Archives For November 2019

Teaching Experiments

November 28, 2019 — Leave a comment

Last year I attended a seminar during which we were asked what we could teach with our eyes closed. There are some foundation exercises that I believe I could teach with my eyes closed, so I volunteered. However, the parameters quickly changed and I was soon in a rather uncomfortable position – but one that stimulated a lot of reflection.

I find the idea of imposing limitations on the teaching strategies that I might use to be a challenging and richly rewarding exercise, and would like to share some of these here. Some of the experiments are more cerebral, or abstract and some are more straightforward.

It might help to think of some of these like drills that you might see runners doing – the drills don’t really look like running but they’re designed to make the act of running better, more efficient.


How is it to teach without using your voice, at all? You may need to keep this for a non-paying audience who are in on the  challenge. You can mime, demonstrate, gesticulate and use hands-on cues.

This may seem like a pointless exercise, until you have someone who is deaf in your class, or someone who does not understand the language that you teach in. Even if you never find yourself in that situation, perhaps this can sharpen your manual skills. And I suspect most of say too much anyway…


Imagine that you are living, and teaching, within a culture that holds any reference to human anatomy to be an affront to their God. You may not refer to muscles, organs or bones and, as a result, abstractions such as ‘core’ make no sense in this culture.

The law permits the naming of body parts – hands, feet, head etc. However, if you want to really stretch yourself then imagine that any reference to our physical form is considered sacrilegious.

I am a big fan of avoiding mention of muscle names for all sorts of reasons (I stopped my regular yoga class because the teacher kept on referring to muscles all the time) though that’s not the sole point of this exercise. I find that it reinforces very direct movement language – action words such as ‘push’, ‘pull’, ‘reach’, ‘grasp’, ‘yield’ etc. are strongly encouraged.

Hands free

Could you still teach if you had no arms? Could someone who was born with no arms teach Pilates? This is not meant to be an argument against tactile cues, or having expressive hands – which are both huge assets in teaching – but what happens if you have to go without them?

You are ‘allowed’ to use your feet, so tactile cues aren’t necessarily eliminated entirely (I remember a Jillian Hessel workshop on the Cadillac in which she used her feet all the time, to great effect.


Another culture displacement idea – you are teaching in a culture that believes that the heart is the centre of everything: energy, power, control and strength. The word ‘core’ has no meaning whatsoever, nor does ‘powerhouse’. If you want to express an idea of centre you have to use the word ‘heart’.

This may well mean that you have to reframe what you might typically say in order to fit with your own understanding of ‘heart’. Does it make you think of Pilates as a more spiritual practice? Does it encourage you to focus more on the manner of effort that your students make, rather than where they feel the work? Does the idea lend itself to giving the effort of the class an ‘intention’, as many yoga teachers propose at the start of class? How does that feel for you?

Read my lips

Imagine that everyone in your class is deaf – they know sign language and they can lip read.

Assuming that most of us don’t sign, if you’re speaking everyone in the class has to be able to see your mouth moving. Perhaps it means there’s less emphasis on verbal teaching, too.

In the dark

Carrying on the theme of limiting senses, you’re teaching a room full of blind people.

Demonstrations are useless, and there’s no point in staying at the front of the room. Obviously, verbal and tactile cues become paramount.


This is an idea that I learned at the seminar mentioned above, from Thomas Reid. In short, Treat everyone with dignity and respect; Assume positive intent; work to everyone’s Strengths; Keep everyone empowered.

Truly I believe that this is a philosophy that we would all be best practicing all the time, rather than an occasional experiment. It’s such a simple idea and I was surprised by how much it helped some of my relationships. I still fail regularly with some or all parts of the acronym – more with colleagues than students, and it remains a work in progress. 


I’m sure there are many more ways of challenging the parameters within which we teach, in order to learn and grow, and I’d love to hear more ideas for similar experiments if you have them.


