If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, then you know how delicious it can be when the instructor comes over to your mat with a nice, juicy assist. It could be as simple as two fingertips placed at the base of the spine to encourage elongation, or it could be a more pronounced, yet totally precise press onto the shoulder blade that signals an opening in the correct spot.
Sometimes, if lucky — I’ll receive this kind of attention a few times in class, and it always adds a boost to my practice. So I can only imagine how fab it would feel to experience this in longer bouts…which is exactly what happens with a private yoga instructor.
I reached out to Fiona Devaney who I met way back when I was in my teacher training. Fiona was already an instructor at the time, and I remember loving her Sunday evening class. She now teaches privately (and has been for about 10 years) so I asked her to share some insights onto the subject.
EL: What do you enjoy most about being a private yoga instructor?
FD: The number one thing is getting to know really great people on a really deep level. What is going on in our lives off the yoga mat has a huge impact on our physical bodies, so knowing people well allows me to be a more effective teacher.
EL: Do you teach any group classes these days?
FD: No, I don’t. I enjoy the precision of working with one person, of noting their strengths and weaknesses and developing a practice specifically for that individual. I like being able to stop and break things down as many times as necessary without worrying that the rest of the class might get bored or impatient. That said, I loved teaching group classes. I loved having friends come and I loved meeting new people.
EL: How does it work with private classes? Do you go to their home? Do they come to you?
FD: I have had students come to my apartment but right now I am going to people’s homes and offices.
EL: Who are your students?
FD: My students range from absolute beginners to people who have been practicing for many years. My youngest student was a 10 year old girl and my oldest is a 76 year old woman. The rest fall everywhere in between. They work in a variety of fields. I have no typical yoga student. A yoga practice can be adapted to suit anyone and everyone, no matter their age, lifestyle or physical capabilities.
EL: What benefit do you see firsthand (from your work with regular students) in having a regular yoga practice?
FD: It helps people to slow down and to pay more attention to themselves. In slowing down, people can be less reactive in their everyday lives which results in less stressful lives. That said, there will always be stress in life, and a regular yoga practice gives them the time and space to de-stress and unwind.
On a physical level, people build strength and muscle. They become more supple and flexible. Their posture improves and their energy levels rise.
EL: Who would benefit most from private yoga classes?
FD: I think private yoga is most beneficial to people who otherwise just wouldn’t go.
People who would feel uncomfortable in a public class is one group that comes to mind. A few privates can make people comfortable enough to brave their first group class.
People with physical restrictions that make it hard for them to keep up in a public class would also benefit from privates. In a private yoga class the teacher can give you modifications based on your abilities and can break things down as many times as necessary. It’s just not possible to give (or get) that level of personal attention in a group class.
Private classes are also great for people with really tight schedules. When you’re busy and taking a class (plus travel time) means 2-3 hours out of your day, it gets really easy to rationalize not going. Not having to travel saves a ton of time. You can schedule your private classes around the rest of your life. Having a regularly scheduled private practice makes it harder to skip a week here and there.
EL: What is a typical class (that you teach) like? Is there a structure or yogic principle / teaching you regularly rely on?
FD: I rely on the concept that in order to change anything (physically or mentally) you first need space. Once you have space you can get clarity. Once you have clarity you can change. So my approach to a physical practice is to first make space in the body by stretching, then to find clarity by realigning the body and then to strengthen the body while it is in proper alignment.
EL: What do you do for your own yoga practice?
FD: I love to take other people’s classes so I can just follow and not plan. I also practice at home, sometimes for a full hour and a half, other times it’s just a 15 minute stretch session.
EL: As a teacher, how do you know if it’s the right fit between you and your student?
FD: If a student is willing to show up and wants to learn then I can figure out how to work with them. The only deal breaker I can think of is someone who’s consistently rude.
EL: What is your recommendation for someone who wants to take private yoga classes, how would they get started?
FD: Try out different teachers by taking their group classes. Talk to them after class to see if they also teach privates. If you want a private teacher precisely because you don’t want to take a group class, then ask around and get a recommendation from friends or colleagues. Yoga has become so popular that you’re bound to know someone who has a teacher that they absolutely love. As a last resort, you can always google yoga teachers in your area. Take one class with a few different teachers and see who you connect with.
Thank you, Fiona!
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