How and Why Using Personal Language with Your Private Yoga Students Changes Everything

In teaching private yoga sessions, it is of the utmost importance that we are able to hold energetic space in both a strong and loving way.  One way I suggest creating a clear container for our students is by using both direct and personal language.

In our first yoga teacher trainings where we are taught how to teach yoga, we learn how to teach a group class. Teaching a group yoga class can be quite challenging and requires a unique set of skills. If you’re teaching complicated choreography, a really specific set of alignment principles, a big class, or a combination of all of those elements, there is a certain amount of performing that is necessary. “Performing” as you teach a yoga class is not a bad thing, but I am going to call that style of teaching “leading” and I am going to suggest you do something different in a private class. I do not suggest you lead your private students from high above in a distanced teacher’s seat. I want you to be down in the muck with them, teaching your students in a deeply personal way.

I recommend that when you teach private yoga sessions you take a very confident and clear position as the teacher {and person in charge} and that you are clear and direct about what you’re asking for and why.

If you are used to teaching group vinyasa classes, you may be in the habit of saying “If you need to skip this vinyasa, you may take a child’s pose” or “if you want to take this into a deeper variation, that is fine” and then continuing to talk without pausing.  {Please, never, ever say that in a private session again!}

In a private class, this type of instruction should be a conversation, not a blanket statement said out of habit.

We should use clear, direct, and personal language to help hold the yogic space we have created for our students. {Tweet me!}

Why is this important::

When you are clear with your student about what you want them to do, it will make them feel more taken care of.  Also, if you are specific in what you’re asking for, it will be more clear whether or not they understand, or are able to do it.  When you’re specific in your instructions, it helps them wake up to their own experience, which in my opinion is what we’re really doing here. Our most important job is to help our students wake up to the experience of their body and mind, right in the here and now.

Being direct with your student about what you want them to do facilitates a dialogue and this interaction enables you to give them a practice that’s more specific to what they need.  When you talk to your students in a personal way it makes a big difference in the way people interact with you. It’s the small things like this that build the kind of relationship that allows the meaningful change to arise in your student’s bodies, minds, and life. {And therefore, in your private practice, as your students recommend you to all of their friends.}

Let’s have some examples::

Child’s Pose::

As I said before, If you are teaching a vinyasa practice and it is a little bit more steady-paced flow class you might be used to saying,  “If you need to skip the vinyasa and take child’s pose, that is fine” and then continuing to talk. Instead of doing that, say to your private student, “I think you need to rest in Child’s Pose for two breaths, does that sound like a good idea?”.

Your students will either say, “No, I’m fine.”  Which may or may not be true, {we’ll address that in another post}, or they’ll say, “Yes, thank you.”, and they will come down to rest with the knowledge that you are paying attention to them.

Advanced Variation::

Let’s imagine you are teaching extended side angle {parsvokonasana} and your student has been working with their forearm on their thigh. If you think they are ready for the next step, instead of saying, “If you’d like to…put your fingertips on a block”, and then continuing to talk, say “It looks to me like you’re open and strong enough to put your hands down. Are you up for giving that a try?”

This will engage the two of you in a dialogue about the alignment of the pose, what sensations they are experiencing in their body, and the benefits you intend for them to get from the pose.

This will help you create a session that meets their deepest, most personal needs. It is also a much more fun, engaged way to both teach and practice!

Tell me friends, does this make sense? What are some other examples of things that are commonly said in a group class, that you think should be addressed differently in a private session?


11 Responses to “How and Why Using Personal Language with Your Private Yoga Students Changes Everything”

  1. Laura

    Ciao Francesda, thanks for this! It makes total sense and is a good reminder! I am hoping to teach some private lessons in 2015 and will read your blog posts very closely – hugs, Laura F. xoxo

    • Francesca Cervero

      You are so welcome Laura. I can’t wait to watch and support your journey! Ciao. <3

  2. Cora

    Such a great tip! Thanks so much for sharing this. I have been teaching large group class for almost 6 years, and have recently had more private students want to work with me. I have always felt a little off in private sessions – and I can see that sometimes I am speaking to my clients in the ‘leading’ way. It makes so much sense! This is really helpful, I am going to try it this weekend with another brand new private client. Yay!

    • Francesca Cervero

      Oh, fantastic Cora! I am so glad you found this helpful. I love your website and what you are up to in the world. I hope your yoga therapy training is going well! Sending love… X

  3. Lauren

    Posts like this are seriously upping the quality of yoga teaching everywhere. Thank you for your wisdom and generosity in sharing it, Francesca!

    • Francesca Cervero

      Wow, that is so nice of you to say Lauren! I do love that by helping yoga teachers to teach with more awareness and presence I get to have an exponential effect on the way yoga is taught all over the world. Keep doing what you do, it is awesome. 🙂

  4. Rachel

    Clear and direct communication does change everything. Opening up that dialogue in an already intimate setting feels like a vulnerable place, for the teacher and student alike. I’m learning, however, that in a private session it is my JOB to take care of my client. The best way I can do that is to put on my big girl yoga pants and “take a very confident and clear position as the teacher {and person in charge}…”

    • Francesca Cervero

      Yes, girl! You got it! It is super vulnerable work, and it is OUR JOB to process our own vulnerability so we can effectively hold space for our students. XO!

  5. Lisa

    Wow – I love everything about what you said here … it makes such sense! I feel blessed that I have done this instinctually. It is so wonderful to see what I was doing naturally explained so clearly. Thank you!

    • Francesca Cervero

      You are really welcome Lisa! Thanks so much for being a part of our community!

  6. Chandra

    Hi Francesca, great article. You have a way of solidifying concepts that are often simply felt as a teacher. This is one of them, I have been drawn to teaching privately lately , then I discovered you and you’ve really inspired me follow that direction. I enjoy teaching groups but it always felt I was just touching the surface of each individual. I never felt comfortable ‘leading’ the class, so my dialogue was very different now I realise it’s because it belongs to a private session. Tara Stiles calls herself a yoga guide, that title sits better with me than a yoga teacher. Thanks for your guidance x


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