Doing Pilates is a journey. There is hardly a quick fix. Don’t expect to be strong and flexible overnight. However, improvements will come. Some will take longer than others but making progress in Pilates is definitely happening.
Apparently Joseph Pilates didn’t express to his clients whether they made progress or not. He tailored a program what he thought you needed and made his clients follow it. And by ‘just doing it’ they were progressing. Clients didn’t ask if they could do intermediate exercises since levels didn’t exist. If you couldn’t do basic movements you clearly weren’t ready for more complicated work.
The way Joe taught is not how we interact with clients anymore. Different times and different expectations. There is more engagement, encouragement and perhaps also more pampering. Hand-holding or ‘client hovering’ is definitely more common than in the Joe days. He would just leave you to it. You can debate which approach creates more progress. Focussing on yourself and your own workout or only listening to instructions from a teacher who tells you what to do?
'I can do this'
The longer I am teaching I do understand better how Josep was teaching. Not necessarily why since he didn’t share a lot of his own history with his clients. I think progress happens with a clear and precise instruction to start with, followed by the willingness to learn the exercises yourself. Yes, a teacher is there to set you up. Where do the limbs go? How do the springs work? What exercises does this body need? But at some point, the teacher needs to take a step back and let the client feel it themselves.
That moment is crucial in making progress. First of all the fact that you are doing Pilates on your own. You take yourself through a routine or series of exercises: ‘I can do this’. The achievement of controlling the apparatus and moving your body without being told is a big achievement and for a teacher always a moment to be proud of. Secondly, the role of the teacher changes to that of a coach. A coach will challenge you how to do your exercise even better and does not tell you in detail what to do. With a different cue, a guiding hand to find lift or scoop and a change in flow the work of the client goes deeper into the work.
Breakthroughs happen with each client. You think you could never do a certain exercise but then suddenly you can. As teachers we know that happens. You will be able to do that exercise, which seemed difficult at the start, because we give you all the tools you need to accomplish that. Again the balance between setting up first and letting go later. Breakthroughs are not a goal of a Pilates session; they happen because the client makes the right connection.
A connection is like a click you make in both your body and mind: ‘Ah, that is what you mean, now I feel it!’. That connection is dependent on a few factors: concentration, translating verbal or hands-on cues into your body, persistence and obviously good teaching. I can guarantee you that if you find those connections in your body, you will make progress and you will be able to be independent in your Pilates routine.
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Marco Dingemans is a certified Authentic Pilates Education International (APEI) instructor