Like so many of my fellow Pilates practitioners, who have experienced the power of Pilates for regaining their own health and fitness following an injury or illness, I am no exception. I don’t know about you, but when I discover something incredible that produces such positive change in my life, my natural instinct is to share it with others who are looking for a solution to their own health issues. After 6 weeks bedridden with mononucleosis (glandular fever) which morphed into chronic fatigue syndrome, I was left battling severe fatigue, poor quality sleep, loss of muscle tone, weight gain and not surprisingly a loss of confidence even years later. At the time, I was principal of my own dance school and needed boundless energy to choreograph dances and teach dance classes to active young children on a daily basis. To maintain this lifestyle my limited energy reserves went into dance teaching and the rest of the time was spent picking up the pieces and searching for ways to regain my health. That’s when I discovered Pilates. I not only regained my health and fitness but developed a completely new level of strength and flexibility that I had never imagined possible.
Judging by the blank or confused reactions I receive when I tell people I teach Pilates it’s still considered a slightly out there, mysterious profession. Most people look a little confronted and are not quite sure what to say next. “Do you mean Yoga?” or “Wonderful!” are fairly standard responses. When I ask them if they know what Pilates is, they usually say unconvincingly that they have heard of it or it’s something celebrities do. Nowadays it’s becoming more widely known, but I definitely wasn’t dreaming of becoming a Pilates practitioner as a child because back then, I hadn’t heard of Pilates either. So why does anyone decide to become a Pilates Instructor?
It’s now almost 18 years since I started Pilates and like most people who have had chronic fatigue syndrome it’s something that is always lurking under the surface. It’s always waiting for you to over-exercise, have a very late night or become highly stressed, only to rear its ugly head and remind you that you have physical limits. Fortunately, one of the many benefits of Pilates is body awareness which has allowed me to become more attuned to my body. I certainly have flare-ups, but on the whole, I’ve become very good at living and exercising effectively within these limits. Pilates is undoubtedly an amazing method of exercise, but it’s also only as good as the person teaching you and guiding you on your Pilates journey. I was extremely blessed to learn from some of the most accomplished and highly-regarded Pilates Practitioners in Australia. I was devouring books on Pilates and attending around 3 hours of studio sessions per week, so it was no surprise as to what was coming next. I wanted to teach Pilates too. So what personal qualities are important in order to become a good Pilates Practitioner?
Pilates practitioners are definitely a particular breed, however, the skills and qualities required to succeed in this profession can be quite diverse. Those that specialise in pre and post natal Pilates require different knowledge and skills to those who rehabilitate injured footballers, yet at the same time, there are many similarities. A fascination with movement and a curiosity about how our bodies move and function are essential, as is the ability to impart this knowledge in a way that rings true for each client. Everyone learns differently and we need to have enough cues, images and descriptions at our fingertips to cater to all learning styles. Empathy and a genuine desire to help people overcome the health issues they are facing, so they can pursue their passions and enjoy life are also paramount. Everyone has individual goals they want to achieve through Pilates and it’s the Pilates practitioners’ role to facilitate this in conjunction with commitment from the client.
My late grandmother, who I was very close to suffered a debilitating stroke when I was 15 which was devastating for her and my whole family. She lost the use of her right arm and the ability to speak. Suddenly, this independent woman who had achieved so much in her life and cared for all us so selflessly was dependent on everyone around her. She had daily homework to complete for rehabilitation and I was determined to do anything I could to help her. I assisted her with speech exercises, learning to write with her left hand, massaging her arm with a machine to try to stimulate the nerves and the list went on and on. Looking back, I wish I’d had my Pilates skills to assist my grandmother but I did the best I could with what I had. I didn’t realise at the time that I was developing the skills of patience, persistence and of course empathy that would be essential for my future career in Pilates.
Having an excellent memory is also highly beneficial in Pilates teaching and this is something I am so grateful to have been blessed with. I honestly believe Pilates has sharpened my mind and improved my memory to a whole new level. I keep all my clients’ exercise programs in my head (there is also a written copy!) So when teaching 3 or 4 people per session who each have individual exercise programs, this keeps the studio running smoothly and saves a lot of time reading the program. Knowing hundreds of different exercises on various machines and the mat and being able to learn new ones quickly also keeps your brain razor sharp. I remember back to the first staff meeting I ever attended at the studio where I first taught. A total of 6 new exercises were demonstrated to us which we were expected to commit to memory, know who they were most suitable for and start teaching them to clients straight away! The other Instructors weren’t at all fazed and headed confidently out of the meeting, but I sat there in disbelief. I had to ask a colleague to run through them with me once more, then practice them myself privately, before I was up to speed.
When I first started teaching Pilates there were times when I thought it was too difficult for me and I would never have the necessary skills I needed. Like anything worthwhile it takes time to become accomplished and teaching Pilates is no exception. I persevered and before long I too could remember new Pilates exercises on the spot and my confidence grew. I starting seeing my clients grow and develop in their Pilates practice and then go on to attain their desired goals. It’s all about the client after all, so just like dance teaching when you make the student or the client the focus that’s when everything comes together. Some of the necessary qualities for Pilates teaching had been already in my possession and others have been developed along the way. So what do Pilates teachers aim to achieve?
Joseph Pilates was wholeheartedly convinced of the enormous benefits of the multi-faceted method of movement he devoted his life to developing.
“I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world should be doing my exercises. They’d be happier”
Maybe he was trying to say politely that world domination was his aim? Why not? The world would certainly be a better place if everyone practiced Pilates. Teaching people to take control of their own bodies and minds through Pilates produces powerful results. Pilates teachers are usually passing on the same incredible life-changing skills and knowledge that was imparted to them so their clients can then in turn experience the same joy. Recently, one of my clients of many years recommended her friend join JS Mind Body Pilates, my online studio. When I thanked her for referring her friend, she said “That’s fine. You have to share the joy”. Yes, we do have a responsibility to “share the joy” which is one of the reasons I launched my online Pilates studio almost 2 years ago now, in addition to my bricks and mortar studio. The more people who have access to high quality, cost-effective, time-efficient Pilates tuition, the better. I may not have been dreaming of becoming a Pilates Practitioner as a child, but my career in Pilates is beyond anything I could have ever have imagined as it combines all the elements of everything that I hold dear. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of something so positive and unique with such far-reaching consequences.