author’s note: this is the frantic story of adapting yoga teacher training to an online format. For details of upcoming yoga teacher training programs click here:
In February 2020, PANDEMIC was smeared on the front page of the news. Prior to that, headlines like “Wuhan Lock-down” were catching my attention, but I was distracted, like all Canadians, by railroad blockades, the Wetsuweten Hereditary Chiefs and the unimportant discourse about JLo’s outfit at Super Bowl. The Facebook militia was rioting about these polarizing issues, but the Wetsuweten Blockades and JLo’s crotch were ignored by many. There was still diversity in the media – sports, movies, celebrity gossip, travel – and our individual interests trumped any unifying issue.
That was the Before Times. Before everyone was sent home from work and our collective interests were aligned by the impact of Covid. Before my inbox was bursting with trivial emails from every business I’d ever patronized. Thank you, HeadKandi Hair Salon for letting me know you’ve made the “difficult but necessary” decision to close. And hello, Scotiabank, I send well-wishes to your family too.
At first, Covid was everywhere and nowhere. It was in my emails and front of mind, but I didn’t know anyone with Covid. Then it was somewhere: a sign on the door of my yoga studio: CLOSED due to Covid. The lively yoga studio I co-own and where I teach yoga teacher training was abruptly silenced on March 17.
Loneliness punctuated the early days of Covid. Scotiabank underscored the concept of community with their well-wishes and “we’re all in this together” digital platitude, but the mass emails did little to acquiesce my gloom. Our studio was empty, and I passed the lonely hours swiffering the floor and tinkering with my website. I often just sat at the desk, listlessly refreshing my email. Another unread message at the top, this one from the Yoga Alliance. Oh great, another instruction to “stay safe in these troubled times.” I rolled my eyes in anticipation of more insipid platitudes. But the Yoga Alliance email was different. It had real solutions to my real problem: online yoga teacher training was approved! For the first time. Change. I’d advocated before for approval of online yoga teacher training, but was always met with reluctance. Maybe the administration to implement online yoga training had been too daunting. Whatever their former reason for disallowing online training, the abrupt global disruption prompted the Yoga Alliance to adapt. For the first time in weeks, I felt inspired by change.
Along with loneliness, a frustrating feeling of inertia had been my constant companion. Stay Home was the online rally cry. Being alone coupled with the uncertain future for my business was wearing on me. So following the Yoga Alliance’s approval for online yoga training, I was eager for action.With no regard for the daunting logistics or for my sanity, I resolved to get my 200-hour yoga-training curriculum online in two weeks. Step one: get a learning management system. I host my website through WordPress, so I chose LearnDash, a learning management plugin. I trusted WordPress because their reliable online support solved many frustrations over the past decade.
Part of learning online and mitigating the accompanying loneliness is knowing there’s a like-minded support community. Immediately after installing the LearnDash plugin, all my custom formatting disappeared. I gasped. Audibly. The sound reverberated around my empty studio. My website took ten years to mould to my satisfaction. I clicked around in the now-barren shell of a website. Anguish. Despair. Acute helplessness. But WordPress has a live chat with Happiness Engineers. I pounded into my keyboard,
“Please help. I just installed a new plugin and all my formatting disappeared!!!!”
“Oh no! (Hi!) I’ve seen that error before, I think I know what we need to do,” came the reply from WordPress Live Chat. The faceless Happiness Engineer solved the problem for me with a few keystokes (my website had inadvertently migrated to a new server).
“THANK you. Are you a real person? Where are you?” I typed.
“I think I’m a real person! Hard to tell these days 🙂 I’m in the Eastern US,” came the response. And my anguish dissolved. Here was a real person, a Happiness Engineer, solving a problem for me. We were alone, but together. The transition from the Before Times to the unknowns of Covid was abrupt and jarring, but for the first time since Covid barged into my life, I felt supported by another individual.
Alone. Together. Reading emails and chatting virtually. I considered the possibilities of life after Covid. Driven by innovation, infrastructure like live chat with a trained WordPress agent was already in place. I brainstormed about how online yoga teacher training could be meaningful. It needed to be more than a one-sided broadcast like email and blog content. It needed to be a two-sided discussion. It needed to mimic a community. Students needed to feel like we were together while they were alone.
