What type of a learner are you? Visual, Audio or Kinestatic? I noticed a large majority of my students are visual learners and in my opinion, it is a learning style of many people here in Singapore. While we are comfortable with a certain type of learning style, I personally feel it is important to develop various learning styles. When we fall into the habit of seeing things from the same perspective, we develop a condition in psychology called “Schetoma, also known as a blind spot.
One of the things I do in my group classes is to not demonstrate for certain period of time and start teaching verbally so that my students can take their eyes off me, and start bringing more awareness and attention to their own bodies. It may be challenging to listen to a commentary of instructions, but in doing so we start to question “Do I feel right?” rather than “Do I look right?”. Also, there can be a greater level of flow in the class especially when my students become more independent in movement. So if you are someone who always had to ‘copy’ the exercise, start taking the audio route and feel more in your bodies and amazing things may just happen for you!
Those of us who have been to Pilates classes know that Pilates teachers tend to keep up a running commentary of instructions, cues, and images through the whole class. It can be unnerving until you get used to it. But once you get the hang of learning/participating that way, it can be quite liberating — for both instructor and student. Taking the fixation of watching an instructor out of the equation can help bring the attention back to ones own body and experience, which is where it belongs.
When I first started teaching Pilates mat classes, I would do every exercise with the students. I’d get them started, then I’d jump up to look around the room and offer cues, corrections and encouragement. It was too much. I’d be worn out after each class. Then what happens when you have another class and then a private? It can’t be done. Not only that, but being able to verbally articulate not just the choreography but the dynamics of an exercise — with basic instruction, physical cues, and imagery — creates and demonstrates a high level of integration with an exercise for an instructor. I have heard that Romana Kryzanowska, the renowned Pilates Elder, said that a good Pilates teacher teaches by words alone (read: Romana on Teaching Pilates).
As a student, it requires a certain kind of receptivity to take instructions and translate those into ones body almost simultaneously. It’s quite amazing how well that can work. In fact, bypassing the thinking/judging mind, going straight through ear to body, can be very helpful. But the point is not to go unconscious and follow along like a sleepy sheep either. Just the opposite. When the process is at its best, both instructor and student are very present and there is a flow of information and receptivity between them. That can only happen when both parties are alert and committed to awareness, one of our Pilates principles.
As one matures as a student, there is also the opportunity to take more responsibility for what one is working on and how. Then the teacher has stay receptive and be aware of when to instruct and when to let go. For many years I was one of those students who tried to take in and apply every single cue that flew into the room. Now I give myself a break and do what I can — and better yet, what actually applies to me! I also say less when I teach. Being quiet can make room for the innate body intelligence to kick in.
I started thinking about the merits of verbal instruction because I recently reviewed a new Pilates workout podcast, a Basic Pilates Mat Class by Lynda Lippin. I’ve reviewed other Pilates podcasts as well. They work surprisingly well and I think part of the reason is that we do have this highly developed verbal tradition in Pilates.
I’m not advocating for no visuals, far from it. I just want to acknowledge the amazing quality of instruction we get verbally in Pilates. Sometimes, you just need a great visual. If you are getting mostly verbal instruction and you are not getting the exercise, you need to see it, and see it done well – not out of the corner of your eye. If you are in a class, ask to have the exercise demonstrated either by the instructor or another student. You can also look up just about any Pilates mat exercise, and many others small equipment exercises. right here at Pilates.about.com. I’ll have a picture for you. And, there are many wonderful DVDs, books, online videos and so forth.
It has happened that I’ve gone years not quite getting inside an exercise and then had one photo or demonstration, seen at just the right moment, clarify the whole thing for me. Of course, my first response is: Well, why didn’t you say so?! Which is why my instructors lose their hair early.