Teaching Yoga Online Part 2: Tech Set-up
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
In Part 2, I'll cover how to set up your Audio, Space & Lighting, Video, and Your Pre-class Checklist. I'll also review why I've chosen the Rode Wireless Go as my microphone over bluetooth earbuds.
This post is part of a four-part series on how to teach yoga online (live or recorded):
Part 1: Hopes for Permanent Shifts - opportunities to address inequities for teachers and students
Part 2: Tech Set-up (below)
Part 3: Audio Deep Dive - how to choose the right audio for you and tips for the Rode Wireless Go
Part 4: Forget the Tech & Teach (coming soon)
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I’ve had my share of technical issues during class - often self-inflicted d’oh moments. Students in my and other teachers’ classes have been so patient with any hiccups. So if you’re a teacher, take a deep breath and keep going. Students, please keep being generous and kindly letting us know how things are (or are not) working!
If you’re just starting to teach online, try using what you have first, then upgrade. For livestream classes, I teach mainly on Zoom, but most of these notes will apply to other platforms too.
I use two devices when I teach livestream. One device stays stationary for video, typically my iPhone. The second device has a larger screen (either my iPad or laptop) and moves around with me during class. This device lets me easily view students' video, check to make sure there are no issues, and view chat messages. You can log into a Zoom meeting from the same account on multiple devices, as long as only one of them is a desktop/laptop.
Prioritize high quality audio over video. I know from practicing myself that I don’t look at the video super often, but I do need hear everything! (This won’t be true for all students or all demographics depending on their experience, familiarity with your teaching, or hearing ability.) I also want a teacher’s voice to be clear and natural-sounding with minimal echo/reverb, background noise, or static.
When I hear unexpected sounds or static, I find myself wondering if I’m missing something or if my or the teacher’s internet connection is dropping. One could argue that this is a healthy challenge for students’ dhāraṇā, or steadfast focus. But...I already think we have plenty of other challenges right now, and this doesn’t need to be added to the mix. Minimizing unnecessary sounds can help students drop inward into their experience.
Finding the right audio set-up for you is really about weighing the pros & cons against your criteria. There is no perfect and affordable solution for yoga teachers (*market opportunity!*). I spent way too many hours researching, testing, and debating. Part 3 of this series is an audio deep dive. Here’s the rundown on my set-up & decisions.
My #1 advice is to start with what you have:
For recording videos, I started with my iPhone microphone. This way the video and audio were already synced up. The iMovie Equalizer “Reduce background noise” feature is great for minimizing bumps, room reverb, pets, white noise, etc.
For livestream, I started with my iPad microphone, placing it right next to my mat. To keep it close, I’d carefully move it around, trying not to touch the microphones on either side. (I highly recommend these Zugu cases.)
Bluetooth Earbuds - Pros & Cons
Bluetooth earbuds (e.g. Apple AirPods) can be a great choice, especially if you already own them:
They are easy plug & play.
They have a mic & speaker, which means you can livestream on mobile devices and still talk to students and listen to music. (With a dedicated microphone, you'll need to use a laptop.)
They are very good at reducing background noise & room reverb.
They provide consistent sound as you move and turn your head.
But I didn’t already own Bluetooth earbuds, and I wasn’t looking for an excuse to buy them. Ultimately for me, the cons didn’t justify the $125-250 price tag for high quality Bluetooth earbuds.
They won't produce the most natural-sounding or rich voice tones possible. You’re paying for a high quality listening experience, not a high quality microphone. To me, teachers with earbuds often sound muffled or like they are in a tunnel.
Earbuds tend to cut out chanting either because the microphone struggles to record at that frequency or treats the sound (hums & oms) as background noise.
They seem to fall out on occasion, resulting in static as the teacher replaces them.
Resting on or touching the earbuds can produce interference & garbled audio (e.g. restorative poses).
When I did purchase a pair to test, I felt like I was talking in my head due to noise cancelling.
You can't record in the iPhone's native camera application using a Bluetooth microphone.
Rode Wireless Go - Pros & Cons
Fast forward and I’m currently using the Rode Wireless Go ($200 + $15 cord). The transmitter has a built-in lavalier microphone (the unit on the right side of the photo) and clips to your clothes. The receiver (unit on the left side of the photo with screen and cord attached) plugs into your recording/streaming device.
The set is slightly less expensive than high-end Bluetooth earbuds.
Unlike traditional lavalier mics, the built-in mic is protected by the transmitter case. So I’ve experienced minimal accidental noise from clothing or moving. I do need to be careful not rest on it or to bump it too much.
The transmitter/mic clips comfortably & securely onto my bra strap to stay in place, out of sight, & unobtrusive to almost all yoga poses. (You could use a tank top/undershirt.)
I'd argue it's just as plug & play as earbuds once you get the right cord for your device.
