6 Ways to Connect with Your Students in a Zoom Yoga Class

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^^ These are all engaged, attentive, powerful Baptiste Yoga teachers! ^^

What makes an extraordinary Zoom yoga experience for your yoga students?

I've been taking LOTS of yoga classes over Zoom since the US went into Coronavirus quarantine. My first Zoom class was with Austin Kapetenakis, and I'd basically been waiting years to be able to take his class (since we met at Level One in 2016).

The most powerful Zoom classes I've taken are the ones where the teacher has seen me and spoken to me by name during the practice. If I can see the teacher's face and they look engaged, happy or interested - I'm engaged more as a student. If I can see them looking off screen at something else, that is a way for me to check out (the teacher isn't interested). My least powerful classes have been the ones where the teacher is doing all the yoga and is not engaging with us students in any meaningful or specific way. If I wanted to watch a fitness video to do yoga, I would do that. I want the engagement that comes from a live yoga class. I want to know that the instructor can SEE me and is holding space for me for my practice. I want to know that the instructor is OUT HERE with us the students and not in their head or their body because they're doing the yoga. I want to be called out, encouraged, supported and this happens by being seen and by being acknowledged by the instructor.

First off, I know that it is hard as crap to lead a Journey Into Power when you're doing the asana. You can't breathe when you are cueing breath. You can't see your students when you teach from the mat and the most powerful thing that rises from leading Journey Into Power is seeing your students and letting your students see you. This fact hasn't changed just because we are using Zoom and aren't in a physical yoga studio.

I wrote about my experience and takaways from the Baptiste Power Yoga Instructor's Course I took (led by Luca Richards) and all these things STILL APPLY even in virtual yoga classes.

Foundational Elements to Leading a Extraordinary Baptiste Power Yoga Class:

  • Look, listen and give tools
  • Speak into each and every
  • Look for what's needed in the moment
  • Have a clear purpose for playing music if you do play music
  • Build in active rest and recovery into a beginners class
  • Keep beginner students in the vinyasa, allow them to have their experience (whatever that is)
  • Use essential language. Movement > body part > direction
  • Teach to the middle-strongest students and up. Their energy will empower newer students in the room.
  • Offer a challenge to your students by giving them space to take themselves to their edge (whatever that looks like for them from moment to moment)
  • Teach from Journey Into Power as written
  • During Integration, get the students moving
  • Be with the students in the room and keep the energy moving forward.
  • Allow for flow in Awakening by removing obstructions to movement
  • Reestablish drishti, ujjayi and foundation in the Grounding sequence
  • Establish trust with your students by giving them a clear measure of how many repetitions or breaths will occur for each pose.
  • Count sequentially with the end number first, then count up 1, 2, 3, 4.
  • Switch sides on the second to last number as the transition between sides
  • Keep your delivery strong through Opening sequence
  • Leave people in the experience of themselves

What is different and needed when teaching virtual yoga with Zoom

  • Have good lighting on your face so the students can see YOU as they might look up at their screen during their practice.
  • If you are leading class from a position close to your laptop microphone, the laptop microphone will be sufficient for your speaking audio.
  • Do. Not. Multitask.
      • No texting
      • No typing
      • Turn on do not disturb if you use a Mac laptop, mute system sounds if you're using a Windows laptop. This will keep students from hearing your message or email notifications through your laptop microphone
  • If you demonstrate the poses while you're teaching
    • Use Bluetooth earbuds with built-in microphones so your speaking will be audible when you are far away from your laptop.
    • Make sure your body is well lit if you are demonstrating for your students
  • If you know you have beginners in your class, work with one of your more experienced students in class and "Spotlight" them in Zoom so the newer students can learn by creating shapes with their bodies.
  • It is not necessary or required for YOU to do the yoga with your students simply because you are teaching from a video platform like Zoom.
    • See your students as they are practicing. 
    • Speak to your students by name and speak to what is needed.
  • When sealing the practice, unmute all participants, acknowledge your students after the three OMs are complete and all the students' eyes are open. 
    • This is an opportunity for connectedness, acknowledge them and make eye contact and have their microphones ON so they can contribute to the closing of class.

Zoom meeting settings best practices

  • Mute participants upon entry ON - Automatically mute all participants when they join the meeting. The host controls whether participants can unmute themselves.
  • Participants video ON - Start meetings with participant video on. Participants can change this during the meeting.
  • Join before host ON - Allow participants to join the meeting before the host arrives
  • Screen sharing - Host Only
  • Annotation - OFF
  • Whiteboard - OFF
  • Remote Control - OFF
  • Enable waiting room - optional
    • If the waiting room feature is enabled, attendees will see a customizable "Please standby" sort of message, letting them know class will begin soon. The meeting owner admits each participant into the meeting one at a time.

Teaching with music over Zoom

  • Screen Sharing to share audio over Zoom
    • I've had a couple classes where the instructor was using screen sharing and I've found that the bluetooth earbuds/mic audio gets compromised in favor of the clarity of the music at my end of the Zoom call. The teacher's audio was a little "tinny" and "thin" sounding but the music was clear. The exception to this has been when the teacher is wearing a wireless mic headset for their speaking audio. I believe this is because the wireless headset mic is not bluetooth audio.
    • The instructors who teach with this style of wireless mic headset are Bethany Lyons (Lyon's Den NYC), Paige Elenson (Healthy Happy Hour Nairobi Kenya) and the instructors at Indigo Yoga Studio (Fort Worth TX). Go take a class with one or all of them so you can hear the difference in the wireless mic audio compared to laptop audio or bluetooth earbuds.
I dropped into a Zoom yoga class recently to check out a teacher I'd been curious about (not a Baptiste yoga teacher) and came to find that the first 10 minutes of the Zoom call was filled with the participants doing the following:
  • trying to tell everyone else to mute themselves
  • trying to tell the instructor they couldn't hear her (she wasn't using a mic and was very far away from the video and mic source)
  • trying to tell the instructor they couldn't see her because she was so far away and not well lit
  • trying to tell the other participants to stop sharing their screens

The teacher never saw any of these chat messages because once she started the Zoom call, she walked away to the front of the room and got on her mat and started talking (although nobody could hear her). Once everyone finally muted themselves, she was still hard to hear. It was a follow-along-and-watch-the-instructor-do-the-yoga yoga class which means that as a student, you had to constantly be looking over at your screen to see what was being done by the teacher. This became potentially dangerous (IMO) as the teacher moved her body into a shoulder stand. I could see other students on the screen try to mimic her shape, while twisting their necks around to see their screens. Several other students were sitting on camera, texting on their phones, not engaged in the class at all. 

The class was an excellent example of how sideways a Zoom yoga class can go when simple guidelines like muting all participants on entry, disabling screen sharing, using a microphone and good lighting aren't followed. 

In conclusion: when I take a Baptiste Yoga class online, I expect a similar experience to being in a Baptiste yoga studio - having the instructor see me and teach from the methodology. If the teacher is teaching from the yoga mat, doing the practice, they can't see me or anyone else and I might as well be working out to a YouTube video.