Moving through training from home – body tips vs. screen fatigue
You’re a facilitator, it’s Covid time and initial excitement for online coffees has turned into Zoom bother. As online trainers we have to be inventive and look out for best practices to guide our participants through meaningful learning journeys that stick rather than s*** because of their virtuality.
This article isn’t about fancy online tools to boost your sessions. It is rather a complement to the blog’s great tips on mastering online training; with a back-to-the-root approach – our body! – to make training from home greater (again?).
Why bother about the body? Well, because it is a crucial part in the learning process. Only through our felt sense and experience we can integrate mental insights and new knowledge into new ways of being and acting. It’s the difference between knowing the menu and eating the dish. Let your trainees taste the yummy buffet ;-)!
To make things worse, the virtual environment has a lot of side effects on our nervous system that can trigger unconscious stress responses in our bodies which affect our whole state of being. This makes concentration, connection, learning and simply having fun much more difficult than it would be in physical interaction with people. Amongst many other aspects, tensing our eye muscles to focus on the screen, hearing background sounds in our earphones and perceiving less bodily cues in virtual conversations can tell our system « you are not safe » and activate a subtle fight, flight, freeze or fold response (see short video explanation about stress response.). Survival mode…not the best one for great training ;-).
To prevent this of happening, we have to give our bodies lots of opportunities to self-regulate and socially engage. Guess what, if you read further you’ll get many powerful micro-practices you can try out yourself and use right away to body-boost your online sessions! The five main principles for my zoom-out proof body-tips are: RESTING, SENSING, MOVING, CENTERING & CONNECTING.
✔️Dial down virtual stimulations
Besides privileging shorter training formats with frequent breaks, dial down virtual stimuli. This will preserve attention, concentration and mood to not get drained so fast. Do you really need all these channels in parallel for your learning to land: chat, screen, voice, music, Mural, Miro, etc.? If not, keep only what’s essential and encourage your participants to avoid more stimuli by for example switching off their mobile phones during the session.
✔️ Pause and breathe to digest
Especially after new knowledge or an exercise, leave a short moment of silence to « take it in, let it settle and digest » at least the time of taking a deep breath together while looking away from the screen.
✔️Relax eyes and use space
Our eyes tend to tense up when working with screens. Already this can enhance a subtle stress activation. Also our awareness might be tunnel-like absorbed by the screen and the space in front of us, so that we forget about our physical environment, especially the parts out of our sight. Keeping our gaze peripheral and relaxed, spreading our awareness into 360° of our whole physical space and feeling our backs, helps to stay more balanced and open to learn.
For the time of self-reflection activities it can be handy to switch cameras totally off to minimize distraction and stay in one’s own experience.
Try this and use in your trainings whenever helpful:
● Fix only one point at your computer and see how this affects you.
Now compare: When looking at the screen, keep your vision peripheral. Be aware of the space and objects on your right and left eyes’ sides. If that’s difficult, put your right and left index fingers in front of your face. Pull them away to both sides while keeping them in your visual awareness and stay with that gaze.
● Take your gaze off the screen, have a look around your physical space and far away, if possible outside the window, before getting back to the screen.
● Relaxing eyes exercise: Draw big circles with your hand in front of your face and follow it with your eyes so that they are rolling in big circles. You can try it with a side-lying 8 shape too.
Have a look at Bates eye exercises for more eye relaxation techniques.
When it comes to self-regulation, the first step is to get back into our senses.
✔️ Somatic check-ins and expression
Try this and use it at the beginning of a session or new part:
● Somatic check-in: What sensations are you noticing, on the surface and inside your body? How are you breathing? What emotional state is it indicating you? What thoughts pop up as you do so? Observe without judging.
=> Express your current state of being by doing a sound, posture, movement or all three together.
This could also serve as short icebreaker or energizer.
✔️ Sense natural stimulations
Encourage natural stimulation in your and your participants’ space and going into sensations: open the window feeling the wind on your skin, smell the coffee in your mug and sense its path when swallowed, be aware of the loudest and softest sound around you, etc. This can have a quick soothing effect.
