I first met Jess Rose - DOYOUYOGA star teacher - during a 500-hour intensive training. Her group was studying alignment-based vinyasa 12+ hours a day and I was introduced to her after what sounded like a brutal Day 18. Despite that, she skipped over to me with her big warm smile and we connected instantly, talking about her passion for yoga and travel. Jess is a free spirit with a charming ease about her, so when I asked where she taught and she said, 'Online!' I thought, How perfect! I made a note to write about it and then forgot...a fellow free spirit, I guess.
Fast forward a year, and online yoga is popping up everywhere. And while many of us have done an online class by now, few of us teach this way, let alone understand how to tailor a class to thousands like Jess does. And the girl's got quite a following. So I grabbed my laptop and mat, signed up for her ever-popular 30-days of Yoga Challenge, and asked the expert some questions.
Well, first off, what's it like teaching online?
After having previously only taught in studios and on beaches, it’s a whole different world! From the spotlights, to the crew of people hovering behind the scenes, to having to speak while getting into crazy poses, to not knowing who my students are or their strengths and limitations...it’s challenging for many reasons, but also incredibly rewarding. Teaching online has also been a great freedom - my schedule is flexible, I don’t have to clock into work everyday, and I have more time for studying, practicing, and traveling. When I do clock in though, it’s intense - I have 12 hour workdays in front of the camera, and the prep that goes into my videos is massive. I have to be ready to roll straight through, from 5 to 15 yoga classes a day with only about a 20 minute break to change clothes in between.
The biggest hurdle initially was getting used to the filming environment. When I do my own practice or teach at studios, I like to set everything up beautifully, with nice lighting, music, candles, stuff like that. I’m all about setting the mood. So going from a soft, cozy teaching environment to stark white walls, blinding spotlights, and complete silence was a little bit intense. But I’ve been playing in bands since I was in 5th grade, so I was fortunate to have experience performing, which made the first few rounds of filming a little less scary. At times, I think I know what it must feel like to be a stand-up comedian, with a bunch of eyes watching as you perform your routine. And for a comedian, they’re better equipped to handle it, because they know from the beginning what they’re getting themselves into. But for a yoga teacher, you get into the profession not at all for the spotlight, but to be able to connect with students and maybe help turn someone’s day around, not put on a show. So my career has definitely taken an interesting turn, that’s for sure! I’m learning and working on my online teaching skills all the time.
So can you film a class whenever you feel like it?
Well, I work for DOYOUYOGA when I teach online, and they are super professional, with shoots being scheduled months in advance and a whole crew of people coming in for the filming. Although it is a big production, with lots of parts involved in creating these amazing videos, I do have some flexibility in deciding when is a good time for me to shoot.
Since your videos are pre-filmed, do you interact with your students at all? And does that change the way you tailor a class?
One thing that initially made me hesitate about teaching to the masses online is that I knew I would probably never meet most of the people I teach. Before working with DoYouYoga, my classes mostly consisted of a very small, dedicated group of yogis in Berlin who came to class a couple of times a week, and whom I had (and still have) a relationship with, both with their practice, and personally. I knew every single injury, sensitivity, psychological block, and moment of breakthrough, and because of this, the group practice was a living, breathing organism personally catered to this group of people and what they needed. It was incredibly personal, and I loved it like that.
I was hesitant to teach online at first, because I cherish the interpersonal relationship of student-teacher so much. Some of my thousands of students actually take the time to sit down and write to me about what they’re working through on the mat, both physically and psychologically, and what they want to work on, so I do still get a small dose of connection with them, and definitely cater to their requests when I’m planning my classes. When I get messages about physical issues my students are working through, as much as I would love to give them advice, I feel pretty helpless without being able to see them practice in person to try to assess what’s going on. I feel that this is one area of online teaching that is lacking, but when I think about how many people’s lives are bettered by the fact that they can do yoga from home instead of not doing yoga at all, I’m just glad they’re practicing. I do my best to teach alignment and biomechanics in a light, approachable way so my students can learn to help themselves, and hopefully learn how to have a dialog with their body about what feels right and what doesn’t so that they can practice autonomously but also insightfully.