Permission to move

November 10, 2019 — 3 Comments

Ironically, on the verge of writing this I saw some responses to James Crader’s blog about play, including one that concludes: “Haha, as if any of us need permission to move.” Exactly! I believe that many of us in the Pilates teaching community approach the work in a way that means precisely that – we need permission to move!

I don’t remember exactly when Anula Maiberg first appeared on my radar but I know it was in connection with a magazine article that, at the time, did not strike much of a chord with me. It’s an interesting thing for me to reflect on and doubtless reveals some of my biases and even prejudices. Though I may have felt differently in the past these days the most interesting characteristic of a movement teacher, for me, is how they move. I tell myself (and I believe I’m being honest) that size and shape are no more significant than coloured hair and tattoos – demeaning one seems as odd to me as celebrating the other. I recognise that I may be fortunate to have had no worse comments about my appearance than a student once telling me that I had lost “too much” weight, and to be blithely unaware of any trolling or obnoxious behaviour that some teachers may be subject to (white male privilege, anyone?)

Subsequently I watched with interest, and some puzzlement, as Anula appeared to rocket to fame within the Pilates world. And, yes, perhaps some envy – I would be very happy to have found a way to earn the kind of platform that she has earned in order to share my ideas. It seemed bizarre to me that someone who, from my perspective, was famous for how they looked could have such an incredible impact on the Pilates teaching community. What did this say about Pilates teachers?

While there may be an element of Anula carrying the flag for permission to be ‘not the right shape’ that attracts teachers to her, as the years have passed and I’ve seen more of her social media output, and the reactions to it, I’ve come to believe that Anula is offering something much more powerful, and necessary: Permission to move.

This, for me, is far more fascinating than body image. I’ve referred previously to the control freak-ery of Pilates teachers and I’m given to believe that the ‘control’ aspect of the method, oh, and the ‘precision’, and the love of ‘correction’, and ‘proper’ form (feel free to elaborate on this list at will) can create a certain movement constipation. As Anula asks: “Why aren’t we more concerned about how it feels instead of how it looks?”

It’s such a cruel irony, that a movement practice might have this kind of baggage. I appreciate that we need to have some guiding principles, rules if you will, to hang our teaching on, but can they be our undoing sometimes? “Shoulders down”, “feet hip distance apart”, “exhale on the effort”, “proper placement”, “out of alignment”, “she’s a bad breather”, “poor posture”, “uncoordinated”, “he’s a tucker” etc. etc. How much of the language that we use might reinforce the notion that the people we’re teaching aren’t ready to move? I suspect this spills over in to our own self-talk, too, and this is where I think Anula has triumphed – it appears to me that she has given hundreds, maybe thousands of teachers ‘permission’ to move. Weird.

I’m not sure where we derived it from but in the last few years I’ve noticed that my wife and I regularly classify people as a ‘mover’ or ‘not a mover’. It’s a tricky classification that I struggle to define but I’m pretty sure that someone who is bound up in rules about how things ‘should’ be probably isn’t a mover. Curiously there seems to be an association in my mind between movers and teachers who have explored other disciplines or modalities (and between non-movers and teachers for whom Pilates is everything).

Again, I may be wrong about all of this, and to write this feels like the most perilous thinking out loud that I’ve done in a long while.

If I am at all close to the mark then I think Anula deserves to be celebrated much more than she already is. I don’t love every video or picture that she posts, and sometimes I think I’ve got a better solution for a particular problem up my sleeve (and I value ongoing dialogue with her about teaching movement), but that is far from the point. If more of us feel that we have permission to move ourselves it seems likely that we will also feel liberated to pass that permission on to the people that we’re teaching. I don’t believe that constipation and joy go together and if taking the brakes off and letting go of some of the rules allows people to have a movement experience (as opposed to doing an exercise) then I believe more joy is let into the world.

To hijack the great man’s words: Joy happens through movement, and joy heals. How about that?