The Joys of Teaching Pilates

If you have never taught anything to a group of strangers before, you are missing out. The things you learn about yourself and how you act and behave under pressure are amazing. Couple that with not really knowing what you’re doing and you have me on my first days teaching Pilates.

Becoming a Pilates Teacher

In 2002, my fiance and I moved to his home town. With just 4 months until our wedding, I decided that joining and gym and working out was a priority. I was excited that they even offered Pilates classes.

If you read my article about my first Pilates class as a student, you know that I was not, in fact, in a Pilates class. That class did, however, motivate me to research Pilates. I learned from books and practiced in my living room. So, when I saw that Pilates was offered at this gym, I was prepared!

I began coming to their Pilates classes and loved them. The exercises resembled those I’d read about and practiced from books. I loved the pace, the explanation, the sequencing, and the very lazy part of me loved that I could get a great workout without even getting up off the floor.

After taking class for two months, they approached me about taking a weekend class to get certified and teach at the gym. I had not realized the depth of Pilates at the time, that it was not something that could be taught over the course of a day and a half workshop. But I really liked Pilates, I liked the idea of having some extra money from teaching, and I was flattered that they singled me out and asked me.

The workshop was very basic. Here’s this exercise; here’s how you do it. There wasn’t discussion of working muscles or sequencing, but it introduced me to some exercises that I had not seen in books before, so I was thankful for the information.

Teaching My First Pilates Class

teaching Pilates mat classOnce I was “certified,” I was on the schedule to teach. Like a good student, I can remember coming up with plans for class. I remember worrying so much about making everything perfect that I would be upset if I didn’t stick exactly to my outline. In my extensive planning, I was sure certain sequences would elevate the class to the next level, giving the students an amazing experience. It was ridiculous.

That piece of paper was planted by my mat and, for my first class, my eyes probably only came off the paper half of the time I was teaching. I was nervous! And, for some reason, whenever I made eye contact with anyone, I would completely lose my train of thought. So I fixed that problem by looking at my paper more.

After the first couple of classes, I started to loosen up. I could make eye contact and keep my train of thought. It was amazing! Sure, I still looked at my paper to help stay on track, but it wasn’t a crutch like in the beginning.

I noticed that most of the people who came to my class responded better to visual (not verbal) explanation. What I was doing became more important that what I was saying. These people were such visual learners that when we would do spinal rotation exercises, they were hesitant to turn away.

Panic while Teaching

We were on our sides, preparing for a variation of spinal rotation where the top arm circles like the arm of a clock above the head, out to the side, up over the hips, and then back to center. When I teach this exercise, I like to pause when the arms are reaching away from each other to enjoy that stretch.

One day, I was circling my arm and a prong on my engagement ring caught on the carpet. I was so obsessed with having the most perfect Pilates class that panic set in immediately. It’s silly now, but I did not want to let on as to what was going on because I thought it would ruin the class for everyone.

My hand was completely stuck to the carpet. I eliminated the logical idea of lifting up and using my other hand to free my ring. Instead, I cued the students to hold and breathe in to the stretch. I had not thought about it, but as they were breathing, their spines opened, and their heads naturally turned my direction.

I felt like I was immobilized both literally and emotionally. Adrenaline kicked in and somehow, I got myself unhooked. No one noticed, but I was so mortified.

Like a pro, I took a deep breath, got myself together and finished.

What Teaching Taught Me

Teaching is such a valuable opportunity to learn. You learn about yourself, others, and of course, whatever you’re teaching. I have loved teaching Pilates (and now yoga, too) ever since I started in 2002. Here are a couple of valuable lessons I’ve learned.

  1. We can plan as much as we want, but sometimes things pop up and surprise you. Be ready. Somebody will be injured or pregnant or brand new, and you have to know what to do to give them the best (and safest) class possible.
  2. Observe how your students learn and teach accordingly. If they require verbal direction, talk more and do less. If they require a visual, show them what you’re talking about then watch what they do.
  3. Always observe your students.
  4. Get up and walk around the room to observe from all angles.
  5. Do not over-correct. Sometimes, it’s best to let the student develop their mind/body connection by deciding for themselves what feel right.

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What have you learned while teaching? Have you had any horror moments? Comment below.

Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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