Honoring Your Clients
A professional fitness instructor for the past three or so years, I've recently done some self - evaluation to discover what exactly this means for me. What kind of instructor do I want to be? What message do I want to send to my clients? As a new mom, with a new perspective, I've done some decent digging and figured out a few things about myself as an instructor.
When I first started out as a classical Pilates teacher, I was more focused on calling out the exercises in the correct order. After a few years of teaching group classes, and private sessions, I've seen a lot more bodies. As a woman who has now experienced pregnancy, birth, and everything that comes after that, I've experienced the physical, and emotional, changes that many women share in becoming a mother. I've become more empathetic and aware to physical, emotional, and lifestyle changes a lot of my clients face, and I have made a great effort in reflecting that in my way of teaching.
First and foremost, I like to start my classes with a rundown of what's going on in your own body, reinforcing that exercises you were able to execute perfectly yesterday may be out of reach today, and that is perfectly fine. That listening to your body is more important than trying to put it through exercises and poses it doesn't want to do, and stressing quality over quantity. I lead my clients in a "body scan", encouraging body awareness from head to toe, and urging them to honor where they are in this exact moment. I coach them to push past what they think their limits are, while maintaining respect for injuries, recoveries, and fatigue.
While many people are aware that I lead a double life as a Pilates Instructor and Jazz singer, most people do not know that my degree is in Music Therapy. There is a term in Music Therapy that I believe applies in many aspects of life called the Iso-Principle. This is where you play music to match the current state of your client, and then gradually bring them to where you want them to be. In music, you do this with tempo, rhythmic, and groove changes. In Pilates, I do this through tempo, cueing, and vocal changes. It's really quite a simple approach.
Last week, I was preparing for my evening Pilates Circuit class. It's a class that I created combining elements of Pilates mat, equipment, and barre techniques. I had an entire class planned out in my head, ready to push my clients and go heavy on the cardiovascular exercises. Then, they walked in. It was a semi-private class that night, two women. Right as we were starting, one informed me how she had jacked up her hip while running, the other told me how she almost didn't come because she was so tired. She even went to a class earlier in the week and had to leave half-way through because her body just sort of gave out. I instantly knew that my class would look a lot different than I had predicted. I referred back to my Iso-Principle.
I wanted these women to feel empowered, to feel like they achieved their goal of getting a workout, but I didn't want to push so hard that they felt they couldn't keep up. I started with a light cardio warm up on the Vbarre glide boards, and then headed over to the Tower, one of my favorite pieces of Pilates equipment. I took them through a traditional mat class with a few props and springs, letting them work up a sweat and challenging them in strength, stamina, and stability. Between the cardio warm-up, and the work with the springs, I knew they had their heart rates up and their focus on their bodies. This is when I encouraged them to deepen their practice by listening to their bodies and guiding them through some intense stretches, which, when done precisely, can be quite a workout.
By the end of class, I could tell they were both wiped out. So I ended with a bit of a treat, allowing them to lie on their mats with some yoga bolsters under their knees, as a way of thanking them for not only showing up to class, but for pushing themselves, even when they may not have felt like it. In the end, they both expressed how glad they were to have come and how much better their bodies felt. My girl with the jacked up hip even said her hip felt a lot better. I felt such joy and pride in them, knowing that the hardest part can just be simply showing up, and also knowing that I contributed to their wellness. We spent the last few minutes getting to know each other, and I learned a lot about who my clients are outside of the studio and outside of their jobs. I got to know who they are at their core, and this means the world to me. Not only is establishing a relationship with my clients good in the sense that I might retain them as clients, but more importantly, I gain empathy and insight into their lives, and in turn into why they choose these workouts in the first place. I am able to better honor their bodies, and their efforts. I take immense pride in every moment I spend with my clients, and want to be a source of encouragement in their lives. Women empowering other women to be their best selves -- this is what it's all about, and this is who I want to be as an instructor, and as a person. You won't find me preaching about thigh gaps or skinny jeans, but you will see me motivating my clients -men and women - to reach their fullest potential based on their physical and emotional circumstance at any given point in time.