Complicated Situations Your Yoga Teacher Training Left You Totally Unprepared For

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?

11 Responses to “Complicated Situations Your Yoga Teacher Training Left You Totally Unprepared For”

  1. Takeyah ¦

    I’m SO with you on this post, Francesca. I teach private clients and at special events. My YTTs have provided me with so many tools, resources, + gifts. However, teaching privately has required skills that I bring from my other world(s) as a health coach (listening), educator (differentiation), + engineer (logistics). I am still learning more as I grow my private teaching practice.

    • Francesca Cervero

      Thanks so much for these great thoughts Takeyah! It is so true, I always tell the teachers in my training– the more places and resources you have to pull from the deeper your teaching will be. I always encourage them to use everything they have and have learned, from all different areas of their life. It makes for such a strong teacher 🙂

  2. Tina Lear

    The most challenging part of teaching private clients is my own mind. I have two students who are my neighbors. They are both complete beginners, which works fine for me. Am very careful with aligning them properly and helping them just soften and breathe. But I’m concerned about how much I don’t know. I’ve only got a little way to go before completing my 500-hour certification. I’m taking Amy Matthews’ Embodied Anatomy, Kinesiology and Physiology course, and loving it. But the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. So now I’m a little worried about my lack of knowledge working its way into a class and steering a student in the wrong direction.

    • Francesca Cervero

      You are so not alone in those feelings Tina. It is true, as teachers we will always be students first. There is so much to learn, and so many brilliant teachers to learn from. That said, you already have some fantastic training under your belt, and much to offer as a teacher, I am sure. I am so thrilled to have you in my training coming up in a few weeks, because one of the things we talk about a lot is why and how to trust our intuition. <3

  3. Jamie

    At first I felt like I had to do so much crazy marketing to get lots of “likes” and “followers” so that I could grow attendance in my classes. Then I realized I would rather have that deep connection you talk about than teach a room full of people and try to accommodate all of them- which is near impossible to begin with! For now I’m having trouble understanding how to charge my private clients. Do I request credit card information before we meet and keep a 24 hour cancellation policy? Or would that throw people off because they are weary about giving out that information at first. Do I request payment at the beginning of our sessions or after? How/when/where is the best way to receive payment?

    • Francesca Cervero

      I know, all that nuts and bolts business stuff can be so tricky! We could go into a big, long conversation about it (and we will in my upcoming TT! Will you be joining us?). So here I will just say this: I think it is best to keep the teaching space and money space separate. I invoice clients once a month for their previous sessions, and take check and credit card as payment. For a first session I would make sure they know about the 24 hour cancellation policy, and then talk about how and when you would like to receive payment after they have had their first session. How does that land with you?

      • Jamie

        So when people agree to take privates, the minimum package you offer is what exactly? Can people just take one class from you? What if they say they want 6 classes, but then reschedule one of the classes 3 weeks in and two more weeks go by and they haven’t rescheduled? As a young teacher with very little financial flexibility, I think other people would also be interested in this topic because we need all the help we can get when it comes to paying bills on time! I feel like I’m in the chasm in between living paycheck to paycheck for group classes and adjusting to more private clients for more monetary abundance. Once I have transitioned fully I think I could wait month to month and trust my clients to pay and not be affected if anything changes, but for the first part I need that money to put gas in the car and pay my cell phone bill etc.

      • Francesca Cervero

        These are all really great questions Jamie! Thanks so much for being an active member of our community! There is a lot to dig into here, so what I think I would like to do is write a blog post about it. I want to be able to fully answer your questions. I’ll have it posted by the end of next week, okay? Are there any other money or business related questions you would like for me to tackle in this next post?

  4. Jamie

    Yes! How do you deal with vacations/life changes? Is it okay and how do you tell your clients that you’ll be going out of town for a couple weeks? I would rather have 5 clients that stick with me twice a week all year than have people that work with me for 6 weeks at a time and then move on, I know you’ve addressed this before but how do you keep them coming back? Do you ever offer something like a 6 month package?

  5. Diane

    A real doozy here. Just received an email from a student who divulges that they are attracted to me and feel they have a deeper connection to me. I teach them a restorative yoga class in a small group and thought I had created boundaries and treat each student with compassion, love and support. As you know restoratives can be completely healing but also open to emotions unfolding – vulnerability. Any advice for responding which I think must be done ASAP. Shanti.

    • Francesca Cervero

      Yeeps. This is quite a doozy Diane. Thanks so much for brining this important topic to our community. I would like to write a full blog post about this if that’s okay with you, because I think many people here would benefit from this conversation. In the meantime, I will say this: I think you can email back and tell them you appreciate their honesty and vulnerability, but you do not return their feelings and a relationship between student and teacher outside of the yoga studio does not feel appropriate to you. If you feel comfortable with them continuing to come to your class, you should say that and make them feel welcome. If you don’t, I wouldn’t say anything either way about them returning to class, and wait and see how they respond to your email. It is likely they will be embarrassed and not return if you don’t invite them to. That might be appropriate anyway, depending on the depth of the situation. Just continue to hold the professional boundaries as I’m sure you are, and stay grounded in you seat as teacher. Sending love to you my dear.


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