As more and more people show up for yoga classes, teachers might consider adding private and semi-private sessions to their repertoire. I began to offer this service about 8 years ago, once I felt well-established in my teaching skills. I had enough hours on the mat, specialized training, and the confidence to work with adults and children in a variety of situations. I was also receiving inquiries regularly from three types of potential clients: students already in my regular classes who wanted to deepen their practices; people who were hesitant about coming back to the mat after having been injured (especially if the injury had occurred, or was exacerbated, in a yoga class); or those who were new to yoga and wanted to feel comfortable with the process before stepping into a group situation.
My clients for private yoga sessions have run the gamut, from those who have never taken a class to those who are used to the personal attention of trainers, coaches, etc. Working one-on-one has the potential to do a world of good, as the instruction is tailored to the individual, something that is very hard to find in a group setting.
Here are some tips for getting started:
- Begin with a friend or family member; someone who can give you constructive feedback. These ‘practice’ sessions allow you to hone your skills, expand your repertoire, and practice a kind of ‘intimate distance‘*.
- Take a few one-on-one sessions yourself, with a skillful yoga teacher. If appropriate, ask to observe them as they work with others.
- Will your yoga studio let you see people in the studio’s ‘off’ hours? If so, consider arranging a package of 3 sessions, with attractive pricing (or for free even). Let potential clients know that your are ‘test-driving’.
- Figure out how you are going to do your intake, what questions you need to ask, etc. Have the appropriate insurance coverage, and have them sign a waiver if you, or your studio, require it.
- When I work with children, a parent or caregiver is present during intake, and sometimes during the sessions.
- I usually see adult clients in the morning. Starting earlier than 8:00am does not work for me. It didn’t take too many 7:00am sessions to realize how much I value the morning routines that set the rhythm of my day. A hot cup of something, an hour of writing, and checking in with my family come first. My clients benefit from having a centered instructor.
- Nowadays, I go to them (when I owned my own yoga studio, clients would usually come to me). Most clients have a space in their homes dedicated to, or easily transformed for, exercise. We usually meet for a full hour. Family members or house guests will sometimes join the sessions if they are close in physical abilities.
- It usually works better if couples do not practice together. Relationship dynamics can get heightened ‘on the mat’, and neither person gets the full benefits of an individualized practice when they are simultaneously tracking themselves and each other.
- Regardless of any client’s history with yoga, we start with having a conversation. We might sit on chairs, we might face each other in sukhasana, but we are going to begin our relationship by talking.
Beginning with conversation lets me know why I am there. If they are starting private yoga sessions on the recommendation- or request, or even ultimatum- of a family member or healthcare practitioner, it helps to know that. I want to hear them talk about the condition of their physical body, how they feel about their body, and whether they have any recent or old injuries, chronic conditions, worries, concerns, etc. Two other things I want to get a sense of are their breath and their ’emotional’ state. Are they under the usual challenges, or has some new stressor shown up? Are they in a time of transition at work or in their personal relationships?
Our conversation continues as I bring them into ‘Constructive Rest‘, a supine position. If they cannot get onto the floor, I have them sit in a chair. Our conversation continues, and the watching and listening allow me to observe how they inhabit their bodies. Adding a few simple movements of the arms and legs lets me know how they process instruction, how their pelvic and shoulder girdles relate to one another, and what might be going on in their spine. Watching someone breathe, watching how they respond to verbal instructions and the guidance of my hands is revelatory. These first sessions are special and should not be rushed.
Not all clients will work out. That is to be expected. Our personalities might not mesh, or they may have some set of expectations that our time together just does not meet. When our start is iffy, it has been helpful to offer new clients the option of meeting for 3 sessions, then doing a check-in to see how it is going on both sides. Some clients prefer to commit to a block of sessions in order to address a very specific element of their practice. It helps to recognize that creating a good, communicative client/instructor relationship takes time, and can take some ‘shopping around’. Have other teachers that you can recommend. They will appreciate the referral, and may feed others to you because you have been honest, and acted with integrity.
Yoga is an inherently syncretic practice, and I tailor my approach to each client, varying it as they become more knowledgable in their practice. The personalized way I work draws from what I have learned and synthesized over decades of being an observer: as artist, costumer and yoga teacher. I have enjoyed a lovely balance between seeing clients and teaching group classes, and what I learn and observe in each supports the other. One-on-one sessions are not for everyone, nor is every yoga teacher out there capable of or interested in teaching this way. What works best for me is to stay lively and engaged in my own personal inquiry, allowing me to approach each client with enthusiasm, dedication and love**.
(*’Intimate distance’: this is a way of being present to your client that is supportive yet unobtrusive. You want them to know you are there, but they are the ones who are doing the ‘work’. They are your sole focus, but you are not there to simply applaud a performance. Like many skills, it takes time and repetition to develop your ability to be close, but not too close, guiding but not over steering.
**Yes, I wrote ‘love’. There is a kind of falling in love process that happens with everyone I work with. ‘Admiration’, or ‘appreciation’ are other good words. What is important- for me- is creating a rapport that is not about performance or reward. Rather, I look for a quality of softness, of receptivity that often feels like a love exchange. We are going to spend some time together on a regular basis. It helps to like each other!)