Ten Things I’ve Learned About Doing Private Instruction

Many of these principles can easily be applied to a class setting as well!

10) Teach you really know! A true and humble yogini knows that she is “always in practice, always a student”, yes! However, be confident and clear with yourself about what aspects of yoga you know WELL. If a student inquires about an advanced pose or concept you haven’t covered and (essentially) mastered yourself, don’t be afraid to simply say: “That is interesting…I’d like to do some research on that and get back to you.” It’s OK to not know everything–the world of yoga is quite vast. This gets beyond yoga, too…students start to bleed into asking questions about diet and nutrition, reiki energy healing, chiropractors, etc. I have had some experiences with teachers or people in the “healing arts” that I didn’t feel were very qualified to advise in all these realms, but tried to do so anyway. Refer your student to an expert in a respective area outside of your training and knowledge.
9) Hold the sacred space. It can be difficult to avoid a lot of chit-chat during a session when you are teaching a good friend, or a student you have gotten to know well over time. While it’s important to take a few minutes to establish a rapport and check in with your student on how s/he is feeling or what s/he might need before the session, and also to give succinct explanations or answer questions…it is also important to let the experience “breathe”. Allow your student to experience each pose in his/hew own way, and establish that once the session has begun, both student and teacher must dedicate themselves to focusing on the sacred hour ahead. Your student can honor this hour as well by turning off phones, asking his/her partner to take the baby or dog out for a stroll, asking roommates to make themselves scarce for an hour, etc. Important: remember that sacred space begins with YOU, in your mind and heart, in the aura/energy you bring as soon as you walk in the door. So take 10 minutes in your car to do some pranayama, meditation, etc to put you into that space.
8) Do your research. Give yourself an extra half hour before that first session with a new student. Research the parking and traffic options in their neighborhood. You may find it easier to take public transportation, park in a public lot, or feed a meter for several hours if it is convenient to their home. I had a private downtown and I could only find a meter that would accept change for an hour. I had to run back down and feed it again while my student was in Savasana! Ask your student to describe the area in which you will be working together and how much space s/he has. “A good rule of thumb is to figure on needing roughly 21 square feet for every practitioner. This estimate takes into account a two-by-six-foot mat and still allows for one to two extra feet per person.” -YogaJournal. There may be other options for practicing yoga if your student’s home won’t work, such as a nearby public park.
7) Observe. Keep an eye on your student for proper form, how s/he is experiencing the pose (does the face show challenge or real struggle?). It is easy to get caught up in wanting to do every pose along with your student. Demonstrating the proper execution of poses, breathing, meditation, etc are all important, but even more important is observing your student constantly for potential adjustments, improvements.
6) Use your intuition. Use your intuition and instinct to tell you if your student is especially tired, distracted, anxious. Sometimes students aren’t forthcoming when you ask how they are feeling…or perhaps they don’t quite even “know themselves” yet that day. You can sense the general energy from your student to clue you in. Again, this goes back to #10, and changing a few things on the fly in your session to cater to what the student may need….it could be something calming, energizing, mental focus, etc.
5) Give (and ask for) feedback. Private students are paying a premium for your focused attention and service, so in addition to #7 observing, give your student encouraging feedback. I make sure to tell a student when s/he is in perfect form, or when I am impressed at the range of mobility that a senior private demonstrates, etc. Students are looking to you for motivation and encouragement more than to be ordered from one pose into another or constantly picked at with adjustments. Also ASK for feedback. Be sure to ask a student how something feels, what s/he needs.
4) Keep explanations concise. As teachers immersed in our yoga world, we can get pretty enthusiastic and go into a lot of detail about the purpose of a pose, what it does for our bodies physiologically, maybe we will recount anecdotes about our own or other students’ experiences. My teacher once told me that a pose should be explained in 3 concise points–kind of like a 1-2-3 punch. So it should be possible to explain the purpose of a pose in one or two sentences “this will open up the hips”, explain 3 main points of how to get into it and finally as you observe the student you can give them a modified version or adjustment (if needed). This should be possible to do in under a minute. Obviously Half Moon Pose may require more explanation than Child’s Pose…
3) Do your paperwork. I always plan an outline for the student and email them a copy of what we did together afterward. I almost always have omissions or changes from the original after working with the student. I keep archives of these outlines and each new time I meet with the student we have a few new poses we can try to build upon our last session. It’s a tangible way for students to see their own progression. YogaJournal.com has a wonderful visual yoga sequence builder tool that can be a very helpful reference tool for your student.
2) Ongoing Communication. I always follow up with students a day or so after the session via email to see how they are feeling. Sometimes students are a bit sore (in which case I make sure there isn’t some kind of chronic pain above and beyond challenging the body in a reasonable way!) and I recommend drinking plenty of water and perhaps some gentle, restorative poses to help bring relief. Beyond that follow up, I simply check in once a week to find out if students would like to schedule another session, remind them I’m here to answer any questions, anytime. One check-in per week is plenty, but students will vary in terms of the amount of communication they want or need with you. One thing that is helpful is creating a an online poll with PollMonkey.com or a Facebook page or blog in which students can post questions (even anonymously)…this is a little less confrontational than a direct phone call or email, and it’s certainly a nice avenue of publicity. 🙂
1) No matter how well you plan your class sequence/outline, always be prepared to change it. I’ve often had to omit poses when something was more complicated to explain to a student and we took up more time than I anticipated, improvise on the fly, or add in a custom exercise based on the needs of the student that day (i.e. “my hips are tight…can we do something for that”? Always be prepared for real life to throw you a loop–that is part of the fun!

McKenna Rowe is the Founder of Chakra 5 Mobile Yoga, an experienced team of corporate yoga instructors that provides mobile yoga classes on location and by appointment at businesses, schools and organizations throughout greater Los Angeles. Call us to start your corporate wellness program today: 310-853-3885.

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