5 Reasons to Take a Private Yoga Class

The way yoga is taught today couldn’t be further removed from its traditional roots. Back in the day, yoga was handed down from teacher to student usually in one-on-one settings or small individualised groups with common aims. Taught in this way, sequences and practices were highly specialised, safe, logical and custom-made for the individual.

Fast forward today, and teachers have their work cut out for them, with a huge diverse range of levels, physical constraints and injuries presented in each class. It’s become a real, and dare I say, virtually impossible challenge to teach a public yoga class that will cater to all students various and unique needs.

That is why I’m such an advocate for private yoga sessions. Many of us see the logic in investing time and money into additional training to improve our technique and skill, whether its at the gym with a personal trainer or with a coach to improve our tennis game. Why wouldn’t we do the same for yoga, particularly if its something we enjoy and we plan to spend some time doing?

This particularly holds true if you identify with any of the following statements:

You are a beginner…

As a beginner it can be really intimidating to step into a group class. I would encourage every beginner to have a private session first (just as you might have an induction when you start at a gym), if for no other reason than to make you feel a little more relaxed and comfortable.

Good quality one-to-one instruction can also help keep you safe and injury-free by providing personalised modifications to poses so that you get the most benefit and enjoyment out of your practice.

You are injured…

Done mindfully and with awareness, yoga is one of the safest forms of physical movement out there. However, it really pays to see someone for a private if you are injured or working with musculo-skeletal imbalances.

Whilst a yoga teacher/therapist is not able to diagnose or treat injuries, yoga can help restore better movement and function. Certain poses or practices may also be contra-indicated for specific injuries and should be avoided altogether.

An experienced teacher will tell you what to skip in class, what beneficial poses to do instead, and what poses to adapt or modify, creating a practice that will help fast-track you on the path to recovery.

You are an Ashtanga/Flow/Vinyasa junkie…

One of the riskier elements of more dynamic styles of yoga is the repetitive nature of certain movements, and the potential for wear and tear on vulnerable joints such as the knees, shoulders, lower back and wrists.

Many of the injuries I see in yoga come from repeating the same poor alignment habits over and over again. Almost everyone can benefit from a chaturanga (a style of push-up) tune-up, and seasoned practitioners can learn from going back to the basics of alignment in oft-repeated poses such as downdog, updog, warriors and plank.

Even the most skilled sportsmen will continue to work alongside their trainer to develop and refine the basics of their craft, so if you are repeating a lot of the same sorts of movements it’s really important you get these checked by a trained eye.

You are working with a chronic health condition…

With any health condition you will have very specific needs and requirements that are best addressed in a one-on-one setting. A qualified teacher can help create a practice that addresses these needs, keeps you safe and provides you with a logical sense of progression and growth.

We also often forget that yoga has so much more to offer us than just physical postures. There are a huge array of therapeutic practices, such as meditation and breathwork that have been shown to have wonderful healing properties. If you are working with a health condition this is also rich territory to explore and again best suited to the quiet, compassionate space of a one-on-one session.

You are looking to advance/ re-inspire your practice…

I’ve often likened my relationship to yoga practice like any long-term relationship. There are times when the passion is alive and flourishing, and then other times where things feel a little stale and in dire need of spicing up!

I’m a big believer in a steady, long-term sustainable yoga practice and I think this can only happen when you constantly revisit the intentions behind your practice, and look for new sources of inspiration, whether that be exploring a new style of yoga, delving into the philosophical teachings of yoga, or having a list of ‘project poses’ that you’re working on.

Private yoga sessions can be a wonderful place to explore ways in which you can continue to grow your practice, giving you a clearer insight into where you want to go and the steps to get there.

A Morning Mobility Yoga Sequence

A few of my clients have been recently asking for a morning mobility yoga sequence that they can do on a regular basis.

Personally, I try to make some time in the early morning to do some sort of mobility/yoga practice. Sometimes this will mean 10-15 minutes, sometimes a little longer. Either way my days seem to go a little more gracefully and fluidly when I have spent some time connecting to, and taking care of my body, before the demands of the day set in.

I have created a sequence that includes some of my favourite ways to move my body in the morning. Many of these are simple, functional type movements that take care of major places where tension gets stored, namely the shoulders, spine, hips, legs and feet.

This whole morning mobility yoga sequence will take about 20-30 minutes depending on how many repetitions you make of each movement and how long you dwell within each pose. If you have less time feel free to skip some of the movements out, instead choosing the poses that feel most useful or relevant for your body on that particular day.

Here are a few guidelines for getting the most out of your practice:

  • Be kind and respectful of your body

As we get more tuned into our unique body experience, we start to see how the body is constantly evolving and changing. Your mobility, energy-levels, balance, co-ordination and strength will vary day-to-day based on a whole number of factors, including what kind of acitvities you did the day before, how well hydrated your tissues are, the quality of your sleep and even what kind of mood you’re in. Be kind and respectful of where you’re starting your practice from.

