Recently, my sister asked me what type of student was the most rewarding to teach. I didn’t even have to think about it — a professional athlete or a professional dancer, highly physically conditioned and very motivated. When she probed a little deeper though, I realized something quite profound. Actually, it wasn’t the talent of a body I was attracted to; it was the talent of a mind. I recalled a former client who was not an athlete nor a dancer. She was a professional writer who basically sat on her butt all day which caused her to have constant back aches. Shaped like an apple, she practically rolled into my studio. 

From the very first exercise she attempted, her overall weakness and lack of abdominal strength were obvious, and I wondered if she’d stick around long enough for me to help her. But she did. I underestimated her commitment to changing her life, and she made such progress that her backaches completely disappeared, her waistline narrowed and her enjoyment of working out was evident. She made me think of Mr. Pilates’ quote, “Physical fitness is the first requisite to happiness.” I loved teaching her because she was present, smart and willing to try anything I asked. However, because she was body illiterate, I had to be very clear about my choice of words and readjusted my language and terminology.

For those who love to teach, as I do, a new client with little body awareness presents a different type of cueing challenge. Corrections normally given to students who practice regularly will mean very little to novices, especially those who may be overweight and cannot feel various actions in their body. With my writer-client, I had to find a new way to describe exercises I wanted her to try. At the beginning of a student’s Pilates journey, using relatable vocabulary is imperative. Simply put, you want to create a successful experience for the newcomer, show your concern by continually checking in with what the student may or may not be feeling. When you do this, you’ll discover you’re learning new skills as well. 

Inquisitive newbies have chosen you because they’ve heard what a great instructor you are or read about you in a magazine or saw you teach online. They’re coming to you, just as my client came to me, because they want to change their bodies and make their lives better. They’ll be expecting an individual program designed to help them with their fitness level, improve their posture, and develop an overall state of well-being. A word of caution: try to resist being the center of their lessons, even as your clients shower you with appreciation for the expertise you’re providing. Consider the adage, “Be more interested than interesting,” and let your students know they have your undivided attention. There’s nothing more depressing than a distracted teacher or a teacher who talks about him or herself during a student’s lesson. Because every student presents a unique set of movement patterns, the challenge is figuring out the how’s and why’s of that particular body. The more interest you show in a student, the more he or she will open up to you. This intimate process can provide the reasons for those faulty movement patterns such as childhood injuries, past emotional trauma or other harmful experiences. 

So, I’m grateful to my sister for asking about my client preference because it made me realize that all along my favorite students have been open, curious and hard-working; it really didn’t matter their size, shape or body literacy. If you’re in it for the long haul, it pays to re-evaluate who you think are as a Pilates mentor and what you think you have to offer those who come to learn. In fact, some of them may even become your superstars.

For more information about Darien Gold, you might check out the March/April 2020 print and digital issue of Pilates Style magazine. Darien’s forty-year journey from the gymnastics mat to the Pilates mat is the featured story, Voice of Pilates, and found in the section, Masters of the Method, Powerhouse. You can also listen to Darien’s live weekly radio show, “All Things Pilates” on KPCA.FM and local radio, 103.3FM or her bi-monthly podcast, ALL THINGS PILATES on Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Learn from some of the top Pilates experts as well as lesser known experts — all who are making an impact on our fascinating industry. 

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