It has been both a powerful and productive year of learning the ins and outs of teaching yoga online. Two years ago, I would’ve never guessed that I’d be zooming with yoga students from all around the world—and thoroughly enjoying it! Learning to teach yoga online has expanded my awareness as a yoga teacher and trainer in more ways than one.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, and The Expanding Light Retreat had to close its doors, it was clear that our teaching staff needed to shift our energies into what was for many of us, a new direction: putting our teacher training programs online. Fortunately, I had already started working on developing an online course for the school: Restorative Yoga Teacher Training Online (RYTTO). This course was nearly ready to launch, and the closure of the retreat made it possible for me to focus solely on making that happen.
The first round of RYTTO was offered in the spring and it was a great success. In June 2020, 20 grateful yoga teachers from all around the globe completed this 4-week training. Although I had my doubts about training students online, it was evident that teaching Ananda Yoga online was not only possible, but also inspiring—for everyone involved. It gave me a taste of what could be possible through the present online learning modalities. The program graduates were also incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to partake in an Ananda Yoga training program at such a crucial time of global change that had affected us all. We were in need of connection and everyone was so appreciative of our time together.
Soon afterwards, in early summer, a new idea began to circulate through the school. What if we offered our 200-hr Ananda Yoga Teacher Training (AYTT) program online? Could it be possible, and if it was, what would it require from all of us instructors?
At first I admit, I was pretty uncertain and somewhat resistant to this idea. Offer our 200-hr YTT online? Why? And more importantly, how!? It would be the first time our school tried this, and it felt mind-boggling to even consider. Developing a 4-week online program was one thing, but creating a 4 ½ month course was a whole other ordeal. After all, it would need to be a 200-hour program; that’s a lot of information to cover online. Those of you who’ve had experience teaching online may have heard of a study that found that it took instructors an average of 10 hours to plan a 1-hour long lecture.
With everything shifting indefinitely from in-person to online, it was obvious that something needed to be done or we wouldn’t have a YTT program to offer at all. Therefore, it was more important to offer an online version than none at all. With the staff’s help, I began to recognize that the task that lay before us was necessary. If we didn’t rise to the occasion, our school could fade into oblivion. It was clear that we needed to act now and quickly. We also knew that the buck stopped here—with us, the teaching staff, to make the project happen. We all knew it would be a major feat! All hands were needed on deck and we prayed for guidance in the matter. We couldn’t do this alone; we would need all the help we could get. But, as the saying goes, “Where there is a will, there is a way,” and as Paramhansa Yogananda said, “God helps those who help themselves.” We were ready to act!
As the process of planning began to unfold, several questions arose from the instructors’ point of view. How were we going to safely train yoga teachers online? How would we assess students’ alignment, and could the students properly show their competency in teaching yoga clearly and effectively? Just as important, would our students be able to feel the power of Ananda Yoga and its source, Paramhansa Yogananda, through His teachings of Self-Realization?
We were used to having our students come to us—at Ananda Village—for the training. Here they could meet other like-minded people within and outside of their program. They could practice daily yoga and meditation in sacred spaces that have been used for that very purpose for over 50 years. There is a tangible energy that can be felt when visiting Ananda Village, a spiritual community based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. The transformative experience that takes place from living in a well-established spiritual community for an entire month is unlike anything else. One concern was obvious when preparing the online expression of our course: What would the program feel like for students participating from home? Would the inspiration and personal transformation still transpire?
After many days, weeks, and months of preparation, our first go at Ananda Yoga Teacher Training Online (AYTTO) was ready to be presented. We would soon find out the answer to all of our questions and apprehensions.
As we launched into the experience, I was surprised to discover that there were many benefits to teaching yoga online. During my first class with 16 students from all around the globe (in different time zones), I projected their images onto a large screen and was able to see them practicing from their yoga spaces at home. It was sweet to have a look into the personal lives of each student (something we don’t normally have the ability to do.) I could feel the energy from each individual’s home and the location they were broadcasting from. I paused for a moment to contemplate how it was possible for each stream of energy to funnel its way into the space where I was hosting the session. It was surreal and powerful!
I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me that made me smile. The online approach was working and I was grateful that we had made the leap of faith into creating this program. I couldn’t contain the joy that I was feeling because I knew we were making history together. With this first group of online trainees, I acknowledged what we were doing by saying, “We’re really doing this! We’re training you online, and it’s working! Hooray!”
