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.
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.