4 Pro Tips for Teaching Successful Private Online Yoga Classes

Senior Yoga Medicine® teacher Rachel shares key suggestions that will set you and your students up for success.

Shelter-in-place orders have changed the world, including the yoga world. Although the future is uncertain, what we know for sure is that yoga teachers are facing (and will continue to face) many new challenges. 

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Along with new challenges, changing times also bring new opportunities. Unable to access their normal yoga spaces, many students have, for the first time, come to appreciate the true impact of regular practice on their physical and mental health. This is one reason why online yoga of all kinds is more popular than ever. In addition, being able to practice privately, in a safe space of their own choosing, seems to have made yoga more appealing to many individuals who don’t feel as comfortable or welcome as they should in formal yoga spaces—older students, students with disabilities, and those with larger bodies, to name a few.

And while there are plenty of both pre-recorded and livestream yoga classes available online, some individuals don’t feel motivated or confident when practicing alone.

Fortunately, videoconferencing is becoming commonplace across nearly every population.

And all of these factors combined mean that virtual one-on-one yoga has come into its own. 

One-on-one yoga in general is all about trust, which means that students are more likely to book a session with a teacher they know (or is recommended by someone they know) or with one who has particular expertise. These factors open up many more possibilities online than they do face-to-face. 

Firstly, location no longer limits your student population. Perhaps you have moved several times in your teaching career, or you are based somewhere with a significant tourist draw. Online yoga makes you accessible to all of your previous students, regardless of where they or you live. It also means that your existing one-on-one students are able to recommend your teaching to their contacts worldwide. 

Secondly, virtual teaching means that niche markets significantly increase in size. Perhaps you have an unusual qualification or background, a specialty that is incredibly beneficial to a particular population. While there may not be enough of those students in your local area to offer you a sustainable living, that changes in the online market. In a similar vein, if you have something to offer immune-compromised students who benefit from individual attention, they may be actively seeking online options for the foreseeable future.

All in all, online one-on-one yoga may be the perfect opportunity for you to explore right now. And while some aspects of teaching one-on-one are the same regardless of the platform we use (such as the need to tailor each session to the individual student’s needs and goals), some considerations are unique to online sessions. 

1. Your Teaching Setup

Our teaching space always deserves care and attention, but this is even more important when teaching remotely. The appearance and sound quality of the space we choose become crucial when it provides the sole container for our interaction with students.

So aim for your space to be:

• Uncluttered. If you can, set up in front of a fairly blank wall in order to reduce visual distractions and allow your student to focus on your instruction and their practice. A plant or two, a painting, or minimal furniture may add welcome warmth, but clear away anything else not needed for the session.

• Practice ready. Include a yoga mat and props in clear view, should you need them to demonstrate. Choose props your student is likely to have or can replicate at home. Allow enough space to be able to demonstrate your planned poses without having to move furniture or your device as well as somewhere you can sit close to your device in order to observe your student’s alignment. 

• Well-lit. Set up with light behind your device so that you can be seen clearly. Avoid setting up in front of a window or bright light as you may then be backlit (and only visible in silhouette). Don’t feel that you need to invest in professional lighting: Overhead lights, a standing lamp or two, or a window will light your space; a smaller light or desk lamp could help to brighten and warm your face when you are closer to your device.

• Quiet. Try to minimize background noise so that your student can hear you clearly. A space with a door that closes may be helpful for shutting out noise—from your family in the kitchen, or your dog barking at passersby. While in person you may use music to create ambience, it’s best not to use it online, as video conferencing platforms tend to prioritize the speaking voice, making music sound patchy and inconsistent.

• Technology ready. Various devices have their pros and cons. A phone on a tripod will give you the ability to change angles to help the student see your alignment more clearly, but its smaller screen might make it difficult for you to see the details of theirs. The larger screen of a laptop or tablet will offer you a better view of your student, but will be less maneuverable. Whatever you use, elevating your device on furniture or a stack of blocks or books (rather than setting it on the floor) usually offers the student a better view. Finally, ensure that you have sockets and cables on hand to keep your device charged, and a notepad and pen to take notes if required.

2. Your Student’s Setup

When you offer individual sessions in your home or a studio, you are in control of the practice space. Even when visiting a student’s home, you have some input: You can bring a mat and props, choose an area of their house, or move furniture, if required, to create more space. That’s not the case online, so it pays to troubleshoot in advance. 

