Zen of Teaching Pilates – working through a negative mindset

There is a reason Pilates is called “mind-body” work. Not only does the mind work in conjunction with the body to create flowing movements and firing specific muscles, it also sets the tone for how a session proceeds. But what happens when your client’s mind is:

  • Dead set on being negative
  • Insistent upon speaking, through complaints or otherwise, throughout an entire class
  • Convinced he or she does not or will not move beyond the comfort zone of familiarity

Any of the above situations can set the tone for a long 55 minutes. Running out the door isn’t an option when a client comes in with a huff and a, “I guess I’m ready for you to torture me now.” This is where the instructor’s mind-body work begins.

Even when I stick to modified movements built in to a fluid exercise plan, not a week goes by when a client doesn’t call me a name. A name not fit for print. It took some time for me to realize that there are people out there who could be lying down getting a massage for an hour in the studio and would still complain. I just assumed that everyone loved doing Pilates just as I do. Not true.

To counter trying clients, implement the 3 Ps – being present, prepared and positive. Rather than fall in to the frustration trap the client falls in to with, “I can’t do that”, “I don’t want to do that” or even “I’m NOT going to do that”, take a breath and refocus those people on the task at hand. It is not enough to take the body on a journey through Pilates, we have to also take the mind with it – the instructor’s mind, that is. Here are the three ways to mentally tackle those students who tax us, even if we don’t want to admit to being mentally strained.

  1. Be present for each session. It’s easier to mentally check-out when a client’s complaining begins. By staying focused you not only cue better, you may also change the atmosphere of the session. When an instructor really is present, the opportunity arises to change a downbeat direction with positive reinforcement before the negativity starts. Praise the exercise performance before it’s delivered with a “You always do this one so nicely” to counteract the potential huff and sigh that usually accompanies the movement.
  2. Be prepared for class, but not too prepared. While instructors should go in to a session with at least an idea of where the hour will go, it never fails that you’ll veer off what you had designed. The idea is to be prepared but not stringent in the preparations. By being willing to have “teachable moments” you just might make a breakthrough with a student. The series you wanted to tackle before the hour is up can take a backseat if you are working through a particularly difficult exercise for that person. Take the moment and be open to the joy of that one exercise. Peel it back and, for instance, show the student how the bridge can assist in the roll up and then practice it for the last five minutes. You’ll both feel like you made positive progress. All that work will result in more pride, less protesting.
  3. Finally, share your excitement about movement with your clients and encourage them to find their own understanding of Pilates. Use technical terms and invite the clients to own their workouts by using the “big words” themselves. By fully understanding the exercise, why they are doing the exercise and how to perform it, students focus more on the why of the workout and less on the whine of the workout. Be excited for them when they get past their sticking point in the Teaser and they will be more inclined to try harder and complain less.

By being present, prepared and positive, you’ll be more aware of what brings on the negativity and you’ll be able to stop it before it starts. Here’s to positive Pilates!

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