Successful Pilates Teachers

I follow a Twitter feed by Dr. Oz, called Life Advice (TM) (@ozlifeadvice). He tweeted recently about the six habits of successful people. It struck me that his thoughts, while pertinent as always, could very closely relate to what makes a successful Pilates teacher.

  1. Wake Up Early. Oh yes, we all know that in this business of fitness, that we must be available when our clients want to work out. And most of them want to work out either before work or after work. Hence the “wake up early” advice. I’ve done my time with the 6am and 7am clients, as I’m sure most of you have too. As painful as it can be (especially if you’re not a morning person), it goes a long way to building long-lasting relationships with your clients.
  2. Talk Less. Please. Teach with clarity, and don’t over-explain or justify why you’re doing what you’re doing. If a client wants to know, great, let them know. Be succinct and to the point. Especially beware if you have a client that likes to chat. Don’t fall down into that rabbit hole, because it’s a long and sometimes painful climb out. Yes, get to know your client, be interested in their life outside the pilates studio, but don’t turn your pilates session into a therapy session. Sooner or later it will backfire on you. Trust me.
  3. Stay Laser Focused. Pay attention to your client(s). Make them feel special. I always try to turn the tables, and imagine how I would feel if my teacher was looking at their phone, checking the time, chatting to another teacher, or any selection of things other than paying attention to me, during my workout. Bleh. I probably wouldn’t come back. And I would tell other people not to bother going either.
  4. Don’t Waste Time. (see above). Your clients come to you for 55-60 minutes, hopefully at least once a week, maybe twice. If you’re lucky, three times a week. But some can’t even commit to a regular schedule. Maybe they travel frequently, have a busy home life, or other activities that take precedence. So make the most of your time together. Choose meaningful workouts for your client, not just the fun, new stuff you learned at a workshop last weekend. Be thoughtful and compassionate. Teach your clients what THEY need to be doing, not what you want them to do.
  5. Live Healthy. As Pilates teachers, our clients look to us, and want to emulate, the things we do. I wish I had a nickel for every client who asked me “how many times a week do YOU do pilates?” (*gulp*). Take care of yourself, know the work personally in your body that you are asking your clients to do, even at the most basic level. Eat good food. Drink plenty of water. Keep the company of good people. Sleep well.
  6. Ignore Nonsense. Most of today’s nonsense is (sorry to say) rooted in social media. It’s a valuable communication tool, but also a time-sucking demon. Give yourself permission to spend a reasonable amount of time every day, connecting to those that are important to you, and yes, go ahead and watch a silly cat video if it makes you smile, but avoid the dark traps of negativity and resentment. Your soul with thank you.

Strive to be the best you can be, the most successful version of yourself you can be. It’s really simple, and easy, when you get right down to it.

Levelling Up

“Show me your bookshelf, or the courses you take, or the questions you ask, and I’ll have a hint as to how much you care about levelling up.” (Seth Godin)

First of all, if you don’t already follow Seth Godin, go do it now. The man is brilliant, not just about business, and the business of business, but also many other important life issues. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll see plenty of his quotes, I’m an absolute fan.

So what does “Levelling Up” mean? In this context, exactly what he says. Look at the books on your bookshelf. Do they reflect your current interests? Topics that are near and dear to your heart? Do you actually pick them up, read them, refer back to them?

When I finished my comprehensive pilates teacher training, my teacher (a very wise woman) said to our group, “Don’t go home and put your manual on the shelf. You will need it now more than ever. Just because your training is ‘finished’, doesn’t mean that your learning is.” And in the months and years following, teaching real clients, and also on my journey as a teacher trainer, I have used that same quote over and over again. Because it really is true. Even now, for me 15 years later, I am constantly referring back to my manual, and using it as a guideline when questions arise.

To further that thought, what DOES happen after you finish your teacher training? What courses do you take? What conferences do you attend? This is the make-or-break point for most pilates teachers. You teach, day-in and day-out. You get into your little groove, your way of doing things that work for your studio or clientele. You forget things. You get stale, bored, wonder why your clients aren’t making any progress.

The good news is, there is an abundance of information out there to further your education (that’s also the bad news, so buyer beware!). There are online sites with videos from well-respected and creative teachers. There are conferences all over the country. And if you love to travel, there are conferences all over the world. Go to them. Enrich yourself, come back to your students with a refreshed, energized attitude and see what happens.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Specifically “why?”. Not in a judgmental, or threatening way, but in a curious, I-want-to-know-more way. Go to those conferences, but don’t just sit there taking notes. Ask questions of the presenter. Volunteer to be a body on demonstrations. Engage with other participants. Sometimes I think this is where the real learning occurs, when you surround yourself with like-minded individuals, and can learn and share with one another.

This is what it means to level up. It’s really about staying current, staying fresh, continuing your education, and bringing your teaching to it’s best level. I have a good friend, who also happens to be a pilates teacher, and she told me that she tries to spend at least 15 minutes a day either reading a pilates book, watching a pilates video, or checking out what’s new on the pilates Facebook groups she follows. What a fabulous idea! Try it, and see what a powerful impact it can make, not just on your teaching, but on your entire outlook towards your clients and your studio.

Go ahead. Level Up.