Be ready to guide them through:

• Accessing the video conference platform. From Zoom, Skype, and Google Meet, to WhatsApp and a host of other platforms, there seems to be a new option every week. Each has its own pros and cons, but the best one is probably the one your student is already using regularly, so that technological considerations don’t overwhelm other aspects of your sessions. If your student doesn’t have a preferred platform, offer step-by-step instructions on how to download your chosen app onto their device and launch a session at the scheduled time. And, of course, if their chosen platform is new to you, make sure you access and practice using it ahead of time.

• Choosing and setting up a practice space. Scheduling your session should include discussion around the practice space, especially for students newer to yoga who may not know what a typical practice involves. Does the student have a yoga mat? Do they have an open space large enough to move in, and in full view of their device? What props would you like them to assemble, bearing in mind that they may need household substitutes for traditional props—a blanket or towel, cushion, belt, water bottle, or stack of books?

• Fine-tuning your viewpoint. In person, you are able to stand, sit, or move around to ensure that you can see the details you need to; that is not the case online. If physical alignment is important in your sessions, taking charge of what you see is crucial, especially given the low visual quality of videoconferencing. This means being very specific in your verbal instruction, such as guiding the student to stand front-on or side-on to the camera, or asking them to reposition their device to allow you to see their feet, hands, spine, etc. It may even be worth discussing clothing to ensure that you can clearly see your student’s outline.

3. Pace

In person we are able to read the subtleties in a student’s facial expression, breathing, or posture. This can be difficult with online video conferencing, so it’s worth pausing between practices for a verbal check-in. Rather than just asking, “Does that feel okay?” it helps to guide the student through noticing and expressing nuances of their experience—like their breath pace, accessory tension (like clenched teeth or a frown), or small differences in how a pose feels on one side versus the other. Especially for students with injuries, these details can make a huge difference in how they respond to the session. 

In person, we can also provide tactile feedback with our hands, such as “Breathe into my hand” or “Press your knee into my hand.” Obviously hands-on assistance is not an option online, which means that we need to replace it with clear verbal and visual instructions, including demonstrations. We may even need to replicate the student’s form compared to the alignment we are describing: “Here’s what I’m seeing you do, and here’s what I’d like you to try; can you see the difference between the first way and the second?”

Even the mechanics of conversation are not the same through videoconferencing. Face-to-face conversations weave and tumble rather than being structured and orderly. We sometimes speak over each other or in acknowledgment of something the other person says. This doesn’t work well with video conferencing software. More effective is to speak in short bursts, then wait for a response, and offer non-verbal acknowledgment such as a nod, smile, or thumbs up, as opposed to sounds like “ahaa” or “hmmm” to indicate that you’re listening and understand.

All this means that the pace of online sessions tends to be slower than in person, and having that expectation at the outset can be helpful.

4. Price

The value of your time and expertise doesn’t change whether you teach online or in person, but your expenses do. On the one hand, travel costs and time disappear with online teaching, and you may no longer be paying rent for a teaching space. Thus, you may be able to lower the price of a one-on-one session, making it accessible to a wider population, especially given the economic impact of current events on many students. On the other hand, electricity and internet use increase at home, and you need to factor in the cost of an online platform subscription. While you may end up charging the same amount online as you do in person, it is worth running the numbers before you decide.

As you move forward:

Remember that while global changes have undoubtedly created new challenges for yoga teachers, they also present new opportunities. The tools we offer seem more important than ever, and opening ourselves up to online platforms allows us to provide them to a much wider population—students in varied locations, students in a specific and scattered niche, students who can’t safely access physical yoga spaces—anyone, in fact, with a small amount of private space, a device, and access to the internet.

The limitations of online platforms also create some perhaps unexpectedly positive outcomes. Firstly, the objective view of the camera can prompt us to be more aware of how a student experiences our teaching setup: the position and props we choose, our use of lighting and sound, and our readiness to deal with technology. 

Secondly, setting up for online sessions helps our students become equipped for and accustomed to practicing in their own homes. 

Finally, the very limitations of technology have the potential to empower the student by putting them more overtly in the driver’s seat: The slower pace of online sessions encourages them to pause and check in; it teaches them to pay attention to fine details of their experience in each pose or practice.

They say every cloud has a silver lining. Offering one-on-one yoga online may well be exactly what you and your community need right now.

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About the teacher

Rachel Land is a Yoga Medicine teacher offering group and one-on-one yoga sessions in Queenstown New... Read more

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