We teach the same exercises all day—every day. They may be performed on many types of apparatus and in many different orientations in space, but they are the same exercises. When you are teaching a client, their mat and Reformer order may stay the same for some time while you use the apparatus to help them progress. So how do you keep their mat and Reformer fresh and new without changing anything? You change their focus by utilizing the six principles of the work.
Execution of the movement always begins at the core, or as Romana Kryzonowska said, at the “powerhouse.” Before you begin to move, focus your attention on your core muscles, check your alignment and think about from where you plan to initiate movement.
Cue your student to not only begin each exercise from the center, but every movement from their center. For example, take the Double-Leg Stretch Bent: Cue them to pull the stomach in and up as the arms and legs move away from each other. Maybe place a hand on the stomach to gently inspire the action. Repeat this cue and hand action as you instruct the student to circle the arms to the sides, and then again as you ask them to circle from the sides to over the thighs. Remind them again to lift the stomach in and up, and use this action to pull the knees to the chest. Working an entire lesson like this will not only remind them where to move, it will be fun for the teacher to be reminded of all the opportunities present to reengage the powerhouse!
Focus your attention on each movement as you perform it. Bring your students’ minds to the method. Suggest to your student that he or she forget about everything beyond the studio and the workout at hand; it will still be there when they are finished, and there is nothing they can do about it until they’re done working out. Cue them to feel where the mat or Reformer makes contact with their body. Ask them to feel if their body weight is evenly distributed. For a few repetitions, bring their awareness to the movement of the arms, and the next few, the legs. Bring their attention to the timing of the arms and legs moving together.
Help them be present by remaining present yourself. The more focused and engaged you are with what is happening on the mat or Reformer, the more focused your student will be. Be aware of the tilt of the pelvis and the timing of the movement—and they will as well.
This is perhaps the most important principle, which emphasizes executing the movements while purposefully controlling the muscles. Do not let gravity do the work for you. When you are in control of your body, you will gain greater benefit from each exercise and reduce the chance of injury. This is the art of Contrology! You move the spring. Have the student be responsible for every movement during their workout. On the Reformer, cue them to push into the spring, strap or footbar instead of allowing the spring, etc., to ride them home. Have the student move the carriage of the Reformer as it moves out and home. On the mat, have the student control the lowering of a leg, arm or hip. Slow down the action, and increase the amount of control. A favorite of mine is the Double-Leg Straight. I lower for 10 counts, and then quickly lift in one count, lower for 20 counts and quickly lift in one count, lower for 30 and quickly lift in one count and build up to 100 for my truly strong students.
In Pilates, remember that less is more. It is better to do fewer repetitions of an exercise—but to do them correctly and with control. Focus on being exact for a lesson; you may or may not get many exercises done, but each one you do will count!
Remember to breathe! Although this sounds obvious, most people have a bad habit of holding their breath when they are physically challenged. As a general rule, remember to breathe through your nose when you are preparing to move and exhale fully while you are moving. Breathing through the mouth produces cortisol. We want to reduce stress in the body to release toxins. Only breathe through the mouth if you can’t do so through your nose. The focus on the breath will be brought forward in certain breathing exercises. If the breath is not mentioned, then we inhale on the exertion and exhale on the release. This, once again, is to release stress.
Make every exercise a breathing exercise! Just remember to pause with the natural flow of the breath…we don’t want hyperventilation!
Note: This use of breath is used in many modern techniques as a stress releaser. One such method is DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy).
Once the student becomes familiar and comfortable with the exercises, they will be able to perform the workout with a flow, moving from one exercise to the next with minimal interruption. This is when mounting and dismounting truly become important to link the exercises. The space between each exercise is just as important as the exercise—it’s both your preparation and your completion. It also helps you to begin to translate the work to be carried outside the studio. Find what exercise is the link between two exercises—every transition is an exercise.
Play with the rhythm of each exercise as they move, and change the rhythm so the muscles fire differently. The change in tempo will snap a student back to focus. The use of rhythm will aid in keeping the student in constant motion. A true Pilates workout is one continuous exercise that changes orientation in space and increases in difficulty from beginning to end.
Use the six principles to deepen the experience of the work and motivate your clients into investigating and understanding their own practice. It will help to keep workouts fresh—for both teacher and student.
Kathryn Ross-Nash was a certified Romana’s Pilates Level 2 Trainer and is the owner of American Body Tech Pilates in Allendale, NJ. She is the creator of The Add on Mat® and The Red Thread® as well as the author of the original Fix Your Feet–Using the Pilates Method © and The Red Thread of Pilates © series.