I am incredibly lucky to have a thriving private yoga practice. I get to work with brilliant and interesting people everyday, and I don’t have to hustle for clients or worry about how my bills will get paid.
But it wasn’t always this way…
In yoga teacher trainings you will be told that one way to make a living as a yoga teacher is to teach private clients. And your teachers will leave it at that. They don’t tell you where to find these mysterious people who can afford a private teacher. And they don’t tell you what to do when you do find them. After some frustrating attempts at private teaching, you might arrive at the conclusion that teaching private clients is too stressful and there isn’t enough payoff.
I know how uncomfortable it feels to sit in front of a new client for the first time. You are a stranger in their home, and yet it is your job to take care of them.
The client could feel uneasy because an outsider is stepping into their home, with all its truths (messy, loud, empty, lonely) exposed. A private client might feel awkward having a new person see their feet, their crazy dogs, and grumpy husband within the first five minutes of meeting.
Teaching a private yoga client, in their most personal space, is instantly intimate. It exposes them and it makes you, the teacher, vulnerable as well. The clients are looking to you for guidance and expertise. It is your job to help them feel at ease in what they perceive as their weak/tight/fat/skinny body. It is your job to teach them to be compassionate towards their slow/hyper/angry/sad mind. They need you to make them feel comfortable in this awkward situation, and ultimately, create a place for healing and growth.
How in the world are you supposed to do that? How are you supposed to Calm Down after dealing with crazy drivers on the road or a rush-hour-packed subway ride? How are you supposed to Re-focus after their dog attacked you at the front door? How are you supposed to Start Over when their assistant came barreling into your first conversation needing a decision made on a massive work crisis?
And now you are supposed to teach them yoga?? Nothing in your teacher training taught you how to do this.
It’s possible your new client has never set foot in a yoga studio. If so, you will not connect with them if you teach them the same way you would teach a group class. Some clients desperately need the dharma, but cannot sit still for the dharma talk. The sound of chanting Om might have them running for the hills. They need the quieting energy of forward bends, but literally cannot make a forward bend shape with their body. They REALLY want to do a headstand, but aren’t yet capable of holding their body weight in a plank pose.
Yoga teacher training (even 500 hours worth) never covered these situations.
In yoga teacher training you learned about the basics of anatomy and asana alignment. You learned how to meditate and how to teach meditation to students. You discussed the Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. Your teachers taught you to beautifully weave dharma throughout the asana practice and relate your peak pose to the sutra you started class with. You may have even learned about modifications for injuries and therapeutics. But nothing prepared you for this.
I hear you. I have been there.
Like many of us, early in my yoga teaching career I taught group classes all over the city. I worked at gyms, yoga studios, corporate offices, and had one private client. My day started at 7am and I was on the subway 9 different times until my last class at 8pm. I was running all over New York City. While I loved my work, I was totally exhausted and burnout was coming quickly. Then something changed; the private client I was working with began to see and feel meaningful changes in her life. She recommended me to her community, and things started developing quickly. Read the rest of that story here!
At this point in my career I am teaching fewer classes, but making more money. I am reaching fewer students, but affecting and supporting change on a deeper level. Students always show up with new problems, projects, goals, and ideas. It keeps my teaching fresh and my days exciting. Running my business feels manageable, with systems and procedures to keep billing and scheduling stress free for both myself and my clients.
Having a successful private practice is not impossible, it just requires a different skill set than teaching group classes. Right now, there is a deficiency in current training programs which leaves teachers without the expertise needed to help them form successful and productive teaching relationships with their private students.
Teachers must learn how to be grounded enough for themselves and the client in their most vulnerable space. To build trust with a client, teachers have to look at a person and quickly, intuitively assess what kind of practice they need. A teacher must know how to create a practice on the spot, one that supports and challenges clients, on both physical and emotional levels.
The ability to meet a student where they are, and hold space for them on their journey, is the most important skill a private yoga teacher can posses.
Now I want to hear from you! What have you found most challenging about teaching private clients? In the teacher training programs you have taken, have any of your teachers discussed The Science of the Private Lesson?