How do one to one yoga sessions differ from group classes?

One to one/ couples yoga session. London
Crow pose/ Bakasana with my first one to one yoga clients.

I love teaching  yoga one to one, one to two, and in small groups, because it allows me to tune into their individual needs — in any given moment. This is how I practise yoga at home, and how I love to teach.

Tuning into the moment, adapting, and practising equanimity

At the start of my teaching, I did used to create quite set plans for my one to one yoga sessions and then have to abandon them. For example, I might have created an uplifting/ energising sequence, only to get to my client’s home and find that they’d had an exhausting day at work and had barely slept the night before. They might then ask me there and then — maybe several minutes before we start, if the session could focus more on meditation and go at a slower pace.

In many ways, I love this, because it allows me to think on my feet and create something that’s tailored to that client in the moment. It feels authentic.

Perhaps some people will disagree with this way of teaching, but for me, the way I teach, is similar to how I practise yoga at home. My intention is always to feel at home in my body and mind, and to practise equanimity.

In many ways Vipassana meditation has shaped my yoga practice and the way I teach. Equanimity in the context of vipassana meditation means observing without judgement — allowing yourself to feel and observe whatever emotions, thoughts or sensations arise without trying to change, judge or stop them. This has been a big inspiration to the way I teach people one to one, and allows people to stay true to themselves. 

If you’re interested in Vipassana meditation, you can read more about my experience here:

Vipassana meditation: my 10 days in a silent retreat

Observing how different style of yoga make me feel

I did have periods of my life where I had a self practice that remained the same each day. For example, both Sivananda and Ashtanga Vinyasa (primary and secondary series) are set sequences — at least they were traditionally.

As my self practice developed, however, I started to mix and match and look at how different styles of yoga really felt for me. For example, Sivananda yoga  — which includes lots of inversions and holding poses for longer periods of time — always made me feel so light. Ashtanga Vinyasa Mysore style felt like fire when I started. The energy it gave me was indescribable.

Similarly, certain asanas individually have made me feel a whole host of emotions, when I’ve explored them through meditation. Deep backbends have sometimes made me cry. Anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing) just takes me right back to a soothing place of balance. Inversions held for long periods of time, make me feel so so light and at peace in my body. Placing seated forward fold (paschimottanasana) near to the end of a sequence feels humbling. There’s a reason why many Sivananda teachers call this pose the position of surrender, and when sequenced near to the end and held for several minutes, it can just take you right back into yourself and create this feeling of coming home. 

I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea. Of course, everyone will experience yoga completely differently, but I think this kind of exploration is really important, and when I teach, I try to show people how adaptable yoga can be, and encourage people to find what feels right for them — often introducing several different ways of exploring the same asana. 

For this reason, I don’t advocate any one style and I am a massive fan of exploring both movement and stillness. I love fast flowing dance like movement, holding asanas for longer, and exploring the poses more meditatively. I might sometimes focus on working specific parts of my body or break asanas down and focus on say arm balances, but most of the time, I like to move my whole body in every plane of movement — exploring both dynamic movement and stillness. It’s the balance of yin/yang, loud/ quiet, hot/cold, serious/playful etc, that I love.

The yoga sequencing skeletons/ structures I work from

Just because I don’t create strict plans prior to teaching one to one sessions, doesn’t mean I don’t work from a plan. After the initial taster session with anyone I teach and reading their health form, I’m then influenced by three main skeletons, which allows me to draw a lot from my own personal experience as Sivananda and Ashtanga Vinyasa are styles I’ve practised a lot.

  1. Sivananda yoga structure
  2. Ashtanga Vinyasa primary series structure
  3. The traditional bell curve structure of sequencing

More often than not, I’ll work from the traditional bell curve structure, which can then be changed so many times depending on the kind of mood I want to create. It also means (hopefully), I won’t feel stumped if someone says they want to focus specifically on arm strength, heart opening, headstand prep, overall relaxation etc. Using a basic structure, I can then create sequences on the spot which change each time I teach — even if the basic skeleton remains the same. 

It’s not about me

OK — regardless of where I’m teaching, it should never be about me. However, when I’m teaching one to one, I’m extra conscious of this. I don’t turn up head to toe in the latest active wear and then place my mat in front of who I’m teaching and show how bendy I am. In fact, unless the person I’m teaching is a complete beginner I often teach purely using my words and hands on adjustments. I want the focus to be on the person I’m teaching and not me. This is very important. 

My mat — if I use one — is placed next to theirs if I’m working with an individual and the focus is all on them.

I will also mirror a lot — and by this I mean, when demonstrating something, I will demonstrate to the physical ability and perhaps slightly beyond, of the person I’m teaching, because I don’t want people to push themselves unnecessarily or force their bodies. I also want to reinforce the point that yoga is not competitive and there is no end to the practice, in that every pose can continuously be adapted. If, for example, I start a session in the lotus position, some people may be impressed, but it also might make people think they have to sit like this.

Not so much with yoga, but I’ve been to classes before where the teacher has demonstrated pretty advanced moves, which on the one hand has been inspiring and makes me think they know their stuff, but on the other hand, it took the focus away from my learning, And made me think that I’ve got a long way to go. Making people think that they have a long way to go with yoga is not my intention. I want everyone I teach to feel comfortable with wherever they are right now. I want them to feel like they’re coming home as opposed to making them feel they’ve got a long way to go. 

 

Teaching one to one yoga — final thoughts

My intention when I teach is to work with people over a long period of time — hopefully inspiring them to make yoga a regular part of their life, as opposed to hitting goals and then stopping. My main priority is to tune into who I’m teaching and go from there. I then draw from a wide ranging toolbox of yoga and meditation techniques and teach with sensitivity. What works for one person might not for another. I love adapting to each person I teach and encouraging people to find their own journey with yoga. The only exception to this is treating people with specific illnesses  — in which case seeing a yoga therapist might be a better option. 

Overall, I’m a big believer that there are many paths to yoga and meditation and there’s beauty in seeing that there really is no ‘one right way’.

 

What are your thoughts? How have your one to one sessions differed from group classes? And if you’re a teacher, how does your teaching change/ stay the same when you teach one to one? Do you prefer teaching one to one, or teaching a group? Feel free to share your thoughts below.