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Tools for Teachers

Online Yogis: Expanding Your Teaching into Cyberspace

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The Internet has become indispensable for making life easier: You can pay bills, check in with family members, read the news and order groceries, all in one sitting. It was inevitable that yoga would also expand online, and many yoga teachers are finding the Internet a useful tool for reaching students.

“By far, the best outcome is the improved and increased communication between everybody, as well as being able to talk to so many people that I’ll probably never meet in person,” reflects yoga teacher Erich Schiffmann about his website, Moving into Stillness. “I can type in a response at a time that is convenient for me, hit the enter button, and suddenly it is available to everyone, everywhere.”

Content, Content, Content

The first step to establishing an online presence is deciding what information you want to communicate. “The most important thing is content. People don’t like to hop around to 20 different little websites,” emphasizes Suzanne LaForest, a yoga teacher and moderator of Schiffmann’s online chat community. “They would like to find a site that’s well-organized and has lots of information that they can trust and that they feel somebody is sorting through.”

This material could be anything from sequencing information from a recent class, to dissecting a more difficult pose, to musing on an aspect of yogic philosophy. It can provide a specific group of students with a listing of local yoga events, or it can serve interested yogis everywhere and encourage discussion between the host of the site and its visitors.

Getting the Word Out: Personal Websites and Blogs

Once you’ve started assembling material, you need to decide how to present it. Personal websites and blogs can include written information, display pictures and drawings, offer audio or video downloads, and sell merchandise.

If you want to get started immediately, you can set up a free blog account with such sites as Blogger or WordPress. Most Internet providers offer free website templates and hosting with an email account. If you want more control over how your site looks and the features it offers, you may look into investing in some easy-to-understand website design software, such as Adobe’s Dreamweaver or Microsoft’s FrontPage.

The Power of the Voice: Podcasts

Other vehicles for your yoga message are audio or video podcasts. Although these approaches require more equipment, because your voice or video must be prerecorded on a digital recorder, they offer the immediacy of the spoken word. You can post a podcast on a website or blog, or onto iTunes, the online media store, where it can be downloaded to any computer or MP3 player. This way you can present demonstrations of asana or guided meditations, and you can even run interviews.

Lara Cestone, creator of the podcast interview show Yogapeeps, says, “Podcasts are new and exciting. You can listen while you cook, do the laundry, walk the dog, or commute. It’s also less dense than a blog. It’s more relaxing as well, as you aren’t sitting staring at a screen, but you are active, moving and listening.”

Time Is of the Essence

Creating content and maintaining a Web presence can be very time-consuming. Even short blog entries that you post several times per week can take hours, especially if you want to include photos or diagrams that need to be created and uploaded to your site. An online audience expects new material on a regular basis; to keep your site fresh, you will have to add content at least once a week, if not more often.

“It’s the only thing I do that I have to do consistently at the same time every week. It’s a very disciplined practice for me to have to have something new to say—whether I’m traveling, whether I have relatives visiting. . . . Every Sunday night I have to sit down and think carefully about what this message is going to be for the week,” says Kelly McGonigal about the discussion she leads on her website Open Mind, Open Body.

The Cyber-Ashram

However, if you are willing to spend the time and have access to the technology, bringing the lessons of yoga to an online audience can be a very rewarding experience. “I see my website as a complete extension of how I teach,” continues McGonigal. “It’s as natural for me to teach through the medium of writing as it is to get up in front of a classroom and talk [to students]. I get to do all this teaching to people I would never get to teach in a classroom, and it is as effective.”

Schiffmann agrees. “The ability to dialogue and share with so many people is awesome,” he says. “It’s fun to see how yoga is evolving. This has never been available before. It’s really evidencing the fact of one Mind. The online cyber-ashram is a community of like-minded people talking and sharing about a subject they love—yoga.”

Whether they are providing additional resources for their current students or chatting in a discussion group with instructors on the other side of the world, yoga teachers can use the Internet as a modern way to approach an ancient practice.

Brenda K. Plakans lives and teaches yoga in Beloit, Wisconsin. She spends several hours a week updating her blog, Grounding thru the Sit Bones.