Good vs. Perfect

As I watch the Summer Olympics in Rio, I am constantly amazed by the strength, focus and determination exhibited by the athletes – both young and old. They come from all over the world to compete against the best of the best, to earn the Gold. I’ve heard time and again that so-and-so “settled for” Silver or Bronze. And it made me wonder what message this sends to us everyday people, the run-of-the-mill joggers, swimmers, yoga and yes, even pilates practitioners. Are we letting “Perfect” get in the way of “Good”? And is there something wrong with just being “Good”?

In my pilates journeys – as a student, then a teacher, and now a teacher trainer – the one thing that has stuck with me is that pilates is a practice. No matter what path you’re on – it’s an ever-evolving discovery of what your body can (and sometimes can’t) do. I believe in focusing on the good, welcoming the good, encouraging the good. Perfection is over-rated, and often, not ever really “perfect”.

The majority of my clients are, for the most part, striving to be good. Sometimes they struggle. Life gets in the way. Sleep, diet, other exercise play a role in how we feel and what we bring to the pilates workout. Every day is different, and every day I strive to find that one good thing that can be celebrated, instead of all the other not-so-good things that can be picked apart. Yes, it’s important to know what you need to work on, what your homework is. But it shouldn’t overshadow that some (or more!) of what you do is always good.

In the very first pilates teacher training weekends that I teach, I always tell my new group of (very nervous) teachers-to-be, “I don’t expect you to be perfect. I expect you to listen to the feedback you’re given, be safe, and know the order. Make some progress from the first day to the last day.” In other words, just be good. Just do your best, because after all, isn’t that good? Some teachers get so caught up in doing everything down to the letter, and get so worked up into a frenzy over the smallest words/details/phrases, that it takes the enjoyment out of teaching (it also bores and sometimes discourages the students who work with them). We become teachers to share this fabulous method called pilates. The best teachers are good. They know their stuff, they might make a mis-step here or there, but they can recover. They are motivating, enthusiastic, and fun to be around. They’re good.

Allowing yourself to be good can take the pressure off. You know that you’ve given it your best shot. You celebrate the good that is happening today. Maybe tomorrow (who knows?), more good will happen. Maybe not. But who cares? As long as you strive to be good, what else is there? Let go of the idea of perfection and be your best self. Be good.

Stop. Look. Listen.

Running errands the other day, I was in a hurry. Of course (and this never fails), I get behind a slow poke.  Stopping fully at the intersections (what??). Looking right, left, then right again before turning (c’mon, you’re killin’ me!). Slowing down across the one-way bridge (hurry up, I have places to be!). So instead of getting irritated, I took it as a sign. Let’s say, a “STOP” sign. There must be a reason this guy is in front of me, right? Maybe I need to look at my behavior and see what might need to be adjusted.

And then that got me thinking about how this relates to Pilates. And teaching clients. Real bodies, with real issues. Real issues that change from day-to-day, from week-to-week. Injuries, surgeries, even just little miseries that you wake up with from time to time. A head cold, a stomach flu, allergies. Our clients show up, and these are undeniable things that happen. So how do we handle them, in our Pilates realm?

STOP. Okay this could mean many, many things. But the first thing I want it to mean is, “STOP diagnosing.” You are not a doctor, a physical therapist, an osteopath, or any other type of health care professional. You are a Pilates teacher. So now, STOP and look at the body in front of you. What does your client need to do TODAY (sorry for the all caps, but this is important!). Not what do you want them to do, or what you think they should be capable of doing, but what do they NEED to do, in this moment and in this lesson? Maybe you think it should be airplane and standing arm springs and wunda chair. And they come in feeling like crap, full of lethargy, but happy to be there and they just want to move. So you move them. Sensibly, intelligently, safely. Which brings me to the second point.

LOOK. Where is your client today – physically, mentally, emotionally? Like the driver who looks right, then left, then right again before turning. Look at your client from the front, look from the sides, look from the back. See that right shoulder, hiked up to the ear? See that the heels never quite stay together? See how one hip is always a little crooked? Use your eyes, look at the body in front of you, and do what needs to be done within the pilates repertoire. There is plenty to choose from. If you are a good teacher, you will take that extra breath, tell yourself to calm down, not rush, and do what your client needs. Often when we teach many hours, back to back, we stop looking at our clients. Try to treat every client that is in front of you as the very first client of the day. Avoid tuning out, going into auto-pilot. And that brings me to my third point.

LISTEN. No really, Listen. Close your mouth, open your mind, tap into your patience (remember that slowpoke who was crawling over the one-lane bridge?). When your client tells you something feels funny, or even when they tell you something feels awesome, listen to them. Try not to brush it off, make an excuse, or even worse, make something up. Validate your client’s concerns, and where they are physically in their body. It’s simple, just gather information. No need to swap stories or spend ten minutes getting the pinkie toes in “just the right spot”. Let the client move intelligently, listen to what they have to say about their movement experience, and continue to listen. Go back to “LOOK” and treat every client like they are the first one of the day.

Three simple words. Stop. Look. Listen. But powerful and oh-so-important when teaching this fabulous movement method we know as Pilates. Just like the slow driver in front of me, I always marvel that each client I see teaches me something new, gives me a reason to pause, and figure out what it is I can do that will best serve them.