Get the inside scoop for hosting a yoga or exercise class online
My wife, Alka, is a yoga and meditation teacher. Together, we have learned how to host her classes online and want to share our experiences to hopefully benefit other teachers. There is a lot to consider.
To host a yoga or exercise class online we discovered there are 5 areas of consideration:
- Style of class and video sharing format
- Technical equipment
- Physical host space
- Settings of the video sharing platform
- Process of hosting the class
In addition, this article highlights the best practices we have come across.
1- Style of the class and video sharing format
First, figure out what style of class you prefer teaching. Do you want the class to be interactive? As the teacher, do you want to see the students and possibly speak with them during class? If you are used to teaching in person and already have a community of students then you would probably benefit from a more interactive class style. That would require using a video conference or meeting platform (ie Zoom, Skype or Google Meet).
The alternative would be a streaming platform (ie YouTube or social media), regardless of whether you are looking to produce live or recorded content, or both. Streaming is one directional and basically a broadcast of your class. At best you get to interact using chat or comments if you are streaming live. There are plenty of online articles if you need more guidance in selecting a video sharing format, which will include considerations around monetizing your classes and content.
For the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on Zoom as the video sharing platform, which is what we are using for Alka’s classes. We have subscribed to the Pro plan, the free plan only allows up to 40 minutes per meeting.
Zoom is one of the simplest video conferencing / meeting platforms that allows for an interactive experience for the teacher and students. Students (participants) simply click on a link that you send them which installs the Zoom software and connects them to the meeting. You, as the Host can monitor who is joining and how they participate. It allows for interaction (visually and audibly) with participants. Zoom has a helpful registration feature where you can require participants to first register before joining, this allows for more control and capturing contact information.
Our challenges with Zoom have been lower quality video (due to high usage) and unresponsive direct technical support which creates a bigger learning curve.
2- Technical equipment and resources (ideal vs basic)
There is a big range of options when deciding what equipment to use for hosting classes online. It can be as simple as using your smartphone and nothing else. A number of instructors are doing just that, especially when streaming through social media. When using Zoom we found a number of advantages to using different pieces of equipment, let’s get into it each one:
- Computer [we use a Macbook Air]
- Number of viewable participants in “Gallery View”: We can see 25 people at once using a computer without having to scroll (Zoom states that you can see up to 49 participants depending on your computer’s processing power), on a smartphone you can see 4 and on a tablet you can see up to 9 people.
- Zoom features and functionality: this is limited and harder to navigate on a smartphone or tablet. It is much easier to control Zoom meetings as the host using a computer.
- Background music: Zoom allows the host from a computer to share computer sounds, which we utilize for streaming background music during classes. Teachers regularly play background music while teaching in person to enhance the class experience. We have been easily doing this using the “share computer sound” feature. Playing music on a speaker in the room during a Zoom class usually does not sound good and interferes with hearing the teacher, where both might randomly cut out. While there are some Zoom settings to make background music from a speaker sound better, it has not been as good as the “share computer sound” feature.
- Webcamera [we use the Logitech Streamcam]
- This depends on the quality of your built in camera, most are lower quality. The built in camera on our computer has a low resolution and the video quality is just outright bad (hint to Apple). The external camera offers much better quality and you can pick one up starting around $70. Most connect to the computer using a USB or USB-C port. We went higher end because of the features, including the tripod mount capability.
- Bluetooth headset (microphone / headphones) [we use Apple’s Airpod pro model]
- We have significantly improved the audio quality of the class by using a headset. While there are built in microphones on most devices, they are usually omni directional and designed to pickup sounds from all directions which results in a lot of background noise. The headset microphone is designed to focus on closer sound of the speaker / teacher. A bluetooth headset also significantly reduces the chance of audio feedback or echoing.
- Reliable internet and power
- There are a number of factors that affect the reliability of your internet connection, including speed of your service, number of people sharing that connection and distance to / quality of your WiFi router. We are using an ethernet wire connection to eliminate WiFi issues and have asked family members not to stream (which uses a lot of bandwidth) during class times. We have experienced issues with Zoom’s own bandwidth challenges that we can do anything about.
- If you live in an area where there are occasional brownouts or power outages, then consider adding a battery backup to where your internet connection equipment is plugged into.
- Big screen tv or monitor
- Even on a computer screen (13 inch) it is difficult to see the participants because the computer is not usually positioned close to the teacher. Seeing participants has been very helpful to Alka’s teaching experience and style. To make it easier, we have hooked up our computer to a larger tv screen (42 inch) using an HDMI cable. We tried an Apple feature called Mirroring to wirelessly connect the computer to the tv, but it interfered with the bluetooth headset.
- Video sharing platform [we use Zoom]
- See our reasoning above for selecting Zoom. Other mainstream conference / meeting options to consider are Skype and Google Meet for starters.
