YD Instructor Katie Randall knows her stuff when it comes to yoga therapy: she is earning a Master of Science in Yoga Therapy at Maryland University of Integrative Health and has significant yoga teaching experience. Read her blog post to learn how one-on-one instruction allows her to truly meet students’ individual needs.

For me, teaching yoga has been a journey of discovering how I can be of service in the most authentic way, practicing deep listening within myself, but also through observing and being in community with others. I often remind students in class, although we are all practicing together, we all live in different bodies, and the importance of listening to what our body and essence needs at the time, being present and honoring how we show up to our practice.

I find leading and being a part of group classes can be powerful, healing, energizing and overall gives a sense of connection to our inner-most self, as well as to community. I’ve also discovered over time the incredible benefits one-on-one instruction can have. We all come with different needs, ranging physical abilities and varied experiences in life. To connect with individuals as a teacher and hold space for exactly what their needs are is sometimes limiting within group classes. The reality that at times group classes are not the most beneficial option, or perhaps an individual needs more specified guidance, is important to recognize.

Recently, I had the pleasure of teaching a young man who lives with special needs in a one-on-one private session. Let me start by saying this young person was going to group classes with other young people and loved it. He was highly enthused to be able to practice yoga with his peers, but was challenged with having the physical support to practice safely on his own. I want to share that I worked for 10 years with young people living with special needs, and gained an understanding of the profound nature of their spirit, and their innate ability for living in the essence of who they are. They’ve allowed me to understand the practice of yoga more deeply over the years since truly, at the core of it all, we are all seeking to get to that essence as we sift through all of the challenges of being human.

I was so thrilled at the opportunity to bring yoga to this young man. As soon as we met, I was greeted with his bright spirit and his clear enthusiasm for practicing yoga. His goal was to be able to take group classes again eventually, because he loved the communal aspect of it. There was a disconnect from where he wanted to be in his practice, and where he currently was. As we began the session, we tried a variety of poses so I could begin to understand what would be most beneficial to him, and what we could work on for him to get back to his group classes, since that was his greatest desire. I attempted to bring in his favorite music only to discover that distracted him from being in his body. He wanted to move with the music, so we made a compromise. I brought in some relaxing music to the session. Breathing was one of the main components that helped him begin to connect with his movement. The slow pace of the music helped his attention to slow the breath down. As we began moving, it was a challenge for a while, as many poses that are often experienced as gentle poses were a challenge to him. As the session progressed, I had an “AHA” moment. We discovered that his gait was challenged to keep him stable. Without that essential component in the body, it is very difficult to build onto other postures. We moved into strengthening the essential muscles very slowly, and working on his stability and attention to breath. We began linking breath with movement, having him feel the engagement of muscles that were foreign to him to begin building up to where he can join in group classes confidently, through first having the support of someone working with his individual needs.

This particular session brought such joy to my heart, to share in the practice, and to see the priceless look of recognition on his face as he connected the shifts happening when he connected his breath with movement, and began moving with more stability. He was enthused in discovering how the breath can change everything. Just before we departed, I asked him what the most important part of yoga is, he replied with a grin from ear to ear, “Breathing.” Which in turn, left me grinning from ear to ear as well.

What I’ve understood time and again is that if we don’t take care for the essential parts of our being that need the most attention, we have a greater struggle getting to where we want to be. To meet ourselves where we are with acceptance, and with the guidance of another can be incredibly powerful. Breathing is something many of us take for granted, somewhat having limited knowledge in our understanding of how the breath affects us mentally, emotionally and physically. We also all come with different ways of breathing, so for me, the joy it brings me to teach people the most optimum way to breath to relieve stress, to move more fluidly, to ground and calm, to energize, etc., is a gift.

I’ve been a student of the Maryland University of Integrative Health Master of Science in Yoga Therapy program for the past couple of years. I continue to observe the healing and beneficial nature of not only private yoga sessions, but also in a therapeutic setting working with people living with chronic pain, injury, stress, anxiety, trauma, and other challenges we as humans live with. I walk away from every student and client inspired by the capacity for people to change their current states into healthier lives by teaching components of mindfulness and yoga. I am always humbled and honored to have people share their needs with me, understanding that it’s not always easy and at times can be uncomfortable. One-on-one classes allow me to experience the gift of supporting people with more directed attention, sharing tools that can help get them closer to their desired state of health and well-being.

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