Over the years, I have taken several private yoga classes and even taught a few myself.
If I had to sum the ones were I was the student, I’d say it’s been a mixed bag. I have had some excellent classes, some middling ones, and some where I walked away thinking, “Well, that was a waste of time and money.”
While some automatically equate “private” with “better”, it isn’t necessarily the case. As in most yoga classes in general, it really depends on the relationship between the teacher and student.
Generally, the best sessions I experienced were the ones where the instructor asked detailed questions prior to meeting and tailored a plan specifically for me while the worst where the ones where the instructor just asked, “What would you like to do?”.
Likewise, I noticed something similar when I taught private sessions. In fact, one of the things I dreaded hearing the most when asking “What would you like to do?” was, “Just do whatever you normally do” or “I don’t know what I want”.
The truth is, whether you are the student or the teacher, it makes sense to make the most of a private session. As a student, a good private session is worth the money. Besides having the undivided attention of an instructor for an hour or more, you may find it’s possible to safely attempt or master poses or sequences you previously thought were impossible. Also, if you are trying to use yoga therapeutically, say, to strengthen the lower back or core, a good teacher can design a routine just for you.
As a teacher, I have found that working one-on-one has helped me hone my overall skills as an instructor. Plus, there is something very rewarding with working with someone over a period of time and see them progress.
Therefore, if you are ever decide to take a single private class or several, here are some tips to keep in mind to get the most out of it:
1. Decide what kind of yoga you want to do.
If you’ve been practicing awhile, you’ll probably already have a certain style you’ll prefer. However, if you are brand new, do some research and find out what styles may appeal to you.
Perhaps you fall into the latter and just want to learn “the basics”. In that case, make it a point to inform the teacher before the session. It may be the case that s/he is an excellent Vinyasa teacher, but slow, Hatha Yoga is not their cup of tea.
If in doubt, ask. Don’t be shy, after all, it’s your time and money which brings me to #2.
2. Ask what “private session” means.
Some may be wondering what I included this one but based on experience, sometimes it means that the instructor works with the student to create a sequence just for them or sometimes it means that the student is lead through a sequence similar or even identical to one they teach in a group class. Personally, when I have private lessons, I prefer the former over the latter.
If having a “tailor-made” sequence is one of the main reasons you are having a private lesson, then mention this beforehand.
Also, this is the time to ask what the policy is for last minute cancellations, tardiness, etc. This may seem a bit awkward, I know from experience how important it is to take care of these matters before the lesson. Ideally, you want the time spent to be all about yoga rather than stress about any of these “little things”.
3. Don’t be afraid to have an “inspirational pose” no matter how impossible it seems.
I liken this to taking a picture of an actress or model whose hair you like to the hairdresser. You probably aren’t going to expect to look exactly like the picture, but it is a good way to convey what you have in mind.
Likewise, saying that your goal is to one day master an unsupported handstand or pincha mayurasana is a good way to let your teacher where to begin. For instance, in the examples I used, a strong shoulder girdle and core are essential. Perhaps the instructor will prescribe a series of poses to help you strengthen them.
In any case, don’t be shy or hesitant to bring this up.
The occasional or regular a private yoga lesson can be a wonderful way to deepen our practices if we know what we want and how to ask for it.
While these tips were written primarily for students, even seasoned instructors who give private lessons can use them to get a better idea of how to best serve their students. If you’re going to take the time and money to treat yourself to a private lesson, then it should be the best that you can get.
Don’t be afraid to try and get the best that you can. After all, you are worth it.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Barry Silver