Yoga first developed more than 5,000 years ago, in India. Historically many students worked not in large classes but one-on-one with their teacher, learning both the physical and the philosophical aspects of their discipline.
Today, working one-on-one with yoga instructors is a type of wellness training that follows in that tradition. Are these sessions—commonly called “privates”—similar to personal training? Are clients seeking personalized results through a more mindful approach, in a quieter environment? Or are students hungry for more specialized knowledge of yoga—and finding it in dedicated yoga training sessions with a veteran teacher?
While there may not be scientific data to go on, I interviewed various instructors—five veterans and one newbie—for their perspectives.
According to several veteran yoga instructors who have been teaching private sessions for as long as they have taught yoga, some one-on-one clients train long term and plan to continue; a percentage train for 3–7 years; and a handful train short-term (3–6 months), to work on a specific goal or injury. Wherever they fall on the continuum, many clients find that although they start working with one goal in mind, they embark on a journey into other areas of their lives through the work of yoga.
Green Bay, Wisconsin, resident Regan Kust, 500-RYT and an AFAA-certified personal trainer, commonly sees a shift in goals with her long-term clients. One client began training over 4 years ago as a personal training client (primarily weight training), then shifted to yoga sessions with the goal of gaining flexibility to improve his golf performance. After a serious skiing accident, he came back to his yoga sessions with the new goals of recovering from injury, improving joint stability and gaining overall life balance. Throughout his experience, Kust says, her client experienced a shift of focus from “extreme drive and performance” to a more mindful approach to activity and “appreciation for paying attention to what is possible today.”
Suzette O’Byrne, E-RYT 500 and an ACE-certified personal trainer, who is based in Calgary, Alberta, specializes in yoga therapy, so many of her clients initially begin training to work through an injury or to prepare for an event, wanting to avoid injury. Because they can be in significant physical pain and emotional stress, O’Byrne integrates yoga nidra (for meditation) and relaxation techniques into her sessions.
Both O’Byrne and Kust have a general plan when they start a session, but both say they always adjust for the client’s needs that day, taking into account his or her energetic, physical and emotional states and letting the session flow in a way that promotes healing as well as strength, flexibility and stability gains.
O’Byrne notes that when she is training in a fitness facility, with noise and distraction, sessions become much more movement-based; but in her yoga studio or in home settings, she is better able to use the quieter, more healing aspects of the practice. By combining pain management techniques with corrective posture work, O’Byrne has not only helped clients; she has also developed a network referral system that includes physiotherapists and chiropractors.
Some clients seek private instruction to prepare for group classes or to improve on a pose or sequence they are struggling with in their practice.
In Louisville Kentucky, Lauren Eirk, MS, E-RYT 500, and a certified personal trainer, finds that many short-term students are looking for personal attention in order to feel comfortable when they join a class. Kathleen Kelly, E-RYT 500, another Green Bay instructor, agrees, adding that students may also want to master a certain movement or learn a routine to work on at home. Like Kust, Kelly sees goals fluctuate a lot when clients train with her over the long term.
Some clients choose private sessions for the specialized attention; for others, privates simply feel safer or more appropriate. Allison Doyle, RYT-candidate and an ACE-certified personal trainer in San Diego, has been teaching for just a year, but she had private clients immediately—even before teaching regular classes. Most of her clients are over 50 years of age and are working through injuries, chronic pain or physical limitations. Even as a relative newcomer, Doyle recognizes the need to adjust each session to the client’s physical and emotional state. Although she has a personal training background, she primarily sticks to yoga movement in her private sessions, using props as needed. (The most common props used by those interviewed are yoga blocks, straps, bolsters and blankets.) She commonly adds restorative postures to her sessions, a testament to her understanding of clients’ energy levels and the need to balance work with relaxation.
For more information, please see “Going Solo With Yoga” in the online IDEA Library or in the November–December 2016 print edition of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.