✔️ Self-care and posture
Make conscious self-care a habitual instruction in your online meetings and trainings. This includes encouraging participants to individually change posture, move, stretch, (not/) use the camera, look away, drink, go to the bathroom, etc. Here again check-ins help to understand one’s instant individual needs.
The way we sit and stand have an impact on how we feel and interact. Conscious posture can be an integral part for active learning.
Try this and use it for activity transitions:
● Compare how open-minded you are to new learning in different ways of holding yourself. An example:
1. Wrinkle your eyes, cross your arms, tense your jaw and sit on a hard surface.
2. Then soften your face, open your arms and palms, sink on to a soft surface.
What differences do you notice in terms of feeling and thinking between 1. And 2.? What would serve you most for the upcoming activity or meeting?
You can play with lots of variations like leaning back vs. forwards, standing vs. sitting, symmetrical vs. asymmetrical posture, etc.
● Notice how you are doing right now. How is your posture? Where is your weight? How long is your spine? Where do you feel relaxed? Where do you feel tension?
=> Is this posture serving you for the next activity? If not, adapt it however seems most useful.
Centering is a quick way to prevent and undo stress responses in our bodies. It helps to self-regulate, be present to oneself and others, relaxed and alert at the same time. There are hundreds of ways to center (cf. this e-book on centering). I will outline the basic principle and give some applicable examples. Centering can be linked very well with a brief check in and is especially useful at the beginning, at the end of a session and whenever things are getting messy or emotional.
The core elements for most centering techniques are: aligning posture, relaxing the body, breathing, expanding awareness into space, visualizing what soothes.
Try these quick tools and use them with your participants:
● Feel your feet on the floor (and your buttocks touching the seat). Breathe in lengthening your spine and breathe out releasing any body tension from head to toes. Breathe in, lengthening yourself, breath out releasing any tension. (Repeat one more time.) Think of something or someone that makes you smile and let this sensation radiate out into the space around you.
● Balance your posture so that the weight on your feet (and buttocks) is distributed equally. Take a deep breath in and sigh when breathing out (making a vowel sound like « ahhhh…»). Spread your warmth and awareness into the space around you.
● Lengthen your spine, soften your gaze, let your tongue and lower belly hang loose. Take some deep breaths staying long and relaxed.
● Inhale, feel your whole back strong and long. Exhale feel your front soft and open. (Repeat 2 more times.)
● Feel your feet touching the floor and imagine you have a bright light ball in your chest area. Take a deep breath in and with each exhale, send bright light from your chest far out into all directions: to the front, to the back, to the right, to the left, below and above you. Repeat this a couple of times sending the light each time further. Stay with the sensation of brightness in 360° as if you were illuminating the room you’re in.
You can also mix these examples up and create your own centering technique with what works best for you.
What’s the main difference between a dead body and a living body? Movement! Human bodies are not designed to be static and sit all day long. That’s not only bad for our health but being too static is an obstacle for engaging learning. Movement can help energize, regulate, engage, get unstuck, connect, bring fun and so much more.
Here are some showcases when movement can be great in online settings:
✔️ 1 minute movement breaks
A quick way to get back into the body, process new knowledge and energize for a new chapter.
Try these tools standing and use them with your participants:
● Stretch your whole body like when you’re getting up in the morning or like a cat that is waking up from a nap. Add yawning if that feels good.
● Tap your whole body gently with your hands from head, over chest, both arms, upper body to the back, buttocks, legs and feet.
● Stroke your body gently as if you were under the shower and wanted to soap all body parts.
● Give yourself a nice massage, squeezing every body part from head to feet.
● Shake your whole body, like a wet dog coming out of the water. Go crazy and add sounds to it.
