Teaching Pilates for self responsibility


Yesterday as I was checking out a client, Viv and she mentioned that during her last session, an enquiring couple popped in for some information. She felt compelled to offer her story to them and openly shared how Pilates had been the greatest investment in her life and how much she regarded her sessions.

The week before, Viv informed me that she had started swimming laps at the pool and the look of joy in her eyes was so familiar.

It was then that I realised who Viv represented. She is the embodiment of the work we do, the expression of my own journey to living a full life and the wish I have for everyone who walks into our studio.

Viv started with us maybe 6 years ago. For a while she was committed to her practice but after a time she fell off the schedule, as some do. We moved locations and didn’t hear from her until one day, 5 years after her first visit she re-appeared on the schedule. Vivs health circumstances had deteriorated so out of desperation she decided that Pilates was the best option for her.

When Viv first started with us she presented with postural concerns that were exacerbated by her job as a teacher. Pain in the neck and shoulders from work and lifestyle habits are common ailments of the modern World. By the time she restarted with us 5 years later she had been diagnosed with stenosis; the pain was ruling her life and denying her of any joy, often leaving her incapacitated and unable to work.

Fast forward 12 months, Viv is swimming laps at the pool and has progressed from gentle 30 minute one on ones to hour long semi privates two or three times a week. Of course there’s been some bumps along the way but Viv is learning how to manage her condition and the transformation is awesome. So when I think of Viv and her road to self management, one trait stands out.

And while these changes in people are not uncommon for us in the Pilates World, it is not merely the Pilates, nor the expertise of the teachers that promises these changes. The one common trait that sets these people apart from the rest is  is responsibility for self. 

So what is it and what does it mean? The person who is responsible for self is 100% committed to their own health, no matter what.

Often I work with clients who are stuck in a system that is preventing them from moving forwards. They spend their life going from one appointment to the next looking for answers, picking up prescriptions, handing over their power to the very system that seeks to keep them enslaved.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” – William Shakespeare

So when a person truly realises their own power, their own potential, their own outcome; not just to be healthy for a day or a week or a year, I mean to live with health; It no longer becomes the goal; it becomes a way of life, and life in turn becomes a meaningful journey rather than something they have to endure.

A few things become apparent very early on. For one, I notice a change in attitude. People who recognise their responsibility for health are often happier regardless of their position right now. They are no longer tied down by the constraints of victim mentality which can be tiring and suffocating . Self responsible people see a way out; they are committed; they ask questions and they often try new pursuits. They might start walking or swimming or art classes. They are engaged, and they are willing to fail in their quest to move forwards. People with responsibility to self do not make excuses; they have conviction and a reason to keep on track, to keep forging ahead even when they stumble and fall.

So how do we start to have this conversation with our clients when they begin their journey with us so that they don’t come to rely on us and instead grow their own wings?

Here are 3 points I consider when to help develop self responsibility:

  1. Consistency – Be very clear with your newbies. Especially those who are in pain, recovering from injury or working towards surgery. Coming to Pilates once a week is like eating 1 healthy meal a week and expecting to lose weight. If a student won’t commit to at least 2 Pilates classes a week, expect them to be doing their home program every day and or have online classes for them to follow. I have worked with teachers who will make excuses for their students; “Pilates is too expensive to come more than once a week”. My answer – “yes, Pilates is expensive so you decide whether you want to pay the price of Pilates or pay the price of continuing on the path you are on”. I realise that people have a budget so if they only get to one class a week they had best be doing their home work – ultimately the buck stops with them and change will only happen if they are consistent.
  2. Communication – Teach our students to learn to listen to their body. In a World of busy it’s so easy to ignore ourselves. If you are in pain, I can guarantee your body started with a whisper and you did not listen. Your body will communicate with you and eventually, if you continue to ignore the signs, your body will yell and scream and shout; the result can be pain, disease or recurring injury. Listening to your body is about self love and communication with the self is the first step. Teaching our students to listen to those little niggles can help them set up better habits for long term self management.
  3. Education – Now this is where Pilates really stands out. Ultimately we want to set our students free right? As Pilates teachers we have an opportunity to hand back responsibility to our students by educating them. I believe it is up to us as teachers and as an industry to set ourselves apart by empowering our students and helping them to really understand their body through movement. Pilates is not just a bunch of adhoc exercises; it is an intelligent form of movement that requires critical thinking and a deep understanding of human anatomy. Of course gaining knowledge as teachers takes time and the Pilates industry Worldwide has many dedicated mentors sharing their knowledge with the next generation. Imagine a World where we all knew our body intimately enough to take back control. Imagine a World where Pilates was the first choice for health care instead of the last.

Viv knows that movement is for life. She understands that there is no quick fix or short cut to health, there is only lessons and there are choices. I don’t have a crystal ball but I dare say Pilates will always be a part of Vivs life. Not because she relies on it but because she now finds joy in it.

How can you help your students move in the right direction today in a way that is unique to your skills as a Pilates teacher?

Join me in my Facebook group for conversations with Pilates Professionals.

Want to learn more? Join my mailing list HERE and be the first to know