Teaching live classes online presents new challenges to teachers. These include
- being able to see students clearly and provide feedback,
- ensuring they can see you clearly within the limits of your teaching space,
- creating a feeling of personal connection, and
- navigating tech mishaps with the camera, microphone, and internet connection.
Some of these are new to teachers who grew up teaching live in-person classes, but one challenge that hasn’t gone away—and maybe got harder—is helping students follow cues of left and right.
THE CHALLENGE OF CUEING LEFT AND RIGHT ONLINE
Cueing left and right may be especially challenging if you teach flow-based movement like vinyasa flow yoga, primal movement, kettlebell flows, or dance. In more flow-based modalities like these, it’s common that movements involving asymmetrical body positions, sometimes referred to as unilateral positions (where the R & L sides of the body are positioned differently or move in different directions) are strung together in a dynamic sequence. Because you’re moving somewhat quickly, it’s difficult in any context to remember which foot/arm/prop goes where even while watching an instructor in the room with you.
When you enter your virtual classroom, things get even more turned around—literally—so the tricks we use as teachers to manage rights and lefts in-person aren’t always available. The reason is pretty straightforward: When we lost the ability to be in the same room together, we didn’t just lose time to chat and drink tea. We lost many of the common spatial reference points that could be used in place of right/left (or forward/back, side-to-side, etc.). Here’s a breakdown of what got lost in translation in the move to online classes:
1. Room-based reference points. When everyone is together in the same room, facing the same orientation, a teacher’s cue to move the left or right side of the body would mean the same thing relative to landmarks within the room. Everyone’s right arm would be closer to, say, the door, or window, and or blue wall. In this way, teachers can easily translate “left” and “right” into other reference points, and instead say something like “lift your arm closest to the door-side of the room” (to mean lift your right arm). Everyone will get it right (er, correct), since the whole class has the door to their left.
Online, students are practice in different environments–rooms with different shapes and angles, different kinds of furniture and textures, even outside, where there are no walls, doors, windows, or even ceilings to focus on. As such, teachers can’t reference common landmarks to serve as orientation for which direction to move.
2. Other bodies as reference points. In-person, students are usually practicing with other students surrounding them, and often with the teacher demoing up front for some or most of the class. This allows them constant visual input to inform their choice to move left or right. If everyone shuffles one way and you go the opposite, it’s easy to tell and adjust; it’s also easier to see those outliers from the vantage point of the teacher.
Online, these bodily references go away, even if you’re on a two-way streaming platform. While there may be other bodies in a students’ movement space, they may or may not be doing the class with them. Watching other students in “gallery” mode online is also rare, since most of the time they’d rather be able to look at the teacher. Lacking the reinforcement from the rest of the class, students rely solely on the teacher to demo for them.
While seeing a teacher up close has some benefits, when it comes to right and left, though, looking at a screen doesn’t always provide the most helpful landmarks. Your three-dimensionality becomes flattened, and all sense of orientation depends on where their screen is located in their space, which will be different from student to student. Even if the teacher makes a specific suggestion for how students should orient relative to their screen, it’s not always possible for everyone given the constraints of their space. Many students are practicing in fairly tight quarters with a limited number of places they can place their screen to be able to see it. Hence, your right might be their back-diagonal, so if they’re strictly following you they might not feel in sync, or have to move out of the camera’s view. As the teacher, it’s hard to tell if someone has lost their way if you’re squinting at tiny squares on your screen, which might also be tiny.
3. Mirroring demos. Often, to prevent this R/L confusion, teachers might choose to mirror their students in a live class, in which they face the student in the pose. The teacher would demo a movement on their right side, for instance, while verbally cueing the movement for the student’s left side. In this way the demo creates a mirror image for the student to follow along to visually. The other approach is to turn around, so the teacher’s back is to the class. This is not ideal for seeing the students, but then the teacher can do the movements on the same side (R/L) as their students, and not get tripped up in words.
