Archives For May 2019

“Pilates teachers are control freaks who can’t let go.”

This was said to me by someone who has been teaching for decades, whom I know not mean or judgemental. It was said with a degree of affection, a wry acknowledgement of a general truth – after all, the creator called it ‘CONTROLOGY’, right? It’s not an accident that control freaks are drawn to it, and I hold my hand up as one of them. I like certainty. A lot. And I’ve taken up fixed positions that I’ve argued for vociferously, then later rather more quietly let those convictions go. In other words, I understand the desire for certainty (which is a kind of comfort, of course) but I’m now trying to keep in mind that certainty does not serve my own growth, and lack of growth on my part is against the interests of the people that I’m lucky enough to teach. A more academic teacher friend of mine tends to say “current best guess”, in relation to almost everything to do with anatomy, biology, exercise, etc. and I do my best now to remember and to live by this wisdom.

The approach that we take to running our studio has been shaken up and transformed by exposure to the ideas of Logan Gelbrich, owner of Deuce gym in Venice, CA. Much of this revolves around personal growth, leadership and cultivating a culture of excellence and begins with what he calls “disconfirming information”. What this boils down to is, if you’re interested in pursuing your own highest expression, you need to actively seek feedback that identifies what you could do better, not more feedback about what you’re doing well. He urges us to ask the question: “How might I be wrong about this?”

It takes a certain vulnerability to ask this question and, just as many of the people we teach will be expressing vulnerability in the act of coming to class, to be a teacher surely requires a willingness to be vulnerable. Certainty, or a show of it, is a kind of safety but the trouble with comfort is it’s very comfortable – why would we leave it? Adaptation is driven by stress of some sort, if we remain comfortable there is no driver of adaptation, of growth. If you know everything and your teaching is perfect, with no room for improvement anywhere, you have no need to grow – in fact, you shouldn’t waste your time reading on.

There are a number of dogmas that seem to be so entrenched in Pilates that it’s considered bizarre, or an affront to common decency to call them into question. This can lead to confirmation bias and blind spots in our teaching. As Jozef Frucek of Fighting Monkey says “Any great system has great deficiencies.” I’m sure that this is as true of Pilates as it is of Tai Chi, Yoga etc etc. Everything that we do deserves to be up for examination and, as I can’t remember who said, “Real intelligence is to be able to hold opposing views in your mind simultaneously.”

Writing a blog is an indulgence and it’s also a way for me to test ideas and lay them open to disconfirming information. I like being in control but liking it doesn’t mean that it serves me well. I recently shared a post in a Pilates teachers’ forum about my dislike, or rather my unease around the use of the word ‘core’. The title: “Pilates teacher? Please don’t say ‘core’. Ever again.” was intentionally provocative, and probably foolish (though I did ask nicely…) so it may have deserved this response:

‘I am not a minion…and will queue the way I see fit. This is like FB saying ” you have been shampooing your hair wrong all these years”. Back off- I shampoo the way I want😂😂’ 

Maybe what I write did it’s job and even now the writer of this comment may be reflecting on her shampooing technique, or better yet, her teaching cues. And maybe I’m wrong, and none of the arguments that I presented made sense.

I used to teach an ‘abdominal scoop’ with great conviction, and I read studies to support conscious activation of TVA in anticipation of movement and applied tat to my teaching. I was sure I was right in this, not least because it was what all the teachers I knew also taught. I didn’t know then that I would have disdained an abdominal scoop within the first decade of teaching (I might say “scoop” still from time to time, with a client who I think might appreciate a food related image, and describe the action of a Roll Up as being like the curl of ice cream as it’s scooped out of a tub…), nor did I know that the researchers would have called their own work on the TVA and interpretations of it within a few years. Current. Best. Guess.

If we hold fast to “truths’ around how we work it becomes very tempting to chalk our successes up to the efficacy of our teaching, and to assume that the clients whom we fail to help, or don’t return were at fault. If we want to take some credit for any positive results then we must also take credit for lack of results. The avoidance of our own culpability is such a powerful impulse that books (“Mistakes Are Made, But Not By Me’) have been written about it, and there is this list of cognitive biases on Wikipedia (‘Bandwagon Effect’ and ‘Groupthink’ may be a couple of the issues that inhibit our growth as Pilates teachers).

If you know that teaching ‘core activation’ works because you see it being effective and don’t notice the times that it doesn’t work, or you cue ‘navel to spine’ or some variation of that concept because it makes sense to you and you believe that it helped you, will you be open to the possibility of something better?

Here’s the crux, alluded to above, do we believe that we can be better? 

I imagine that the answer must be “YES” and, in that case, we have to look for ways in which we may be wrong, and seek the input of peers, colleagues, family, friends etc who we can trust to tell us the truth – much better to have someone who cares about us giving this information than someone who does not. I know from first hand experience that this is hugely challenging for many teachers, and an environment and culture of trust has to be cultivated and nurtured.

While it is challenging it shouldn’t be out of reach. After all, this is exactly what we do for a living, especially teaching one to one – we provide a safe, supportive environment in which to offer advice or instructions in how someone can be better.

Oh, and please let me know – How might I be wrong about this?