The Support/Challenge Matrix of Private Lessons

A Framework to Make Teaching Private Lessons Easier…

One thing to know about me: I try to stay away from prescriptive teaching or advice, especially from afar. There is no set of guidelines that will always work with every student because there is no such thing as a black and white rule of law when it comes to teaching yoga.

That said: I hear all the time from teachers who are overwhelmed with all the possibility that comes in teaching yoga 1×1 and I want to help you drop into your intuition in a more grounded way.

Simple But Specific…

I’ve created a framework to use as you assess your students and figure out what they need. These are not diagnostics tools, because as yoga teachers it is outside of our scope of practice to diagnose or treat our students, but it most certainly is within the scope of our practice to teach a individualized practice that helps our students come into balance.

I advocate for a style of teaching that is quite simple. Teaching simple poses, sequences and themes leaves space for you to teach sessions that are also specifically useful on many levels for your student. If you’re not worried about fancy sequencing, you can make sure the Warrior One your student is doing is actually interesting and useful for their body, heart and mind.

So without further ado…
–The Support/Challenge Matrix of Private Lessons::

As the initial setup and check-in is taking place for your private lesson, make sure to turn on your intuitive brain and listen closely for the answers to these questions:

  • What is going on with this person emotionally?
  • What is going on with this person physically?  
  • Given that, how can I support them?  
  • How can I challenge them?

Every session that you teach will include these four elements:  Physical support, physical challenge, emotional support, and emotional challenge.  

In theory, if your student is relatively healthy {emotionally and physically}, each session would be comprised of equal parts of each of these four elements. It it quite likely however that this will not be the case. Some sessions I teach are 90% about physical challenge, with just small touches of the other three elements. Other sessions I teach are mostly comprised of emotional support, with only small bits of the other elements.

Another way to ask yourself these questions:

  • Given what I’m looking at, how much physical support do they need?  
  • How much physical challenge are they open to?  
  • How much emotional support do they need?  
  • How much emotional challenge are they open to?  

Physical Support

Physical support includes practices and poses to help them feel better in their bodies.


  • shoulder mobility work for a stiff neck
  • supported backbends for relief from too much sitting
  • side bends and chest openers to help them breathe more deeply
  • quad releasing to help with knee pain

Physical Challenge

In physical challenge, you are asking your students to do something that is physically uncomfortable for them, but that you believe has some benefit. This is often a practice that will help them build strength or shift an old movement pattern.


  • strength building poses like plank, forearm plank, standing poses
  • asking them to hold strength building poses for longer than is comfortable
  • mobility increasing poses if they are quite limited {making sure to teach them not to push too hard…}
  • asking them to move quickly if they prefer moving slowly
  • asking them to move slowly if they prefer to move quickly

Emotional Support

Giving your students emotional support means they feel taken care of. They feel seen, heard, accepted, and they are able to let their guard down.


  • this does not mean chatting and “venting” for 20 minutes of a 60 minute session
  • this does mean:
    • being warm and friendly
    • being encouraging
    • being present
    • watching them
    • being attentive
  • This also means making on the spot adjustments.
    • For example: You might say to your student… “wait, I think that this isn’t having the effect I had hoped.  Is this making you feel more stressed out?  Let’s do something different.”

Emotional Challenge

Giving your students an emotional challenge means you are asking them to do something that’s emotionally uncomfortable for them.


  • holding poses for longer than is comfortable
  • going upside down when they are physically ready, but afraid
  • savasana
  • meditation
  • or any quiet practice that is challenging for them
  • getting to know and make friends with their own body

A note::

There are many poses and practices that will crossover between physical challenge and emotional challenge. One of those two will be the predominate challenge, and I want you to try to figure out which it is. Ask yourself, “Is holding this pose hard for them because they are physically not strong enough, or is it hard for them because they don’t think they can do it, and are afraid of failure? Both are valid, and you will be best able to support them if you understand why what you are asking them to do is challenging.

Another note::

Offering your student a practice that is emotionally challenging requires a VERY trusting and good relationship between you and your student. It can take YEARS for your relationship to be ready to ask your student to do something that is emotionally uncomfortable for them.

Here it is again, in table form, if that visual helps you:

So now you have the four categories I use to create sessions that, while simple to the outside observer, are also specially designed to help my student find a more integrated sense of balance.

Does this all make sense? What questions does this bring up?


2 Responses to “The Support/Challenge Matrix of Private Lessons”

  1. Armanda

    I get the physical challenge and am comfortable working in that realm with my students….I’m feeling the emotional challenge may be something that I hold a space for the student to explore rather than ask them to do… I love your Blog and I relate to your Yoga philosophy! I hope to be able to take a workshop or an on-line mini series with you soon…There is so much depth and wisdom to your gentle and authentic energy…Thank You for sharing!!!

    • Francesca Cervero

      Thanks so much for being here and sharing your thoughts Armanda! I would love to have you study with me in person too! And yes– bringing in the emotional challenge piece is not right for every student or even for every teacher. When it works though, it is super powerful, so that’s why I mention in this blog…just to plant the seed for you to think about! XOXO


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)