It uses 2.4GHz wireless connection which provides higher quality audio and less lag than Bluetooth (good article here).
It has three gain level settings, which I use for different purposes.
It has the option to plug in a better lavalier or headset microphone, if I ever want to upgrade or use it for another purpose.
You do need to use a laptop when you want to hear students or music during livestream class, because a mobile device will think the microphone is also a speaker. (You can easily configure the microphone input separate from the speaker output on Zoom.) I use one of the cheapest Bluetooth earbuds I could find: JLab GO Air True Wireless Earbuds ($30). These actually have a decent microphone that is now my backup!
No solution is perfect or perfect for every teacher, but I think the Rode Wireless Go is pretty standout for the price.
Space & Lighting
In general, teach from a clean, uncluttered, quiet space. Flowers and candles can certainly add a nice touch. But sometimes reality is nice for students to see too. For example, are you teaching fellow moms who might benefit from seeing that you also haven’t done your laundry? Do you know that your students like to see your pets? Etc etc. Yoga is about connection, not just austere tidiness or illusions.
Reduce the echoey-ness (known as "room reverb") & background noise of your space:
Choose a carpeted room, add a carpet, or lay down blankets/pillows.
Close doors and stuff something under any cracks.
Close windows when feasible but don’t overheat please (we're heading into summer & this is definitely on my mind)!
Coordinate with any roommates to make sure they know your teaching schedule. Share an online calendar with them or gently remind them thirty minutes before class.
Choose a space with adequate Internet connection. Consider how your WiFi and cellular strength varies in your space. The recommended bandwidth for Zoom is 1.5 Mbps (up/down) for group meetings with gallery view. Consider investing in an upgrade, if you need. In the SF Bay Area, I can personally recommend Sonic and Common as reliable, high-speed, lower-cost alternatives to the big names.
If you have unlimited cellular data and a strong signal, you might use your mobile device or hotspot. Consider spreading the usage across multiple sources to minimize overloading. You could use different Internet sources for video and audio (e.g. video on WiFi and audio on cellular hotspot).
Natural light is your best friend & cheapest bet if you have it. With my home studio's windows & daytime classes, I haven't needed additional lighting yet. Stay tuned for more updates as I start to experiment. Some teachers use selfie "ring lights". My teacher, Tony Eason, has written a great post, Zoom Online Yoga 101: Studio Lighting, Audio, Camera, Format, with tips for how to light your space and specifically for people of color.
Especially for video, start with what you have! I prefer to use my iPhone XR on a cheap selfie stick tripod. I like this $20 selfie stick and use the Bluetooth remote to also take pictures.
My phone's video quality is way better than my laptop, but check your own specs. Some teachers are using webcams (though many models are currently sold out), camcorders, or DSLR cameras.
The most common set-up is to have your yoga mat sideways to the camera, turning as you need for students to see different shapes or sides. You could angle your mat, if you have enough space. This gives a nice sense of depth and more detailed view to students.
You could enable the video on your second, larger-screened device to give students an additional viewing angle. It may be confusing, though, especially if this device is directly in front of your mat and you aren’t mirroring. I’ve noticed students triple-checking the video and getting confused when I tried this, but I'm open to thoughts on how this could work better!
Place your video device in a spot that ideally captures your mat & whole body including raised hands while standing. It can be hard to find enough distance in our homes. So try placing the device higher up (for example, on a bookshelf).
Or attach a wide angle lens to your phone. I use this Moment 18mm wide lens & case when I record videos. I would highly recommend it! I haven’t needed it for Zoom, because Zoom’s field of view is larger than the native iPhone camera application.
If you’re recording video, make sure to lock the focus & exposure. On the iPhone camera application, press and hold where you want to focus. You can then drag the little sun icon up or down to increase or decrease the brightness. Here's a helpful how-to.
Spotlight or pin your video on livestreams so that students can easily see your video in the app. This is especially important if you’re using another device for audio, because the app may show a blank black tile as the active speaker. Students can pin their own video, but some aren’t tech savvy enough to figure this out. And it’s just a hassle to make them do it.
To Spotlight Video on Zoom at least three participants need to be in the meeting, so you’ll have to wait for students to join. Students can still switch back to the Gallery view if they want.
Your Pre-class Checklist
Once you have your set-up figured out, I recommend you create your own checklist and reference it every time you teach.
Many things will become habit, but I promise there will be times when you forget something.
Here are some things you might include.
Charge your audio equipment whether earbud, headset, etc.
Tidy your space.
Devices are charged and/or are plugged into an outlet or battery pack. For example, alerts about 20% low power will stop your video live or recorded (not that I’d know from personal experience).
Set devices to Do Not Disturb and Airplane mode (the latter will help prevent interference with any Bluetooth or wireless mics.)