Online, mirroring is possible, but it’s not always helpful since its efficacy requires that student and teacher face each other. Since students will often face various directions relative to their screen, you cannot always count on mirroring being relevant or helpful. For many teachers, it may not be worth trying then, since mirroring can also create a lot of confusion for the teacher about what side their demoing and what side their teaching in the sequence.
I ASKED MY STUDENTS & FOLLOWERS: “DO YOU FIND IT CHALLENGING TO TEACH LEFT AND RIGHT?” 64 PERCENT SAID “YES”
When I asked my audience on Instagram what tricks they used to counteract the challenge of teaching left and right, many listed that they mirrored (but found it mixed up their own ability to remember what side they were doing). Some mentioned that they replaced R&L with front and back. I’m assuming they mean front and back of the mat, which might be a universal prop their students use in mat-based modalities, but doesn’t help with non-mat based modalities, students who don’t use a mat, or sequences that go beyond the borders of the mat, which are more and more common as yoga teachers begin to blend modalities within their asanas classes.
REPLACE ROOM-BASED CUES WITH PROP-BASED CUES
And so, given the challenges of verbally cueing L & R on Zoom during flow-based movements, I thought I’d share four strategies that I’ve found especially helpful to help students distinguish their R side from their L. All of these tips share a common approach: they all utilize a prop, which replaces the other people/things that could serve as common landmarks in a shared space. This allows the student to connect the verbal cue of L or R to the tactile or visual feedback of a prop everyone in the class is using in a particular way.
Some of these strategies can be applied in the moment, to help orient students while they are in motion; others can be pre-taught to help imprint the feeling of the L or R side before moving. Some of these strategies work best for certain body orientations than others, whereas some are more universally applicable to any body orientation.
With that, here are four tactile-feedback strategies for helping students find their L versus their R sides in a movement. These are helpful for both in person and online, but might especially make life easier online. I hope they give you a lot of good ideas to build off of in your teaching!
1. PLACING A PROP ON ONE SIDE.
Start by having students place an object like a yoga block on either their L or their R side (out of the way of the movement they will be doing.) This could be the only time you have to mention left or right. The rest of the time you can say move toward or away from the block, or bend the block-side elbow, straighten the non-block side elbow.
2. IMPRINT WITH TOUCH
Before doing one side of your sequence, use an implement (like your hand) to touch the L or R side so it’s in the students’ awareness. Then teach the sequence replacing L or R with (i.e.) “the foot you just massaged.” There are a number of things you could use to use touch to imprint awareness on one side, like a ball, the floor, or some other object. In the first video I show pre-touching the right foot with a ball. In the second video, I show pre-touching the left foot by stomping it on the floor a couple of times.
3. SLIDERS UNDER ONE HAND OR FOOT
Similar to the first example, replace left/right with slider/non-slider side. This is especially useful for ground-based transitions common in yoga and primal movement.
4. RESISTANCE BANDS
Since you can wear or tie resistance bands to your hands a feet, they are a great landmark for cueing, especially if you’re only wearing one band. While teaching the sequence, first replace L/R with banded/non-banded side. Then take the bands off and cue using L and R to allow student to use their kinesthetic recall.
Shanna Linn says
Hello Laurel. Thank you for this VERY informative discussion regarding online teaching and the dilemma of cueing right and left with success. I have always mirrored my students in live classes, to the extent that I occasionally think of my left side as my right side! I’ve also found that when teaching online, not everyone’s screen mirrors. Some students see my left side as my right side, others see it in reverse. And so the visual and language-based cueing suffers another confusion. Add to that my occasional confusion or mis-cueing on right and left, and we have a less-than-clear situation for sure. Complicating things even more, many students set up their device to see the teacher, yet I am staring at their ceiling fan, bookcase, or ankles and have little notion of how or what they are doing or feeling. Comes with the territory, but we continue to adapt. Your suggestions are so helpful, and your sequences are so exciting. Thank you!! I hope your relocation from NYC has been successful, and I know your new community will be so excited to have you as a local resource and in-person teacher when that is possible again.