And I love your 30-day challenge how approachable yet effective the classes are for any level yogi. I'm not likely to injure myself if I get distracted (because, let's face it, there's tons of other stuff to do at home). So, how do you structure your classes knowing you could be teaching anyone, at any time?
My aim with my online classes is accessibility and ease. I want my classes to be an opportunity for anyone and everyone to benefit from free yoga - my 30-day challenge is completely free, for example. So for all of my free programs, I try to lighten up the practice and keep it fun while still incorporating all the key players - breathwork, mindfulness, meditation, and all classes of asana (forward folds, backbends, twists, inversions, etc.). I plan these classes knowing that some people will be practicing with their newborn baby on their mat or I guess nowadays a goat or 3, some will take this as a much-needed sanctuary between a long work day and making dinner for their family, some will be looking for stress-relief and some will be seeking deeper meaning in life. I want to keep the classes accessible enough for the general public, while hinting at the deeper path for those who are looking to explore it. So for students seeking a more well-rounded and deeper practice, I have lots of classes for them too. My classes go in stages not only of physical practice, but also philosophical and psychological, so that as the asana gets more challenging, the mental aspects of the practice start to come to light and are used as themes to explore. In this way, I try to create classes that could be useful for anyone, no matter what the aim of their practice.
So who's your main audience right now, and has it changed over time?
I have students of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures, which is so amazing! I think my main audience is the typical yoga audience - 20 to 30-something North American women, but I’m really excited that more and more people are doing yoga, so the cultural norms we attach to it are quickly starting to dissolve. I know about 100 of my online students personally, through friends and friends of friends, for example, but I get messages from other students half-way across the world, which gives me a little more insight into who I’m teaching. I get a lot of messages from students in India, both men and women of all ages, and a lot of my students are in Europe as well. One of my students is a 55 year old Canadian man who has been a logger all his life and is trying to relieve back pain, and another one is a 16 year old girl in Mumbai who is going through family issues and striving to see the good in herself and in others. It’s really a mixed bag, and that makes my job challenging, but also really incredibly rewarding to know that literally everyone can find refuge in yoga, even if it is an online community that we’re all one small part of. I love it.
Do you prefer to make fresh videos every week, or do you work more in series?
At this point in time, all my videos are structured to fit relatively sequentially within a program, but I would also love to just be able to pop into the studio on a whim and film a class that speaks to how I’m feeling that day. I love teaching studio classes for that reason - the day dictates the theme and the flow of the class, and with online teaching, everything is already planned out and ready to go. But, I do love having a process, and bit by bit, guiding my students in a certain direction with physical themes. So in this way, we can work our way through a few classes into headstand, or a challenging arm balance, or a deep forward fold, in a really practical, methodical way. I think this is really smart and a great way to help students understand why certain poses help prepare for other, more challenging poses.
What are some of the benefits and challenges to teaching online?
The biggest stand-out benefits for me are having a flexible schedule, and teaching people from all walks of life all over the globe. The biggest drawback for me is having to speak while practicing. This is something I did as a new teacher, then slowly un-learned by walking around the room, observing my students, and assisting them while cueing instead of just looking down at my mat the whole class. So demonstrating and cueing simultaneously isn’t how I would want to teach, in an ideal world, but in this situation, I think it works. Though, I gotta say, it is really difficult to talk while getting into lotus in tripod headstand or while upside-down trying to balance in a handstand!
So what's next?!
Who knows...? I’m in a bit of an exploration phase at the moment, doing some traveling and daydreaming, so although I’ve got some ideas up my sleeve of things I want to do and places where I want to do them, everything is still in slow-brew. Definitely more filming coming up in the short-term, and retreats in exotic locations as well as teacher trainings in the longer short-term. But above all, enjoying my time on this planet one day at a time.
Photo: Dagan Beach
Post written for SFYogaMag.com