seane Corn. “More and more yoga teachers have an opportunity to get their voices heard online.”

While Corn usually teaches vinyasa flow classes, she says working with online media allows her to slow things down. “I can teach beginner classes and enjoy the opportunity to speak to them.” Sadie Nardini, who teaches in New York, agrees. “For the same energy expenditure it takes me to teach one class, people can experience it again and again, in wildly different times and places,” she says. “It’s a dream come true to be able to show up for all of them without compromising the quality of my energy or my teachings.”

All it takes to film a high-definition video and edit it into a shining gem is a point-and-shoot digital camera and a laptop. With many options for posting videos online, yoga teachers need only choose their focus and get started shooting. Use these simple steps to make your first great yoga video.

Plan of Action
Before you begin to shoot, plan ahead. Decide what you’re trying to achieve. Are you outlining a routine for students to follow at home? Making a few points about alignment? Guiding a meditation? Consider how your audience will use your content. Will they follow step by step? Watch and learn?

Once you’re clear on your intention for the media and how students will use it, continue planning. Where will you film? How will you set up? Will someone work the camera for you? Will other people appear alongside you? What will you wear? What will you say—do you need a script? If you find answers hard to come by, return to your intention for the project to clear your vision, and take your time planning a quality product. “You want it to look as good as it makes you feel,” Wvinner says.

At the planning stage, consider where you will be hosting your media online, because various platforms have different requirements and capabilities for length and quality.

Point and Shoot
Yoga teachers can experiment with a large range of equipment options. “You can use your iPhone to shoot video and then load right to YouTube—that’s what I do when I shoot my YOGAmazing in a Minute video. That’s as easy as it gets,” says Chaz Rough, creator of the YOGAmazing podcast. “I use a $3,500 camera and Final Cut to produce my weekly podcast.”

Good video cameras—or even still cameras that shoot high-definition video—are not very expensive these days. Look at Flip HD cameras as well as higher-end “prosumer” cameras, and be sure it’s easy to transfer data from the camera to your computer. Shooting in high definition will give you a nicer look, but you can certainly use a standard-definition camera, or even the camera in your computer or your phone. An inexpensive tripod will hold the camera steady and allow you to film without a helper.

As you set up, consider your lighting. Wvinner suggests getting to know and use natural light. “No one does it better than God!” he says. Take a few still photos and a test video to be sure that things are set up before you begin the formal shooting.

Once you have the equipment and lighting set up, you can film a live class—or one created for the purpose of filming. Either way, be sure your students are on board; getting a signed agreement is a good idea. “I have a stationary camera, or two strategically placed, so that no one feels like they’re trying to get their Zen on with a tripod on their mat, or with the paparazzi documenting every move,” says Nardini. She also suggests making the filming classes free for students.

Finally, be natural as you present. Viewers will relate to you best if you come across as genuine. “Be who you are. Don’t try to be like me, like David Swenson, like John Friend. Just be yourself,” says Rough.

Edit with Ease
Load your video clips onto your computer, where you will edit them. If you use a Mac, you’ll find the iMovie software easy and intuitive. On a PC, Movie Maker is an option, or download another video editor. In your editing application, you can trim the start and end of your clips, add transitions, and lay down voice-over if you didn’t record with sound.

If you’d like to add music to your video, it happens at this stage in the process. But beware: Music must be open-source, or you’ll need to get permission for its use. Look for “podcast-safe” music, and if you’re charging for your content, be aware that charging might affect the terms of use of free music.

Derik Mills of YogaGlo, an online studio that streams classes, has artists sign a detailed agreement licensing the use of their music, and they receive some publicity from the arrangement. “We post the link to their website or to the distributor where that music can be purchased,” he explains.

Titles at the beginning and credits at the end can point your viewers not only to any music you use but also to your personal or studio website.

Broadcast Your Sequence
You can offer your videos for streaming—meaning users will need to be connected to the computer or a mobile device with Wi-Fi to use them—or you can offer them for download. The two serve different goals, and there can be bandwidth issues with offering downloads, depending on your host. Offering downloads often requires more bandwidth than your host server provides, so check with your Web hosting service to be sure your account covers such downloads. Les Leventhal, a Bay Area yoga teacher who offers both streaming videos and a monthly free download (yogawithles.com/freedownload), says that when he set up his content as downloads, he came dangerously close to crashing the server.

Hala Khouri, one of Seane Corn’s partners at Off the Mat and Into the World, cautions that “the concern with content that’s downloadable is people taking it and using it for other purposes without our permission. Whereas if it’s streaming, no one can take it and use it.”

Depending on your goals, you’ll find various options for posting your content. If you’re offering short, free instructional videos for streaming, YouTube is an obvious choice. You can personalize your YouTube channel to match your website, and you can create playlists for your videos, dividing them into categories based on their content.

For high-definition content, especially if you’d like to offer downloads, Vimeo is an option to consider. Vimeo streams true HD video in 1280 x 720 resolution. For $59.95 per year, you can upgrade to Vimeo Plus and embed HD video in your own website. If your videos are shot in full HD, this is a nice way to deliver them.

Apple’s iTunes Store is another place to upload your videos as podcasts. You’ll find the technical specifications at http://www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts/specs.html, and dozens of simple tutorials elsewhere online.

If you’re ready to sell your videos, you might like to use a company that can host your video and help with your fee collection. At VidCompare.com, you can run a comparison of various video-hosting services, based on your needs. Your technical savvy and your goals will help you choose among the options.

Ultimately, the process of planning, creating, and refining videos for online content will give you practice at crystallizing a point and finding ways to demonstrate it clearly. This not only translates well into video but will also improve your classroom teaching and extend your student reach.

Get Some Green
Monetizing your videos can create another income stream for you, if you feel comfortable doing it. Khouri offers downloads online for less than $10. “I think it’s great,” she says. “We as teachers find more ways to deliver our message and teachings, and it creates passive income.”

If you feel conflicted about charging money, you can always use your revenue for seva (selfless service) or for career development. “Any money I’ve made for my videos, I’m pouring back into yoga,” says Leventhal. “It’s allowed me to travel, meet new people, go give conferences—it’s amazing. It reminds me about what I’m trying to do with teaching and balancing life.”

Of course, offering your videos for free can bring your name and your teachings to people you might not usually expect to reach, leading to new opportunities for teaching, both online and in person.

Sage Rountree, author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, has a number of online videos at youtube.com/sagerountree and at sagerountree.com. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where she is co-owner of the Carrboro Yoga Company.