It’s been about a year since so many yoga classes went virtual, leaving many of us wondering if online yoga would kick the community feel of yoga offline. While practicing yoga on the internet will never be the same as the studio or gym experience, it turns out that it can feel quite connecting.
“I was surprised that it is not only possible to build community in virtual classes, but students are hungry for it, says San Francisco Bay areas yoga teacher Sarah Ezrin. “It just takes commitment from the teachers and a willingness from the students.”
Here are tips from Ezrin and five other teachers who have found ways to help their yoga communities thrive in the virtual realm.
1. Embrace the Positive
“The beauty of having a community online is that you can serve people from all over the world,” says Kat Bates, founder of Love Warrior Yoga. A formerly globe-trotting American now living life as an ex-pat in Hamburg, Germany, says her weekly classes often have students from all over the world, including Australia, Colombia, Thailand, New York, Texas, and Germany. Virtual yoga offers teachers a chance to reunite with students they haven’t seen in years due to geographical distance or time constraints. Plus, it’s a wonderful way to connect with new people as well.
2. Remember to Take Care of You
Alicia “ACE” Easter, a Los Angeles-based yoga teacher, advises teachers to “Ground yourself before class. Do your best to release the pressure of perfection. I like to ground myself by doing a two-minute meditation.”
For others, a movement practice is just what they need to clear their heads before teaching. “I teach some of my best classes after I’ve had a yoga practice or workout of my own, so I prioritize my own movement sessions,” says Michelle Prosper, founder of the Ohra Yoga Collective Virtual Yoga Experience in Mount Kisco, New York.
This clearer, calmer state comes in handy when the inevitable tech snafus arise. “I can’t stress this enough: let yourself off the hook,” says ACE. “Forgive Wi-Fi speeds, mute/unmute buttons accidents, music not syncing, and people having to leave class early. Life happens, and sometimes people thought they were feeling yoga and found that they were not after all.”
3. Create Ambience
Tamika Caston-Miller co-owner of indoor-outdoor studio The Ranch Houston, refrains from referring to her online sessions as calls, “because they are classes; they’re curated like any other class I would teach. Whether I’m teaching online or in-person, I create the same expectations,” she says. For example, “I have music playing before class that I’m pushing through the shared music feature, I offer a dharma talk at the beginning, and sit closer to the screen so I may actually connect with people eye-to-eye. I give feedback to students, by watching and engaging with them as a class.”
4. Encourage Interaction
Ezrin likes to introduce or reintroduce people who knew each other previously or who practiced in similar settings. She adds that signing on to class a little early and leaving a little late gives students time to ask questions and get to know each other.
“In my online trainings, I encourage peer teaching and connection through breakout rooms. I encourage people to leave their mics on so we may hear chuckles and other aural feedback,” says Caston-Miller. “In my last training we even had a dance party at the end, which is what I always do at the end of my in-person trainings.”
“It’s so important to interact with your students when you teach online,” says Bates. “I like to build a few minutes into the schedule to check in with each other, either before or after the session, or maybe both.” This personal connection in the virtual world helps. “Taking our community online has been helpful for their mental health and for my mental health.”
5. Build Excitement for Your Classes with Social Media and Email
Bates uses Instagram stories to run polls to see what her students want to work on in a given week.
ACE follows up after class with an email to thank students for attending, and to let them know when her next class offering is. “I do this so it’s top of mind. You can of course say it during class, but people forget.”
6. Yoga Music Sharing Is Caring
“Share your playlist,” says ACE. “People seem to really love that and I love that people ask [about the music I played] after class.” It makes sense, she adds, because “music (songs from the classes I take as a student) help me remember the connections I made in class, if only to deepening the one with myself during that time.”
7. Get Creative with Your Offering
Prosper’s students have started a recipe swap. It sprang up organically from pre- and post-class foodie chats. Prosper features a student recipe in her monthly newsletter. “It’s a great way for us to share, to nourish each other, and it keeps our yoga community on participants’ radar,” she says. “One of our teachers, who is also a foodie, is collecting all of the recipes and connecting each recipe with the person who shared it as a ‘member spotlight.’ By the end of 2021, we’ll have a beautiful recipe book to share.”
The Ohra Yoga Collective also offers a free community class or workshop every at least once a month. This freebie both helps build interest and brings new members into the community.
8. Support and Learn from Other Teachers
Jenny Clise, a San Francisco-based yoga teacher, emphasizes the power of building community with other teachers. “Take other people’s classes. Supporting your fellow yoga instructors is vital. And don’t forget to bring a friend.”
Don’t get caught in a self-promotion bubble, says Clise. She encourages teachers to branch out. “Share other people’s classes, events, and trainings. Sometimes we forget because we are all trying our best to stay afloat in the virtual world of yoga. Doesn’t it feel great when others share your classes though? Give back!”
To create even more synergy, team up with a friend, or even someone new to teaching to host a virtual workshop, Instagram Live, training, etc. That friend could be a yoga teacher—or perhaps a nutritionist, a Reiki practitioner, or life coach. Bring your different communities together!
Finally, “Take the time to help others who are just getting into the virtual world, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from those who seem to be succeeding in the online yoga space,” says Clise. “Chances are, they have already been through all the ups and downs of it and could offer some useful tips so you don’t have to” go through all of the same challenges.
9. Close Class Intentionally
“Don’t just leave them in Savasana and turn off the meeting,” Bates advises. “Bring them out of the relaxation pose, and close the class so it completes the ritual of your time together.”
Caston-Miller concurs, and aims to intentionally deepen community before, during, and after class. “I connect with people before and after class, get to know them, and cultivate community in the same way that I would in-person. People who show up for yoga online are deep practitioners; this is a way to cultivate deep relationships. I already had a community, so I thought it was important to maintain and sustain it because everyone has been feeling so isolated and lonely during these corona times.”
10. Begin and End with the End in Mind
“My goal is to leave people better than I’ve found them,” says Caston-Miller. “For me, that looks like leading with the guiding intention of seeing and affirming people through genuine connection, which has been truly impactful for my classes.”
Takeaways can provide powerful closure for classes. “Read something at the end of class or have a takeaway of some sorts,” says ACE. “I think themes have been really helpful for me to help promote my class, connection amongst the attendees, and a collective intention throughout our time together.”