Creating calm in your Pilates teaching moments

Guest Article by Hilary Opheim.

First published 07 February 2022
Link to original: Creating calm in your Pilates teaching moments


Being the detective

How do you remain calm as a Pilates teacher when that unexpected “thing” happens while you are teaching your Pilates client? I like to say that teaching Pilates is like being a detective every day. Each Pilates client who comes into the Pilates studio is a new moment of watching, seeing what choices their body makes, and figuring out how to get that body of the Pilates client in front of you to move freely and with the full body range that that individual body was made to move. Each Pilates client is unique and different.

For you the Pilates teacher, this makes teaching interesting with every day and every Pilates client being a different experience in the studio. It can also create moments as a Pilates teacher of panic, uncertainty, and make you question if you are doing a good job or making the right decisions as a Pilates teacher.

We all have those moments as Pilates teachers. Those moments of “oh my goodness! What now?”. It happens a lot as new, less experienced Pilates teachers just out of a Teacher Training Program but, it can happen even to the most experienced Pilates teachers. It is back to that detective work again and when that unexpected “clue” gets thrown at you!

Pilates is a constant journey not only for the client but, for Pilates teachers as well. We are always learning from each Pilates client.

Take for example an issue such as a herniated disc in a client. Two clients can have herniated disc in the same area of the back but, what creates issues in movement or makes them feel relief can be different for each client. It can also be bothered one day with a certain movement but, the next day it is not a problem.

One thing we learn as Pilates teachers is there is really no one way to “treat” a client’s issue, their challenge point, or what they need in order to get their body to where we are guiding them.

When something goes astray or takes a turn that you as a Pilates teacher was not expecting how do you not start to feel a bit of panic? It is natural right?

How do you create calm in those Pilates teaching moments that go a path you did not expect? How do you get a client back if something made them feel some pain or discomfort?

The fear, frustration, and panic can start to cloud the session and this will make some decisions you make as a teacher NOT be the ones you normally would have chosen. You are now making choices based on panic or anxiety and not trusting yourself as the teacher.

Instead of letting those emotions enter into your session what about creating calm in your teaching moment? Realizing this is not a time of panic or uncertainty but, to realize it is a time to learn and discover! For you and your client.

You can NOT fix your clients

One thing new and even experienced Pilates Teachers need to always remember is we can NOT fix a client. What? Yes, you read that correctly. We are not doctors and disc issues, back pain, shoulder, neck whatever it is we can not FIX it. We can NOT Make it go away. Pilates can help the pain, get support for muscles and things that need to have it to create a better movement pattern, but the issue we can’t fix.

Creating calm in your Pilates teaching moments in the situations like disc issues, or clients in pain to clients who don’t understand and are getting frustrated or have fear or anxiety in their movement is something we all come across in our Pilates day. Each time like each client it may present itself differently but, the underlying panic moment it could set up for the teacher is always the same.

The first time I had a true panic moment in my teaching was a client who had such back pain that they could barely walk and had been through Physical Therapy and she was getting frustrated and feeling like she was not improving. It was important for her to be able to do things she could do before she hurt her back.

The whole day before I saw this new client I was questioning my teaching, what would I do, what if they couldn’t do this, what if they left and the back pain was worse? I thought of all the things that could go wrong or could go wrong. I had worked myself up into a panic situation. I was nervous and worried that she would see I had no idea what I was doing.

Creating calm by trusting the client

This client came in wanting to move and work, to be challenged, and told me “Don’t worry I will let you know if it is a problem”. I took this in. This client would let ME know if there was a problem. Suddenly a light bulb went off for me. I could think I knew what may hurt her but, she actually knew what would hurt her.

This is a key moment for me in teaching others. This client lived in her body 24/7 and I was seeing her for the first time for one hour. Maybe if I was lucky I would get to see her 2 times for an hour each week. Yet, she had lived her daily life in pain without me for a long time. She woke up, got out of bed and did her day, and figured things out to do what she needed to do. I realized that she knew what would hurt her or cause her pain. She knew in her daily life what she could and could not do. So here in the studio, she would see if that movement I was asking from her would be an issue for her body on this day. She would let me know.

Realizing that fixing a client is out of our scope of practice is actually a very freeing thought! Think for a moment about the client with a herniated disc. Tell yourself I can not fix the herniated disc. It is out of my ability and that is ok. One day they may have no issue with something and the next it is an issue. Things change and we just go with that. If something bothers that day, no big deal. Move on. You can always bring them back to it on another day and work through things then.

Creating calm by trusting the work

The ability to create that calm in those teaching moments takes practice and telling yourself to trust the work and your ability as a teacher. The cycle of that panic mode of how do I fix this, fix this moment is left behind, and also remember what you do with them in the studio will NOT hurt them. In reality, a client is more likely to hurt themselves outside the studio moving as they don’t have the guidance and support of you the teacher, or the Pilates apparatus. They are in a safe space with you in the studio.

One reason we become Pilates teachers is to help people feel better, get stronger and more mobile. To give them the guidance and tools to move so that they can do whatever activities they want in the outside world and stay as injury-free as possible. We didn’t come into Pilates to fix the body in front of us. We came to Pilates and teaching to help the body in front of us.

Remembering this will help create that calm for you as a teacher AND get to the fun work of being that detective to help the client find the best ways to move for their body in all the moments they need in life.


Meet Hilary

My Pilates journey started with my original training with John Gossett in Houston, Texas. After teaching Pilates for 10 years I opened up my own studio in January of 2005 and I have continued my journey of learning and practising Pilates as a teacher and as a student. I am also the founder and director of the Hilary Opheim Teacher Training Program and I truly enjoy sharing the passion of teaching with those that want to become teachers.

I have studied not only with John Gossett but many First and Second Generation Teachers. I also studied with Benjamin Degenhardt and his intensive 360 Pilates Program as well as with Cara Reeser and am a Graduate of the Heritage Training Program, a post graduate program on the work of Kathy Grant in the Pilates Method. I truly love reconnecting, learning and sharing with the Pilates community and have been a Presenter at the PMA Conference. I enjoy the continuing journey of the Traditional Method and the work that Joseph Pilates created.

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