Expanding what is possible in the private practice by Cassandra Ferland

ISHTA Yoga / Journal  / Expanding what is possible in the private practice by Cassandra Ferland

Expanding what is possible in the private practice by Cassandra Ferland

Cassandra will be hosting her 20-hour training, The Art and Science of Working with Private Clients at ISHTA April 15 – 17. Below Cassandra discusses her journey to building a thriving roster of privates as well as the nuances of teaching private yoga that there might not be time to cover in 500 hour teacher training.

When people think of yoga what often comes to mind is breathing and stretching in a large group class. This makes sense because the majority of people now practice yoga in this way. It is, therefore, surprising for most that yoga was traditionally taught one on one, teacher to student, with each session created specifically for that student. Since the evolution of every person is unique, what is best for one student might not be appropriate for another. The ISHTA system, which takes its name from the Sanskrit term for “individualized,” endeavors to bring an awareness of the individual to the group environment. Our teachers offer a multitude of options in class and work to help students learn how to choose which option is best suited for them. Still, when it comes to fully tailoring the yoga practice to an individual, one on one sessions, or “privates” as they are known in the business, reign supreme.

There are lots of reasons a student might turn to private yoga. Perhaps the group environment makes them anxious or a recent injury makes the typical asana class problematic. Maybe they want help expanding their practice or they simply find it easier to be consistent when someone comes to them. Or maybe one knows how beneficial the one on one format can be. No matter the circumstances, a student will be best served by a teacher who is willing and able to create a highly individualized practice that shifts and grows as they do.

Ten years ago when I began to teach privates, the first client to come my way was an 86 year old native New Yorker who wanted to be active again for her general health and longevity. She had also heard yoga could reduce chronic stress and help her sleep. My second client was a fit, middle-aged man who had recently had knee surgery. He wanted help recovering his strength and mobility, and to be challenged in a safe way. My third client, an energetic 9-year-old, suffered from anxiety that had recently escalated into panic attacks. Her parents hoped yoga would help her feel more calm and grounded. As these students comprised a very diverse group, each one of their practices (and the way I approached teaching them and interacting with them) needed to be vastly different if I was going to meet their needs.

As a newer teacher, this was quite a challenge. But I continued to study, to expand upon my knowledge and sharpen my teaching skills. I cultivated discernment- both for my students and in my own teaching so that I was constantly growing to better serve my students. Along the way, I began to appreciate the different skill set required to succeed as a private teacher.

First, I had to set aside my ideas of what a yoga session was supposed to look like. For instance, it is not out of the ordinary to come across a student who cannot sit comfortably in a cross-legged position, or someone for whom the Sun Salutation series is inappropriate—both commonly used in group classes. I had to be open to shifting the practice, sometimes dramatically, depending on the circumstances. This meant that while I could plan some aspects of a session ahead of time, I had to learn to think on my feet, filtering through everything I knew to offer exactly what each student needed in a given moment.

Teaching privates requires another skill as well, one that may not come to mind immediately, but that is just as important as a strong knowledge of yoga- the ability to develop interpersonal relationships. It is essential to be able to judge a student’s overall energy, to understand how each student approaches life, and then to build relationships with each of them according to their nature. To truly meet students where they are, you need to “speak their language”, and use it to guide them to a more introspective place. Ultimately, a teacher must earn their student’s trust, as we must at some point lean on this trust if we are to challenge our students in ways that will help them grow. Whether you are helping a timid student safely go upside down in an inversion for the very first time, or helping a yoga skeptic sense the benefits of deeply connecting to their breath, this trust is necessary.

In addition, there is another requirement to consider – the physical “container” of the studio environment, which we have all come to associate with a yoga practice, does not exist when you are in someone’s home or office. Consequently, you need to learn how to create a similar sense of professionalism with some key components: solid business practices, a strong presence and energy to focus and guide your student, and a dialogue with your student that continually models yogic behavior. A good container, built from trust and clear boundaries, allows for a clarity that is essential to the whole yoga experience.

Years ago, as I began to lead ISHTA Teacher Trainings, I marveled at the vast learning curve that teachers must navigate as they work to grow their privates practice. Even 500-Hour trainings, in their comprehensive nature, don’t get the chance to review, in depth, the challenges and nuances of teaching privately. I came across many teachers who shied away from teaching privately. Yet working one on one can be such a rewarding aspect of teaching! Over time, I developed “The Art and Science of Working with Private Clients” to fill in the gap and give teachers the tools to move forward with confidence.

I will be launching my 20 Hour training, “The Art and Science of Working with Privates Clients“, this month at ISHTA. This training is meant to be roadmap, breaking down and demystifying all the major elements of the private practice- sequencing, creating comprehensive first sessions, the common archetypes of yoga students (and specific ways of working with them), pricing, best business practices, and so much more. Teachers will also have the chance to learn and practice hours of hands-on and assisted stretches specifically useful in a private setting so that you come away with a variety of techniques to meet students where they are and inspire meaningful change.