Covid is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pivot and try something new. I had the approval from the Yoga Alliance, I persevered through the frustration of installing a learning management system, now I had to get interactive with video. The textbook and written content was done, but how would I replicate the spontaneous interactive group learning that is central to yoga teacher training? How would I promote community in an online medium?
My self-imposed frenetic schedule was filled with spontaneous interactive learning. Online forums and chats educated me on sufficient RAM for 4K video; mirrorless and full frame cameras; lavalier microphones and colour rendering index for lighting. Even the vocabulary was new to me. But every panicky problem with bandwidth, choppy video and shadowy lighting was calmly answered in online support groups. I was acquiring a new skill set, and the difficulty of getting my yoga modules online was mitigated by online community support. My sanity was compromised by my frenzied work pace and the volume of unfamiliar tasks, but I felt supported by an online community.
Community is what keeps us sane. Community is about aligning feelings through shared objectives and mutual understanding. I thought about the idea of community as I set up a corner for filming video in my studio. Lights. Camera. Action. I was teaching yoga to a tripod. It didn’t feel like community. Can online learning really replicate the real life experience of being part of a yoga training cohort? Yoga teacher training is about community and about belonging. As I learned to make videos, I asked the forums if I should film in 24 or 30 frames per second; I asked how to backlight my set. No matter the question, there was an online community to support the process of making yoga videos. Martin Luther King Jr described community as a web of mutuality. Community is a shared responsibility to take care of each other. Making videos was rewarding for me because I was supported by online people: mutual support was available through shared objectives.
I paced around the studio and pondered how to create a web of mutuality for online yoga teacher trainees. Students needed to track and share their learning progress. Teaching yoga is dynamic because of the community of yoga students. Learning how to teach yoga is rewarding because it’s a shared experience with a cohort. Online Yoga Teacher Training will be dynamic if students chronicle the process through an ePortfolio. There. Midway through the second frenetic week of filming, I typed in the instructions for the mainstay of the program. Dynamic shared learning. Represented in an ePortfolio that students would work on during the program. Alone but together students would document the journey in an ePortfolio.
As March passed and April blossomed, the Covid isolation orders eased. People emerged into spring. I emerged into the brand new world of online yoga teacher training. Buoyed by the opportunity to innovate and reimagine yoga teacher training, I overcame the inertia and loneliness of Covid. I negotiated with my computer’s RAM, set up appropriate lighting and taught myself how to teach to a camera. I advertised a powerful brand of yoga that emphasizes dynamic and interactive learning. And five students signed up. After the hustle of changing the studio around; after the frustration of organizing a learning management system; after acquiring the vocabulary to understand audio/visual setups; five students bravely showed up on the first day of Land and Heart Online Yoga Teacher Training. “Welcome yogis…” I calmly smiled at the webcam. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
Covid’s disruption was swift and universal. There was a pause. But community and possibility propelled us to think of new ways to do old things. New yoga teacher training is about dynamic shared online learning. A yoga studio is more than cork floors and soft lighting. A studio is a community sanctuary for the dynamic practice of yoga. Covid is more than a health crisis. It’s an opportunity to adapt and innovate after disruption. Our yoga studio was once a sanctuary with pleasant ambiance and quiet music. The soft lighting is disrupted now by glaring set lights; the quiet music competes with humming cameras. The process of teaching yoga used to be one step of unrolling a yoga mat but now includes sound checks and battery charges. The ambiance of the studio is disrupted by the piles of audio/visual equipment, but the community sanctuary has been replicated in the virtual world.
Kate Covello created Land and Heart Yoga Teacher Training in 2019. It’s a yoga school founded on examining personal reasons for teaching yoga. Students develop their own voices in the dynamic art of describing yoga. Online Yoga Teacher Training launched on April 25, 2020 with five students. The next online program is September 2020. Online learning is productive when there are opportunities for lively interaction and shared understanding.
Yoga Teacher Training is also hosted live, in-studio (when possible)! The next session is July 6-25, 2020. Register here