I have a secret to share. Believe it or not, there was a time that I really dragged my feet getting ready to teach a Pilates Mat class. Yes, you heard me right – me – your happy drill sergeant of an instructor. I first fell in love with the work of Joseph Pilates while attending a Mat workshop. It was also on the Mat where I felt the first painful growth spurts in teaching the Method. Before Pilates, I successfully taught high energy group exercise classes for 6 years, jumping around doing hi-lo aerobics, step-circuit, slide, cardio boxing, you name it! I received high ratings from students and enjoyed the ‘rush’ of leading those classes. So once I certified for Mat, I thought, “no problem, I got this.”
But the first class I taught to people other than fellow Pilates trainees, I became instantly aware of how humbling these movements can be for everyone, and how that challenge can sometimes be discouraging to students. I wrestled with taking people through the flow of the Pilates repertoire when I needed to simultaneously incorporate modifications to address all the different levels attending in the same class.
When I taught group ex, I could rely on music and beats, and it just seemed easier and more natural for me to do. But in my Pilates schooling there is no music used. I, as the teacher, needed to create a “Pilates mind-body space” for my students. I was conflicted over the joy of teaching my step class against the dread when facing my Mat group. How could I love the Mat work so much myself, but have such trouble sharing it? I knew it was the wrong attitude, so I had to figure out what to do!
There are 34 exercises in the original repertoire noted in Joseph Pilates’ book, Return To Life Through Contrology. In modern times when including preps and stretches along with beginner, intermediate to advanced Pilates exercises, the routine could ultimately comprise of over 60 movement patterns. Of course my training hadn’t ended when I completed the Mat Cert. I needed to give more to the practice.
Looking back at my novice days, I remember actually resenting that it seemed more complicated than I expected. But in fact, it was the struggle that I am now thankful for because it was critical in helping me grow.
I eventually found my groove. More confident and happy to see students arriving with their mats, I was teaching repertoire with flow, safe and challenging for multiple skill levels. Watching them walking out of class, I could see their posture changes and their shoulders relaxed. Yet, sometimes I sensed complacency in the routine and had a nagging feeling that there was more I could do to raise the bar.
A number of years later I completed training in a Pilates Instructor Certification program that included all of the studio equipment. Experiencing the in-depth work on equipment like the Reformer, Chair, Ladder Barrel and Cadillac, was a key factor that helped me better grasp the link back to Joseph’s Mat.
No longer with dread, but with joy, I set a new challenge for myself to improve upon my Mat teaching. While I needed to address the core, flexibility, coordination, and body awareness; I wanted to layer in more of what the students identified as their own body needs.
Before class I ask the group if there are any special requests for focus. For instance someone might say “neck” or “hips.” With their input each time we begin, I develop the teaching that day with the intent of giving them a class that they can own in their bodies.
Nowadays, I’m just as “in love” with teaching Mat class as I was when I first attended that workshop.
I am ever so thankful that my personal mat practice and my teaching have come into that place, from you my students because I’m certain I would not have returned to that “rush of joy” without you!
I’m still learning new lessons so, I’ll look forward to seeing you revitalized, de-stressed, and emitting positive vibrations in the next class!