“Head – Shoulders- Knees and Toes, Head – Shoulders – Knees and Toes … my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my nose… Head – Shoulders – Knees and Toes!”
It was a fun simple way to teach youngsters the parts of the body, how we all have the same parts and also use up a bit of their young energy!
Fast forward several years and you probably took a biology or human anatomy class at some point in school. Here you learned about the muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, organs and learned once again in a more detailed way that we are all made of the same parts! We all have the same number of bones, our organs function the same, our joints work the same and our muscles produce the same basic results. What I have learned, however, as a continuing Pilates student and instructor, is that while we all may have the same parts – the sum of the parts are not the same!
I love teaching private and semi-private reformer classes because it really allows me to tailor the class to my student’s needs, abilities and in some cases limitations. Some instructors prefer group classes because they can plan a workout ahead of time and stick to that workout. I often find my planned workouts change mid-class based on how my student is responding or what their specific needs are on that day. Some days our bodies can handle more and some days we need to listen and back off a little. Some days just showing up deserves a pat on the back if stress or fatigue are at play. And some days – a hard push does the trick! I have also learned that two seemingly similar students with similar body builds and composition may have drastically different abilities, flexibility or strength. Even a student who is inflexible in one area may be extra flexible in another. Really no two students are alike despite being made of the same parts! You can not judge a student by first appearance! It’s important for me to get to know you and know your history, issues, desires, so we can reach your potential.
Several years ago, before I became a Pilates instructor, I had an experience that really hit me, changed me and stuck with me. At the time I was racing more and had the mentality that hard work was all you needed to be in good shape and do well. I was at a nail salon I liked to go to in Cincinnati, getting a manicure and chatting with the gal doing my nails about running. This salon had a tendency to attract a friendly crowd and it wasn’t unusual to end up talking with the gals on either side of you and sharing gossip, tips or stories. She asked me if I had any races coming up and we talked about that for a bit. Another gal next to me, who I had never met before, chimed in that she used to be a runner. The gal doing my nails had obviously known this woman for many years and confirmed that she remembered watching her compete. This woman was not old – maybe early thirties but she was no longer built like a runner and seemed to be carrying 30 or so extra pounds these days. I’m not proud to admit – I made a snap judgement. I looked at her and thought – if she’d just start running again I bet she could lose that weight! It appeared she’d just let her self go – gotten sedentary. We continued to chat and the woman said, “Ever since I was diagnosed with MS – I’ve been on a heavy regimen of steroids to control my disease and get through the day. Unfortunately that’s led to a 40 pound weight gain that no matter what I do I can’t shake.” And she added, “I’m sure people look at me and say- put down the fork!” She confessed she had to live with a body she didn’t love and judgement from others (and I thought- like me!) but the medicine made her able to live a mostly normal life. I felt absolutely horrible for the thoughts I had had. While I never vocalized them – it didn’t matter. This woman gets out of bed each day and faces more challenges than I ever have, does what she can with her body and accepts the rest. I’ll never forget that conversation because it really hit home for me that you just never know what’s going on inside a body and things are not as simple as they appear. While I am ashamed of my initial reaction, I am glad I had this experience because it taught me to be more compassionate. At that point in my life, I had never been faced with any real physical limitation or injury but this opened my eyes to what it might be like if my normal changed. If hardwork wasn’t enough.
Fast forward to today and I’ve learned so much through the years – studying Pilates, learning about injuries, learning about conditions and working with all kinds of body types. My teaching attitude has changed from when I taught spinning and just wanted to make my workouts hard! I now want my workouts to meet my student’s needs. I truly enjoy the challenge of a new student with a specific need or situation we need to address. I see my role differently now too – I’m not there to yell out directions – I’m there to find solutions that work individually. I’m not on auto-pilot teaching the same workout to every student. So whether it’s heads, shoulders, knees or toes we are dealing with- I want to know and I want to make a workout that works specifically for you!