This past year has been an ongoing lesson in creativity and resilience. One of the ways people have had to adapt is to move their teaching online to Zoom. Fortunately for me, I had been using Zoom to teach mindful eating classes for over three years. But, after the country shut down and almost everyone was using Zoom, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of problems people were having with logging on.
Of course, knowing how to technically arrive in the Zoom room is the first hurdle. Having taught online for some time now, here are some of the benefits of teaching anything, particularly mindfulness, online—and some of the difficulties that can arise.
Benefits of Teaching Mindfulness Online:
1. Record Sessions. The top benefit for me and the students is the ability to record sessions. Although I encourage students to attend each session in person, the recording is available in case they must miss. This is a benefit over in-person classes which, if you miss one, you are simply unable to access the material that is covered in a very experiential class like mindfulness.
2. Multicultural Experiences. My mindful eating classes are not considered psychotherapy, so I am able to reach out to people around the globe. This multicultural experience increases the richness of the material by demonstrating the many similarities and differences that we have across and within countries where people live. Mindfulness teaches us about our common humanity, and these interactions demonstrate it perfectly.
3. Work with Distractions. The online format gives the participant the experience of practicing mindfulness with all the distractions of home. The doorbell might ring, the children may be yelling, the dogs and cats want to join in, etc. These normal distractions are all a part of life, and you can teach participants to be open to whatever circumstances arise. This is the essence of mindfulness.
4. Mindfulness Is Portable. You can teach every mindfulness practice online, from eating meditations to sitting meditations to walking meditations. Of course, you need to plan ahead if you expect people to bring food to class, but most mindfulness practices are very portable to online. Be creative with the postures for the practices. For instance, think about doing the body scan sitting or standing, instead of lying down.
5. More Accessible. People who find it difficult to come to an in-person class, from emotional to logistical reasons, now have the option to practice online. For example, if people get overwhelmed by in-person classes, going online gives them the opportunity to modulate how much they feel comfortable with having other people see them by turning their video on or off as they see fit.
Challenges of Teaching Mindfulness Online
1. Technology Issues. Although it has gotten easier for people to navigate Zoom, people still have issues at the beginning with figuring out the technology. I always have an orientation session before I hold the class to make sure people know how to log on, and to give people an overview of what we will be covering during the class sessions. This way you don’t spend time during your first class with technology issues like how to start and stop your audio and video.
2. Accessibility. In addition to your degree of tech savvy, accessibility may also be an issue due to not having an adequate computer or phone or the lack of good internet access. Before my last class, I met with someone twice before the orientation to try to figure out whether she would be able to get participate. It turned out that her computer didn’t have a camera, so she ended up buying a new laptop. I was surprised that she did that, but so happy we both went the extra mile to make it work for her. She greatly benefitted from the class. However, not everyone will be able to upgrade to better technology.
3. Loss of Personal Cues. When it comes tointimacy, there is nothing quite like being in person. Particularly when teaching mindfulness, it is helpful for students to see how the teacher embodies the practice, and for the teacher to see the more subtle cues the students give regarding their attention, comfort, or confusion. Giving plenty of time for discussion after a practice is essential for giving appropriate guidance and facilitating understanding.
4.Creating Connection. Because of the online format, it can be harder for participants to begin to connect to each other. Make use of the Zoom breakout rooms for people to get to know each other better. Short breaks of ten minutes can be enough for people to start creating bonds that enhance group learning and create community.
5. Loss of Visuals. While mindful yoga can easily be taught online, clear instructions on how to practice with kindness and compassion are even more important in this setting. Since it is harder to see the people you are teaching, particularly during a movement sequence, continually emphasize doing movement that feels good and not painful. Always suggest modifications and encourage people to listen to their own bodies.
Despite the challenges that might arise, being able to teach mindfulness online has been a joy and a blessing. Normalizing this modality as a valid tool for learning and establishing basic guidelines for participants can create a safe and comfortable setting for connection and healing to take place. Take your usual strategies for teaching groups, and let your own mindfulness practice creatively guide you to the wide world of online teaching.
Lynn Rossy, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist, and author of The Mindfulness-Based Eating Solution. She developed Eat for Life, a research-based mindful eating program that helps you end overeating, appreciate your body, and savor your life. She is president of The Center for Mindful Eating.