As I guided the class into the first pose of the course, Tadasana — (Standing) Mountain Pose, I asked them to turn sideways so that I could observe their posture. To my surprise, it was easy enough to quickly skim through their video frames/thumbnails and see their alignment (almost easier than it would be to walk around an entire classroom of 16 people). I was able to call upon students to complement them and/or give specific suggestions for improving their alignment.
When the time came for students to practice teaching the pose they had just learned to each other, we were able to send them into zoom breakout rooms to meet one-on-one with their cohorts. The instructors also had the ability to enter those rooms and observe their teaching. We were discovering together that what we would normally do in-person was also quite possible online.
Another enjoyable aspect was that we could still have our weekly sharing circles—one of my favorite aspects of the course. Although we would normally sit in a circle, we were now able to sit face-to-face in front of our screens with the entire group visible. We listened to each person share about their personal lives and/or how they were getting along with the course. (When done in person, there is always a feeling of support, open-heartedness, gratitude, and divine friendship. Fortunately, these feelings continued in our online sessions.) Our time together was rich, focused, and personal. It was and still is for many people, a highlight of the course.
Speaking of deepening connections with people, I know that our online grads would agree when I say that it was surprisingly easy for our group of trainees to connect with each other. It felt like meeting old friends. Spending 4 ½ months together (on most weekends) was a unique experience that we will all cherish. In fact, since graduation, many of our grads have stayed in contact with each other and have taken additional Ananda online trainings together.
In some ways, the final results that we observed from our grads was even more exceptional than what I’ve observed from teaching in-person (at least in terms of the level of clarity at which people taught yoga, which is a major part of the course!). It was clear that having a longer timeframe to assimilate the information had major positive impacts on our students.
We were given several opportunities to satisfy our concerns about testing students’ competency. Our programs always have hands-on experiences, so naturally, we kept this theme going in our online course. We put a strong emphasis on practice teaching time. This way, students can leave the program having already had some experience teaching. We believe this gives them greater confidence to go out into the world and share the gifts that they know they have. Teaching is one of the best ways to learn—by simply jumping in and learning from what happens! We gave our students the opportunity to teach during almost every livestream asana class.
The feedback that we received from our graduates was that our program, the teachers, and the course content, went above and beyond what they could’ve hoped to receive from an online experience. The time, dedication, and devotion that the staff give the program and its students is remarkable!
There were tears of gratitude during our final online ceremony together because we could all feel the online community that we had created, and it touched each one of us in a unique and tangible way. For some people, this was their real first experience with Ananda. And although it felt like our time together was coming to an end, it was really the beginning of many more opportunities to connect in-person and online through this newly-founded spiritual family.
Though it is sad that the students could not be with us in person, the good news is our grads all plan to visit as soon as they can! The AYTTO staff looks forward to embracing the friends that we made online, without reservation.
Our prayers were certainly answered in that our students were able to feel the vibration of Ananda, which resonates from Yogananda and Kriyananda without having to visit us in person. It’s not surprising to me considering that, we the teachers, all relied upon their guidance every day, through every class, all throughout the program. For me personally, the fact that this program was able to happen will always be a great testimony for my faith in God’s power. I can understand now the wise words of my mentor and friend, “In the beginning you think you are needed to build the work. But then you come to find that the work is only needed to build you.”
All in all, I’m grateful that I was able to adapt to this new reality of teaching yoga online. I’ve grown in so many ways from the experiences I’ve had during these last years of great change. It brings me joy that the Ananda School of Yoga and Meditation is now reaching more people, including those who would not have been able to visit us in California otherwise.
Online Community is more effective than I had given it credit for. Although I’ve taught yoga in-person for more than 14 years, I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed learning this new way of sharing the teachings. There are far more yoga students online than our school would otherwise be able to handle. It has really helped dissolve the boundaries of Ananda’s outreach. It is clear to me now that the confines of space need not be a limitation for sharing the light of yoga with others.
After all, the light we are all seeking is not outside of ourselves or waiting for us at some specific location; it is within each one of us. Ananda Yoga is designed to help you turn your attention inside to rediscover what has always been there. Becoming an Ananda Yoga teacher empowers you to be an instrument for the Light and to channel it out to others. How can there be any limits to that? The online approach is just another ray of grace, awaiting our discovery.