March 3, 2014

Teaching Yoga: A Unique Formula for Success from Francesca Cervero. {Interview}


“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.”

 ~ Galileo Galilei

I had the pleasure of meeting Francesca in person at the Yoga Alliance Business Conference last summer after our Facebook relationship.

What struck me was her vibrancy, humor and insight.

Francesca is young, sharp and funny with a lot to offer about yoga, teaching and how to do more than survive as a yoga teacher. I had the honor of interviewing her and as soon as I get my own bank accounts in order, I plan on taking her training on teaching private clients. Francesca has been teaching since 2006 and her focus is teaching students privately.

I believe one of the reasons Francesca thrives at teaching students one-on-one is that she knows how to help her students find what they need within using what yoga offers. Francesca teaches asana but knows, as all yoga teachers know, yoga is so much more than what we do with our bodies.

EL: You teach yoga primarily to private clients or only to private clients?

FC: For many years I taught only private clients. Since 2006 I have taught an average of 25 clients a week. Just this fall I found a yoga home and community I love so much (Willow Street Yoga in DC) that they were able to talk me into taking on two weekly group classes.

EL: How long have you been teaching?

FC: I started teaching in 2005.

EL: And what made you embark on teaching only privates?

FC: Having a full time practice of private clients wasn’t the intention in the beginning. I was just trying to figure out how to make a sustainable living as a yoga teacher, like everyone else. I taught at yoga studios—which can be a hard gig to get, and then once I got it, I realized how little many of the studios are able to pay. I taught at gyms, and at a corporate office.

Then at the very beginning of 2006 a friend of mine passed down a private client to me. At the time, I had no idea what a precious and life-changing gift that would be.

My friend had been teaching this woman for five years, and decided to give her up because she found the work with her boring. This teacher hadn’t seen any change or evolution in this woman’s practice, body, or life, and was tired of going all the way uptown to work with someone who wasn’t engaged.

I had a very different experience of this client though. I didn’t think she was lazy or checked out at all. It was just clear to me that she needed to be challenged in a way that was accessible and meaningful for her. I didn’t find the work with her boring at all! I found it endlessly challenging and interesting

The short story is, this client began to see incredibly profound changes in her body, and in the way she carried herself in her relationships, both personal and professional. She recommended me to her friends, they recommended me to their husbands, and they recommended me to their co-workers.

It was a very organic and slow transition into full time private teaching. As I got more and more private clients (and found that I really loved and thrived in that work) I started dropping the group classes off the schedule.

EL: What makes teaching one-on-one distinctive than teaching a class? I realize there are many things but for the teacher to thrive in that situation can you name three things that you think are necessary.

FC: 1. the confidence and ability to hold the energetic space in a strong and loving way. 2. A deep amount of self-awareness. 3. Some serious and solid anatomy knowledge.

EL: And what is, if you can say, the worst mistake a teacher can make one-on-one?

FC: The big picture problem is that many teachers teach a private session the exact same way they teach a group class. A private session should look, feel, and sound very different.

EL: That seems obvious but guess it is not; name a few of the differences because maybe we can all learn from that.

FC: To be more specific: If a client is having physical difficulty or trouble in an asana don’t say, “Okay, we will just leave that out, and go on to something else.” Try to figure out what is making the posture difficult. First though, you must know the benefit you are intending the client to get from the pose. Then you can dig in, and see if there is another variation of the pose that would be more useful or interesting, or another pose entirely will give you the benefit you were looking for.

Another big mistake people make is asking their client to “take a seat, rest your hands, and close your eyes”. This is just way too vulnerable for most people in a private session, and a very difficult way to start a class if they have had no transition time.

The most important tool a private teacher needs to facilitate meaningful change in a student’s body and life is their trust. If you ask them to do something right at the beginning of class that makes them feel uncomfortable and disconnected, you’ve already lost them.

EL: Now I realize you have been working between New York City and Washington, DC. And you continue with two homes now or you settled here?

FC: I just moved into my brand new apartment in DC this weekend. After 18 months of living out of suitcases it feels amazing to have a home again. I will continue to work in NYC three days a week though, as I cannot leave my fantastic private clients there just yet.

EL: And you have also become a teacher of teachers, haven’t you? We first met online at the DC Community of teachers on FB and then at the Yoga Alliance Yoga of Business Conference….

FC: Yes, that is a new role I am moving into, and I am so excited about it.

EL: How new?

FC: I wrote my first teacher training program in the summer of 2012, and I taught my first solo teacher training in the fall of 2012. Then this summer I was a presenter at the YA Business of Yoga Conference, as you mentioned. I plan to do more of that kind of public speaking.

EL: Is your teacher training a 200 hour program or is it focused on teaching teachers to work one-on-one?

FC: It is a 25-hour TT called The Science of the Private Lesson. It is geared towards teachers who already have a 200-hour training and at least a little bit of teaching experience.

EL: You teach that in DC and New York?

FC: Yes! And lots of other places as well.

EL: What anatomy training would you recommend? I know it’s tough to find accessible books.

FC: My anatomy teacher Jason Ray Brown is based in NYC, but his anatomy programs are offered online as well. It is by far the most thorough musculo-skeletal course, and is geared directly to yoga teachers. It is fantastic. I recommend it to everyone.

EL: How did you start teaching teachers?

FC: For years I had teachers {my own teachers, much more experienced teachers}, asking me how I had so many private clients. They sometimes insinuated that I knew some business or marketing trick that they didn’t.

I blew the question off for years because I didn’t really know the answer. I knew it wasn’t because I was some advertising wiz though, because I knew nothing about marketing, how to run a business, or advertising. I barely had a website. In the last year I have invested a lot of time and money into my own business education, and so now I have a lot of ideas and opinions about authentic branding, mindful marketing, and running a thriving business, but that is not how I initially grew my business.

When I consistently had so many of my favorite teachers asking for my private client secrets, I realized I really must be doing something quite different in my private sessions. Then a very dear friend (and literally one of the most skillful yoga teachers I know) confessed that he hated teaching private clients. He said he could never decide what to do next, he couldn’t tell if the student was enjoying it…he was always sweating. This baffled me because he gives the most incredible hands on adjustments, is so skillfully able to interweave dharma and asana, and he a brilliant and beloved teacher.

Teaching private clients successfully does require a completely different skill set. I decided that a lot of yoga teachers could be working one-on-one with much more success if someone just taught them those skills.

EL: And so that is what your program does?

FC: So I sat down to write a little training on the subject. I intended for it to be a three hour workshop so I could bring it into yoga TTs around the country, but by the time I was finished writing the curriculum it was a full 25 hour teacher training. It is a blast to teach.

EL: And teachers can apply this to their CEU’s for the Yoga Alliance?

FC: Yes!


Francesca Cervero has been a full time private yoga teacher in New York City and Washington, DC since 2005. The foundation of her teaching practice comes from OM Yoga Center’s style of alignment based vinyasa. Her teaching is also inspired by the years she spent as a dancer, the subsequent years she spent in physical therapy, and a deep study of anatomy. She has a thriving business teaching 25 private clients a week and a full practice teaching and mentoring yoga teachers in The Science of the Private Lesson. You can connect with Francesca on her website at francescacervero.com, on Facebook at Francesca Cervero Yoga + Wellness, on Twitter at FCerveroYoga, and on Instagram.


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