✔️Energizers & ice breakers
Why not taking them online too? Many of your favorite ones can be adapted to a virtual space. Some examples from my side:
● Let’s …! Doing imaginary activities together:
Think of an activity (e.g. swimming) and say to the group « let’s go swimming » and move as if you were swimming. All participants imitate your gesture as you do it. Someone else continues with another proposal by saying « Yes, let’s XXX » and everyone is joining this gesture. Etc.
Indicate one object at a time that is neither too difficult nor too easy to get like « a rose pair of socks/a kettle/a banana » and all participants are challenged to find this object at their home and bring it to the screen as quickly as possible. The person who is fastest with three objects is the winner.
Ask your attendees one favorite party song and put that on. Dance freely like on a disco party. Alternatively let one person at a time share her favorite dance move and everyone else copies it.
Self-reflections are great moments to focus on the inner experience, turn away from the screen and get moving. That even supports the thinking process!
● Sitting, standing, lying, walking
Let attendees chose their position for self-reflection according to what they want to cultivate in terms of the given topic. Inspired from meditation practices sitting cultivates wisdom, standing cultivates power, lying cultivates healing, walking cultivates vision.
● On the walk
For whatever topic your group is self-reflecting on, ask them to walk at the same time in their room/home. What do they observe in the way they are walking while reflecting about the topic: where is their weight, direction and intention directed? By observing how they walk, what do they understand about their relation to the topic?
● Space and nature
For 10+ minutes self-reflections, invite your participants to use space inside and outside their houses, ideally in nature. You could add questions like « what would this tree/mountain/flower suggest you concerning the question? »
The more we are connected to ourselves, the better we can connect to others. I see self-connection as pillar for fruitful interaction. It is a real play of balance and awareness to notice when we might be closed down in ourselves – e.g. screen off, no active listening, distracted in our space – or absorbed by others – e.g. leaning forwards, forgetting about our physical space, focused on a person on screen.
In the virtual environment connection in both ways is an antidote for getting into unconscious distress responses as it helps our bodies co-regulate.
Try this and use in your trainings whenever helpful:
● Inner vs. outer focus:
Put your attention, awareness and postural disposition inwards, downwards and back. Stay in that sensation for a moment. For which kind of activities might this space of being be useful?
Now compare it with putting your attention, awareness and posture outwards, upwards and to the front. Stay in that sensation for a moment. How is it different from the first one? For which activities might this kind of focus be adapted?
● Connection breathing:
Take a deep breath in setting the intention « I am aware of and present to myself », breathe out setting the intention « I open myself up to the world », take a deep breath in connecting to yourself « I am open to receive from others », breath out with the intention « I make purposeful contributions to the world ».
Repeat a couple of cycles and observe how it affects your sense of belonging and interacting. If people are around, practice with them (on screen or live), otherwise connect to your environment.
This activates the social engagement pathways of our nervous system and can have a soothing and connecting effect.
● Social centering:
At the next online meeting take a moment of conscious connection with the people in the shared virtual space: looking at their faces, smiling, reminding that we all breathe the same air, no matter where we are based, that we have similar challenges and that we have the very thing in common: to be human :-)! Be grateful for this shared experience.
I want to point out that the more you as a facilitator are in touch with your own body and the cues it’s sending you all the time, the easier it will be for you to make online training nervous-system-friendly and adapt your sessions to your participants’ needs. As every skill, this approach requires practice and to cultivate your own embodied intelligence. These tools might be a start.
I hope my hints and ideas will help you find your magic formula to deliver engaging and impactful online trainings where the body is an integral part of the experience. Start by picking one practice per principle and see how they impact your session. I would be thrilled to know how they work for you! Good news: they will be helpful too for days where we can make great in-person training (again!) :-D.
Further readings, videos and references:
● Mark Walsh – video: 7 reasons why the body matters
● Harvard.edu: Screen time and the brain
● National Geographic – Science: Our brain and zoom fatigue
● Psychology today: Screens and the stress response
● Science of people: 20 science tips for zoom fatigue
● The conversation: How to make video calls less tiring
● New Atlas: Stanford study into « zoom fatigue »
● Irene Lyon – video: Polyvagal theory explained
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