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Teaching Yoga

One-on-One Time

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Dipping into the world of one-on-one yoga classes can be an exciting challenge. Such settings have a different intensity from group sessions, and they offer a chance to really get to know students. New teachers may find the idea of working so closely with a single student somewhat daunting, particularly if the student has injuries or other special needs. But if you truly understand yoga, you have a lot to offer your private clients.

Often private classes move at a mellower pace, as teachers focus on alignment challenges specific to each student. To do this well requires a flexible sense of what a yoga practice entails. Chicago-based teacher Steven Emmerman explains, “Instead of having an agenda in your head, you need to be willing to find out what the person can do and work from there.”

Some of this flexibility is to address different body types. However, yoga students choose the personal contact of a private yoga class for a wide range of reasons. Some aren’t accustomed to movement and are intimidated by the idea of attending a public class. Others are longtime yogis with injuries that need healing or particular asanas that are posing new challenges. Still others seek out privates (as such classes are known among teachers) to deal with emotional blocks.

That’s why it’s essential to begin each private student-teacher relationship with a detailed interview. The questions you ask should cover the basics, including yoga experience and history of injuries. Then you may want to delve a little deeper. John Merideth, founder and director of the OnlYoga studio in Atlanta, Georgia, says he looks for personal information to get more holistic insights into his students. “I ask: do they have a partner? Relationships are a large part of where we direct energy in our life, and if that’s causing stress, it can have an effect on the body.” He also queries students about their fears and spiritual beliefs. But often, he says, students aren’t focused on large mystical quandaries. “Some people come with simple postural questions,” Merideth says. “Not every private [class] is some deep philosophical inquiry.”

Though that’s true, it’s good to be prepared for solo sessions that bring up heavy emotions. Stephanie Snyder, who teaches in San Francisco, has worked with several private clients who were specifically trying to loosen the grip of past traumas, including eating disorders, sexual abuse, and addiction. “It’s extremely intense because there’s a lot of emoting, and they often get to a place where they’re re-experiencing trauma.” With all of her privates, Snyder says she heavily emphasizes hands-on adjustments. But, she adds, such contact isn’t always appropriate. “If I feel like they’re going to an emotional place, I back off,” she explains. “I let them draw the boundary.”

At the same time, she points out that emotional discomfort shouldn’t signal that it’s time for the practice to stop. If a client begins talking a lot, which can be an attempt to escape negative feelings, Snyder recommends gently bringing them back to the breath. “Being uncomfortable is perfectly acceptable—as long as there’s no danger of injury,” she says. Ultimately, “that’s where the practice starts. Many people get to that uncomfortable spot and then they bail.”

Some teachers, including Kevin Perry in Jefferson City, Missouri, find that private yoga classes sharpen their ability to respond incisively to students. Perry says he enjoys the give-and-take of privates. “I have more of an opportunity to get immediate feedback, so I can approach what’s happening in the moment and find out what makes pain go away, or what creates an opening for this person,” he notes.

The personal time, Perry adds, “gives me the opportunity to do a whole-body evaluation of a person, and to test their full range of motion. Then I have more to offer them in a public class because I know them so well.”

Experienced teachers have a few sage words of advice for newbies who want to teach privates: Invest in some private sessions with teachers you love, in order to understand different approaches. Keep notes on every session and review them before each meeting. Learn as much as you can about working with common injuries, and always listen to any advice students have gotten from their doctors. Be prepared to work early or odd hours to meet people’s schedules, and hone your listening skills. Finally, keep up a very strong practice of your own, so you maintain a deep internal connection to yoga.

Costs for privates seem to vary widely based on experience and location, often mirroring the price of massage and other therapies in a region. Many newer teachers in urban centers charge $50, but $100 per hour is a typical price for privates with experienced yogis. The Missouri yoga market, on the other hand, won’t bear such charges; Perry says clients there pay about $45 an hour. Whatever you choose to charge, teachers warn against devaluing yourself. Even when you’re just starting out, you may want to trade services with clients instead of giving away classes for free. Your ultimate goal should be a regular financial commitment from students, for your own protection and to cultivate consistency.

Remember that you’re offering much more than the workout guidance typically given by a personal trainer. As Merideth puts it, “We look at yoga as a tool for transformation. So whether I’m talking to somebody about posture or something else, in the back of my head I’m really thinking about how yoga can help transform that person’s life in a positive way.”

Rachel Brahinsky is a writer and yoga teacher in San Francisco.