The yoga world we once knew has been unrecognizable since the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Brick-and-mortar studios have shut down or are under new ownership. Long-time teachers have left the business entirely, opting for more security in different fields. The biggest shift though, is that pretty much every aspect of yoga teaching has gone online, including teacher trainings.
Early on, many in the business questioned how YTTs would translate online. Now we know that virtual yoga teacher trainings are doing well in terms of both attendance and interest. And students seem to be connecting and transforming just as much as when we met in person.
In the most recent virtual training I led, I was moved by how quickly people opened up to one another and to the training process. There were even cathartic tears on the first day (and for those who have never taken a training, that is a good thing!). In some ways, being behind the screen has given students more allowance to be vulnerable.
See also I Completed Yoga Teacher Training During the Pandemic. Here’s What I Learned
Online yoga teacher trainings can build community
Los Angeles-based trainee Janice Hill has taken 200-hour trainings both in person and online. She says she’s surprised at how quickly she was able to bond with her fellow trainees virtually, noting that, “The most important things about yoga is the power of community. Online teacher training has provided that deep connection.”
It has been a fascinating experiment to see what works on the computer and what does not. Because, while the transformational and community aspects are clearly translating well, other pieces that we once considered key to YTTs, like hands-on adjustments, definitely are not.
For a teacher’s perspective, I reached out to two senior teacher trainers from different schools, both of whom have led a number of online trainings during the pandemic, to learn what is working, what is not, and what has been uniquely beneficial to being on Zoom.
Senior YogaWorks teacher trainer and the trainer development manager for the East Coast Heather Seagraves has played a pivotal role in helping teachers move to an online format. “Assisting the shift to an online landscape was an organic amalgamation of my roles and experience,” Seagraves says. “I wanted to support the students and teachers in training through the confusion we were all living through and to help bolster an outlet for connection and community.”
The advantages of online yoga teacher trainings
International yoga teacher and founder of School of Yoga Joan Hyman is excited not only about the potential for one-on-one connection amongst students that happens with a virtual format, but also the global reach online trainings provide. Hyman used to travel every week to a different country to teach. She now has access to all of her students in one place.
Teaching online also allows her to partner with studios and other instructors around the world. For example, though Hyman is Los Angeles-based, she recently led an online Business of Yoga training with New Zealand-based Cristina Holopainen and Holopainen’s studio in the Philippines, Urban Ashram.
In hindsight, there are many upsides to holding trainings virtually. Though we may not be able to give hands-on adjustments or hugs, we can still hold space for our students to have a transformational experience and connect, even across the globe. At the end of the day, isn’t that worth more than learning how to push someone’s pelvis in Downward-Facing Dog Pose?
Tips for leading yoga teacher trainings online
1. Build community diligently
I make it a mission in all of my trainings to foster connection. In person, I run an activity called “Secret Yogi,” where each trainee is assigned a different student to (secretly) look out for. This could look like putting away the person’s props or inviting them out to lunch, but clearly these particular suggestions do not work online.
I’m still running this activity virtually, and it has been amazing to see how students are able to creatively support one another, from creating dummy email accounts in order to send kind messages or special playlists, or simply holding the other yogi in their thoughts during meditation. Google “online team building exercises” before your next training for even more creative ways to bring people together.
2. Screen sharing is your friend
Both Hyman and Seagraves mentioned the ease of the screen-share function to show visual aids. Plus, it’s so much easier than needing to use a bulky projector in-person. This function is particularly helpful for anatomy lectures, which often require pictorial representations. Both trainers also noted the convenience of being able to pull up additional materials online when necessary, another strength of the digital training environment.
3. Use a model and spotlight practitioners
A big difference between online and in-person teaching is the necessity for many teachers to demonstrate for their classes. In a training setting, where we are looking at bodies and working with each student’s alignment individually, this is not possible. In order to watch the students closely, try using a participant as a model to do the practice.
When it comes time to look at specific alignment cues, spotlight a particular practitioner (ask permission first!). Seagraves recommends taking time on the first day to help students adjust camera angles and lighting so the teacher and other trainees can see them more clearly for practice sessions.
4. Embrace the screen grab
Another advantage to looking at bodies on screens is that you can capture what you are seeing in the moment with a screen shot. I often have my assistant take screen grabs when we are looking at someone in a pose. Later, I will use the markup function in my photos to draw arrows of what we were looking at.
Seagraves finds that one of the more challenging parts of online trainings for trainees is being able to see the subtler energetic shifts in people poses when realigned. Taking a screen shot allows you to zoom in and really study some of the changes. Pro tip: Use student’s home décor as visual markers to help people see changes. For example, a bookshelf can be a leveler when looking at the even height of someone’s arms in Warrior Pose II.
5. Tap into the power of breakout rooms
One challenge with trainings, especially larger ones, is that people either talk over one another or are uncomfortable speaking at all. On Zoom, there is an option to split the larger group up into smaller pods for conversations or group exercises. Seagraves believes this is an imperative tool for online trainings, particularly for the philosophy portion.
Putting people into breakout groups has numerous benefits:
- Smaller video chat rooms allow participants to see bodies more easily (as they’re just focused on one or two others).
- Breakout rooms can foster deeper discussions without the intimidation of the larger group.
- These smaller groups also offer chances for trainees to connect with one another.
6. Chant both parts
One of the reasons I love teaching trainings is that we get to explore chants. l like the teacher–student invocation from the Katha Upanishad and the Asatoma. Hearing the union of voices and sitting together in the reverberation after the last syllable always moves me when we meet in person. Believe it or not, chants can be just as poignant online.
We teachers just need to be willing to sing both parts—the call and the response. It can feel like a solo performance at times when you are singing without accompaniment. Even so, I have received feedback that some students feel more comfortable chanting by themselves at home than together in the yoga studio.
7. Encourage accountability
We all know that staying focused in lectures can be challenging, especially online. Hyman has had students doing laundry during trainings and even one student running on their treadmill.
Set the tone on day one that students should treat the class as if they were in the classroom. Request people to keep their cameras on (some trainings even require it). Mitigate zoning out by building in a number of breaks. Try breaking up the lectures with visuals and activities.
8. Record your training and set an expiration date
As Hyman teaches across multiple time zones, recording her trainings has been essential to reach students whose time zone prohibits them from attending her sessions live. This is another great benefit for students who miss classes. With the in-person format, people would often have to make up missed sessions either with a private session with the trainer or trainer’s assistant. This option can prove costly.
Sometimes, they would have to wait for another training to run through the same school to sit in on the day or weekend missed. Put an expiration date on the recordings to prevent students from falling too far behind. For example, in our training, sessions erase after two weeks after the date they’re recorded.
Sarah Ezrin is a yoga teacher trainer, mama, motivator, and writer. Based out of San Francisco, where she lives with her husband, son, and their dog, Sarah is changing the world, teaching self-love one person at a time. Learn more at sarahezrinyoga.com