These equipment choices were made to support our desired participant and teacher experiences while considering a budget and the relative audio & video quality.
The basic alternative is to use one device (smart phone or computer), with a built in camera, microphone and speaker (no headphones). The main trade-offs are:
- Lower to poor sound quality.
- Less features and control during zoom session.
- Less to no visual interaction with class participants.
- This will be more similar to a streaming format.
3- Physical host space (scene / recording space)
The physical space in which you host your class is as important as the equipment you use. It affects the class experience for all involved.
- The amount and type of lighting will affect the quality of the video.
- You should be well illuminated in a balanced way.
- Check for bright spots that can cause lighting imbalances, such as a bright window or light behind you or off to the side.
- Camera position and angle
- Set a view of a large enough area so you are not cut off when moving around. This way you will not have to keep adjusting the camera during class.
- Double check what background items are in the view of the camera. A busy background can be distracting and not as easy to follow movements. Keep it simple and clean.
- The space should be quiet, ideally away from outside noises (barking dogs, loud kids, honking).
- Consider inside noise that could occur, such as a toilet flush or running water in a nearby bathroom, noisy appliances, or people making noise through walls, floor or ceiling.
- Close doors and windows.
- Check for echoes caused if your space does not have a lot of furnishings and seek ways to absorb sound.
- Turn off phone ringers (cell & landlines) and door bells.
- Put devices (computer and phones) that you are using on do not disturb to prevent unplanned computer sounds from notifications.
4- Video Sharing – Zoom Settings
There are three areas of settings and functionality with Zoom. Some of the settings are accessible when you log into your Zoom account using a browser and others when using the application.
- General account settings [use a browser]
- Global and default settings that apply to all meetings.
- Settings we have adjusted are:
- Screen sharing and not allowing it for participants.
- Recordings – deciding if and where to record to by default.
- Waiting room – a virtual holding space where participants wait before they can enter the meeting.
- Branding – display logo and custom messages in waiting room and email communication.
- Many of the settings are more advanced and have been unchanged for us so far.
- Revisit these settings after you have done a couple of meetings and are familiar with the settings available in the next two sections.
- Scheduled meeting settings [use the browser]
- Require registration.
- During meeting settings [use the Zoom app]
- Remember there will be different settings and features depending on whether you are using a computer or smart device (phone or tablet).
- Select a specific microphone and speakers.
- Advanced audio and video settings.
- Screen and sound sharing.
5- Process of hosting the class
- Yoga class
- Class plan – theme, flow and music.
- Props – especially a chair, offering alternatives.
- Schedule a zoom meeting
- Decide if you want to enable required registration to collect contact information and better monitor participants.
- Invite and promote
- Share the registration or meeting link.
- Time of the meeting
- Place computer on do not disturb.
- Start Meeting so participants enter the waiting room with your branding and messaging.
- Share computer sounds if you want to have music in the background and adjust audio levels.
- Do video and sound checks.
- Admit participants from the Waiting room.
- Disable waiting room so no one gets stuck there when you start.
- Spotlight your video (requires 2 other participants).
- Switch to gallery view to see participants (everyone else will see the spotlight video).
- Hide non-video participants.
- Mute all.
- Disable “allow participants to unmute themselves”.
- Double check that participants can hear you by giving you a head nod or wave.
- Begin your class
- Occasionally monitor participants to sense that you can still be heard and seen.
- If there is an issue participants might try to visually signal you or send you a chat message (which might be hard to see).
- Occasionally monitor participants to sense that you can still be heard and seen.
- End class
- Consider un-muting participants for closing conversation.
- End meeting select “For All”.
Best Practices for hosting an online event:
- Practice – do a couple of dry runs so you experience how it comes together.
- Write out a procedure and checklist for starting a meeting / class.
- Allow for setup time before each class.
- Use the Zoom waiting room.
- Audio and video checks.
- Notify others in your home or space that you will be on camera.
- Double check you have everything you need.
- Wear camera friendly apparel – colors and patterns that will offer good contrast from your background and will not blend in.
- Have someone else help with the tech stuff and in starting the actual event.
- Have a yogi mindset.
- Be welcoming, authentic, personable, interactive (smile) – people are looking for connection & community.
- Be flexible (different then yoga flexible) – things will go wrong, go with the flow, laugh at yourself.
- Don’t react (or take personally) to what people are doing on the screen.
- During the yoga practice.
- Offer modifications, encouraging people to listen to their bodies, giving them permission to do what they need. You will probably have people with more diverse levels of practice and ability.
There is a lot to consider and we hope that this how to article provides you with helpful guidance and insight. We are always looking to improve, please share your insights and experiences to hosting yoga classes online.