It’s also worth noting that your body is probably at it stiffest and most inflexible in the morning – therefore be patient, manage your expectations and recognise that this is the not the time to create new personal bests in terms of flexibility!

  • Bring a spirit of playfulness and curiosity to the practice

I prefer a more fluid and dynamic practice in the morning – I will rarely hold stretches statically but instead use this time to explore the full range of motion in my joints, moving gently in and out of stretches.

The spirit of this practice is exploratory and I invite you to bring a sense of playfulness and curiosity to the movements. Don’t be fixed or rigid but allow yourself to take the visual template of each movement or pose and then feel free to explore in and around that position, finding angles and ranges of motion that feel useful, interesting and opening for your body.

It’s fine to explore non-traditional alignments – the body is capable of moving in a variety of unique and interesting ways, so don’t limit yourself and enjoy yourself!

  • Work with an awareness of your breathing

In yoga, we typically emphasise moving in co-ordination with the breath and this can be a powerful way to quieten the mind, calm the nervous system and reduce the tendency to hold the breath, particularly during difficult or awkward-feeling movements.

However, I am aware that syncing movement to breath can be confusing for beginning students, so my main advise is to just stay tuned in to your breathing and aim for a fluid, regular, gentle, three-dimensional breath. Watch for any restrictions, tension or holding around your breathing. This is why I recommend starting with a minute of deep diaphragmatic breathing. Place your hands on your lower ribs and work to gently expand and soften the bottom of the ribcage front-to-back and side-to-side as you breathe.

You might find it useful to use the inhale breath during parts of the movement that accentuate lifting or lengthening of the spine. The exhalation is useful for movements where we are folding forwards, twisting or using some amount of muscular effort.

Happy practising! 🙂

Credit: Thanks to Tummee.com for their amazing yoga sequence builder

My Top 5 Summer Yoga-Related Reads

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

This is a must-read for anyone who is interested in improving the quality of their life. It is essentially a book about how to create more meaningful experiences by accessing a state of ‘flow’, or complete absorption, with what one is doing in any given moment.

Csikszentmihalyi’s research suggests that our happiest moments in life are those in which we are completely present and immersed in what we are doing. Moments where the demands of the task in front of us are perfectly matched to our capabilities, and all sense of time and self-consciousness recede into the background.

I love this book, because I feel it beautifully encapsulates the experience we try to create when we step onto the yoga mat – the breath, sensations and movements of the body all working to bring us into the immediacy of the moment. Although not a yoga book per se, it is a lovely reminder of how we might bring the yogic qualities of mindfulness, attention and intention into the greater context of our lives.

The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee.

We know that stress is one of the biggest issues when it comes to undermining our physical and mental health. It is an oft-reported fact that up to 80% of doctor’s visits are related to the negative physiological and psychological effects of stress.

Dr Chatterjee has written a wonderfully practical book, packed full of tips about how to reduce your own stress levels. What I find particularly inspiring and encouraging  is his emphasis on the often overlooked but incredibly important emotional side to stress management. How we manage our stress can depend a lot on how strong our levels of social support are, or whether we have a strong sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. These two factors alone can help us us to re-frame potentially stressful events, putting them into better perspective thereby reducing their insidious negative impact.

Ancient Wisdom for Modern Health by Mark Bunn

This is such a lovely, practical, common-sense guide to optimal health and wellbeing. The fact it’s written by an Australian ex-AFL player somehow makes it even more appealing!

Working in the health and wellness sector, I know how easy it is to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information about health. Amidst the noise, I think we often forget that many of the keys to good health are both simple, common-sense and timeless.  He offers simple guidance around the importance of eating real food, getting enough sunlight and fresh air, prioritising rest and finding ways of moving that you enjoy.

Every time I read this I feel like a huge burden is lifted. We already intuitively know the answers to what makes us feel like we’re functioning at our best. We just need to get quiet enough to listen, trust, and ultimately reconnect with what we already know.

Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi

Probably one of my favourite yoga books judging by the amount of underlining and annotations throughout it!

Donna Farhi’s considerable experience and passion shines through every page. This is a yoga book about bringing the wisdom and learnings gained from our yoga practice off the mat and into our lives.

Farhi explores the yamas and niyamas – philosophical tenets that are designed to act as a framework for good living. She also discusses the inevitable ups and downs of any long-term spiritual endeavour like yoga. It’s a beautifully written, honest book that you’ll definitely want to read a few times through.

The Slow Down Diet by Mac David

This is a love letter for anyone who has ever struggled with their weight, food-related issues and/or just sheer confusion about what it means to eat for health and happiness.

This and Marc David’s other great book Nourishing Wisdom is about the yoga of eating well – putting pleasure and mindfulness at the heart of decisions we make about what, how and when to eat. It’s a beautiful, gentle exploration into how we can be kinder and more intuitive towards ourselves in relationship to food.

What I particularly like is the avoidance of any dietary dogma and instead lots of suggestions for developing greater self-confidence in trusting your body and finding out what works for you.