The Best Teachers Teach in the Moment

Teaching Pilates in the Moment: How To Cultivate Presence

How would you describe your presence while you’re teaching Pilates? Cheerful, affectionate, grounded, powerful, indulgent? I always find it amazing that two Pilates teachers can lead the same exercise, using similar cues, yet one of them leaves you feeling great and the other falls flat. This is the nuance that presence brings to a session. As a teacher trainer, one of my biggest goals is to equip students with the tools necessary to not only teach a safe, enjoyable, and thoughtful class but to also cultivate their presence. How do we do that? Is this even measurable? Below I offer some tips and suggestions for cultivating presence in your teaching. – Nichole Anderson, NCPT, Director of Curriculum

Practice Teaching a Simple Task Authentically

For new teachers, finding your authentic voice can be a daunting task. You are busy remembering the basics of each exercise, attempting to follow the sequence you planned out, and trying to keep everyone safe. There is also the added pressure of being seen and having a feeling of performing in front of others.

I find that the simplest way to find your voice and style as a teacher is to practice teaching something simple to a friend. The goal would be to teach a rote task, one where you don’t have to think about the steps or language involved. For me, it’s teaching someone how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Because of the simplicity of this, your personality and uniqueness are able to shine through. Take the time to notice the feeling of teaching this small task – What kind of language comes naturally to you? Do you make jokes? Are you more solemn? Perhaps record yourself teaching this task and go with your gut instinct on if it feels authentic to you. Try to bring this authenticity into your classes.

Gain Perspective: Record yourself teaching

As an expansion from the idea above, record yourself teaching Pilates. This can be as simple as recording your screen when teaching a virtual class or leaving your smartphone set up in the studio while you teach a client. During your initial review of the session, practice moving to your own instructions. Notice how your language makes you feel as a mover. Do you feel that the teaching is clear, inspiring, thoughtful?

Next, watch the video without sound. Your physical presence in the space of the Pilates studio is as important if not more important than the words you say. Notice how you move throughout the space. Do you gravitate to one area of the studio? Are you spending approximately equal time in the space of each of your clients? What does your body language suggest?

Finally, listen to the audio of the recording. Listen to the words you use and the tone and timbre of your voice. Does your voice match the intensity of the movement? Is it supportive? Do you sound interested?

This is a practice that can be done indefinitely and will always give you opportunities for growth.

Show Up Early and Grounded

We all know the feeling of being late for an appointment or the worse feeling of being late to teach a Pilates class. When we are under stress our body creates the stress hormone cortisol, causing our heart rate to increase and our blood pressure to spike. If you want to show up for your clients authentically and be fully present with your calm and centered self – show up early! When you come prepared to teach your Pilates class early you will have time to ground yourself with a centering practice and feel fully ready to be present with your clients. We all have lives outside of the studio, and I find that leaving the stressors of your personal life at the studio door allows you to be fully present with your client(s).

While it is ideal to have ample time to shift into teaching mode, if you are running late to teach, a brief grounding practice will help you be present in the studio and focus on what is happening in the moment. Grounding practices vary greatly, and I encourage you to find something that works for you. Some teachers like washing their hands and others like to tidy up the studio space. Both are calming, organizing, and refreshing. My favorite way to ground myself before teaching Pilates is to do Pilates! Showing up early to the studio will give you time to jump on a piece of apparatus or the mat and ground yourself in your body and with your breath.

Create your own grounding routine and ritual by testing out what practices help you feel calm and centered when you arrive at the studio. Some teachers swear by saying hello to every person they pass on their way to the studio even if that is only one person at the front desk. This allows you to practice engagement, eye contact, and using your voice before you begin teaching (all things you will want to do with your clients).

Pre-teaching rituals to support grounding: 

  • Listen to a familiar playlist to get in the mood to teach
  • Take a class before the class you are leading
  • Get enough rest, food and water before teaching
  • Arrive early to ensure time to shift from your personal life into your professional life

Check In: Connect with Your Students

One thing I find that separates a mediocre teacher from an incredible teacher is the ability of the incredible teacher to make everyone in their classes or private sessions feel valid, seen, and successful in their movement.

Tips to nurture connection: 

  • Greet your clients! In a group setting this can sometimes feel awkward, but there is nothing worse than a teacher who is on their phone or standing around not making eye contact as the students roll in.
  • Ask questions before the class or session to determine how people are feeling and what their goals are for the session. Use this time to acknowledge that you see the students individually. “Hi Kevin, did you end up going skiing this weekend? How did that feel?” Acknowledging the students both facilitates connection with you as the teacher as well as with each other. In a virtual setting this can help them feel connected even if they are not in the same space. It can facilitate the development of rapport in the class, which is a good indicator of if a client will return.
  • Learn people’s names. When teaching group classes, I always greet people by name and ask new students their names so that I can refer to them personally throughout the class.
  • Teach from a standpoint of allowing clients autonomy. Let them know you are supporting them in their exploration of moving their bodies. If you see clients struggling, give options that let you know you see them struggling and are there to help them move successfully.

I hope these tips serve as a reminder of the value of presence while teaching. Bring your full self to your teaching practice. Remember that being distracted will always come through in your teaching. We have the opportunity as Pilates instructors to help people feel amazing every time they enter our classes or private sessions. Give them your full attention and notice how your client list grows.

This article was originally published on The Polestar Pilates International Blog

Become a present and respected Pilates Teacher with Polestar: Complete Matwork, Ultimate Reformer and Studio Rehab (Comprehensive) Courses.

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