Paying Overhead or Paying Attention?

December 03, 2012

By: Genevieve Pardoe

Genevieve weighs in on big studio classes versus small group and private lessons

As someone who teaches and practices in both a big studio and semi-private environment, I’m often asked to weigh in on which is better. This question gives me Buddha Belly because it’s such a hot debate right now; but seeing as I’m safely tucked away behind my laptop, I’ll give it a go.

The truth? Teaching forty people is easy. Forty people don’t talk during class or question you and quite frankly, after the first couple minutes they pretty much all blend into a Lulu-clad sea of sweat. Even better, when it’s over they gush about how “strong” the practice was as they offer up an enthusiastic Namaste! They ask me if I’m vegetarian and if I think they should be too. They want to know where my yoga pants came from and what type of mat I recommend. Trust me, teaching a large number of people is easy.

Teaching one or two people? Not so much. One or two people have questions and concerns and issues, oh my! One or two people want to know why you did that, what’s the point, and when will it be over? Sheesh, now I know why you never see a Guru with only one or two followers…

But here’s the thing, one or two people are my favorite type of people because they’re looking for an instructor who knows what the heck they’re talking about. Herein lies the first difference between big studio instructors and those who teach in a small environment…

You got schooled (or did you?)

Those who teach small or private classes generally have a specialized education in some type of physical or emotional therapy. Your average studio yoga instructor, on the other hand, does not. She has completed 200 hours of training and unless she has taken it upon herself, your instructor has no formal education in anatomy, pre / post-natal, specialized populations, illness, disease, depression… the list goes on. It is not even an industry requisite to have basic CPR certification. (This scares me more than a worldwide Kombucha tea shortage!)

You are the weakest link!

If you’ve ever walked into a studio hoping the instructor would focus on hip openers only to spend the entire class on arm balances, you know how frustrating large classes can be. Studio instructors don’t tailor a practice to suit your specific needs. In fact, as a general rule, a studio instructor teaches to the level of the weakest student. While being a great business strategy, it’s a pretty bad benchmark.

Getting lost in the crowd….

Running a studio isn’t cheap. Large classes are necessary to cover the overhead of big yoga and Pilates studios; this can result in lack of attention to individual needs. While that doesn’t bother some students as they’d rather not be called out or share their particular conditions, those who want to see real progression in their practice are often left behind. (In my experience, the smaller the class, the bigger the results.)

Better practice? You bet your asana!

It’s a no brainer. When you’re encouraged and cheered on and pushed just a little bit more, you soar. When you have the freedom to stop a class and ask a question, you learn more. And when you have the space to tease the instructor because she’s being an evil Pilates bully, you have fun. Small classes create the space to accomplish all of these things and more and in my classes we laugh, we cry, and we see real results real fast. Yes, my students cry. Not because they can’t do it, because they never knew they could do it. To  me, that’s better than being a Guru any day.


Genevieve Pardoe came to yoga and natural ways of healing over ten years ago inspired by her own experiences with chronic pain management. Since then she’s visited 27 countries teaching movement, yoga, and Pilates to ages 10 – 65+. She is a certified instructor in both Yoga and Pilates.

Genevieve currently teaches Yoga and Pilates at the Integrative Health Institute in Downtown Toronto. For more information or to join a class, please call 416 260 6038.


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