Pilatespeak – Choose Your Words Carefully

June 7, 2011 at 11:45 pm 13 comments

Cover of George Orwell's "1984" from folio.

Remember the great novel 1984 (Nineteen Eighty-Four)?  Remember “Newspeak”?  It was the choice use of words to create a mentality and society that behaves in the way that the government wanted eliminating free thought and independence.  It was author George Orwell’s way of expressing the power of the lexicon.  What you say is directly related to how you think and what you do.  There is no separation.  If you say it…that is how you behave.

What does this have to do with Pilates?  Everything.

When we teach, we must choose our words carefully.  What we say is exactly what our clients do.  If we are wise, we will pick words that embody the intention of the exercise.  With this, our clients learn the exercises more easily…and not just the movement, but the action.

Pilates is about action.  Length. Space. Strength. Opposition.  We’re looking to create a balanced body and mind.  That body has length, space, strength, opposition.  That body is energized for Life.  That mind is creative, flowing and focused.  The movement is flowing, joyful and spontaneous.  There is no habit.  There is no compression.  There is no force.

With our words, along with the method, we create an environment of length, space, strength, openness.

So…choose your words carefully.  Speak Pilatespeak.

Remove all words that indicate compression, tension, force, shortness, pain and replace them with words that represent Pilates length, space, strength and openness.

Here’s a guide:

Common – – – Pilatespeak
Down – – – – – Lengthen
Push – – – – – – Reach
Squeeze – – – – Hug
Drop – – – – – – Lower
Release – – – – Resist
Grab – – – – – – Place
Tummy – – – – Abdominals
Pinky – – – – – Small Finger

What’s it about?  Psychology.  Yes.  We’re working the body and the mind.  We have to understand how people learn.  You see, the first thing people learn is what they burn into their memories.  We are imprinted with our initial experience.  Unlearning that is difficult.  Not a little bit difficult…extremely difficult.  It’s really important to teach the correct action correctly the first time.  The first time.  So, if you say “drop”…that’s exactly what your client is going to do.  And that’s exactly the opposite of anything we ever want to do in Pilates because it gives into gravity.  Choose a word that resists gravity…that incorporates length, opposition, control!  You have a choices as a teacher.  Make ones that affect your client positively.

Why waist your time having to teach multiple actions if one word change will make it happen right away.

For example:  Mat:  Side Kicks – Front/Back
If right away, on day 1, you teach the very bare technique (literally what body part is moving and where it is moving to) “Reach your leg forward, give it a pulse.  Reach your leg back.  No pulse.”  You’re in business!  Your client is working with control and reaching…lengthening…there it is!  If you, instead, say what you’re used to saying “Kick your nose 2 times, swing your leg back and hold”…then you’ve set yourself and your client up for failure.  Where is the control?  Where is the length?  You’ll get there eventually, but you could have gotten there on repetition number 1!  Incredible.  It is!

Why not give your clients (and yourself) an opportunity for success?  Why not teach Pilates through your choice of words.

Another example:  Reformer:  Footwork: Tendon Stretch
Here is an exercise that while it stretches the sole of the foot achilles and calf muscles, as well as strengthens the muscles of the foot, around the shin/tibia and calf, it also needs to teach opposition and control.  Remember that there is an equal balance of stretch and strength in every exercise.  If on day 1 and every day after, you teach the initial, first repetition of technique while you stand directly in front of the footbar “Reach your heals to me.  Lift them up to you.”  Again…you’re in business!  You just taught length with effort.  However, if you say what you’re used to saying “Drop your heels.  Lift them back up.”  You’ve taught a lack of control that gives into gravity.

Does that make sense?

Here’s another:  Mat:  The Roll Up
First repetition as a new exercise:  “Inhale, curl your head and chest up.  Exhale reach your spine forward.  Inhale start rolling your spine back.  Exhale lengthen your spine into the mat.”  That’s just the very first repetition.  Already this client is reaching and lengthening.  I don’t say “down to the mat” which implies lack of control, compression and release into gravity…I emphasize actions that are part of Pilates.

It makes an unbelievable difference!

Now, there are times that I have to “translate” Common Speak to Pilatespeak in order to teach my client my language.  Such as a Swan Prep.  First repetition, I might say something like this “Lift your torso and head up.  Lengthen back into the mat…down to the mat.  Second repetition which requires less words of technique and more rhythm and a sense of the energy or muscularity of the exercise I would say “Lift Up! Lengthen Long to the mat.”  Embodying the exercise with the tone of my voice and choice of words.

It takes effort to choose words that embody the exercise.  It does!  And…if you’ve read my pieces before or work with me in workshops you know what I will say next:  It’s your job to make the effort!  And…it’s fun!  It’s far more fun to choose great words that help your client than it is to choose cheap mindless ones.  I don’t blame you for being mindless about this thus far.  You’re doing a great job!  You’re using the words that your teacher used and her teacher before.  But…you can do better!  You’re the next level in teaching.  Let’s build on what we’ve learned.  Let’s not stay in the habits of others…unless they work!  And then…let’s even reach beyond that!

Enjoy!  Have fun!  See where you can stretch yourself…as a teacher!  We’re supposed to be working our bodies and minds, too!

*****As always…please feel free to comment, ask questions, request a blog post/article topic, etc.  Whatever you need, relative to Pilates, please just ask and I will work to provide!  See below for workshop and session details!  Thank you for taking the time to further your Pilates education with me!******

Upcoming Workshops:

Sunday, June 12, 2011
Rhinebeck, NY

9-10am – Thematic Mat Class

I will pick a theme at the start of the class that will be focused on and sought after in each exercise.  There will be a strong through-line of that theme.  Everyone will leave class with a new set of muscles and an awareness of something special that wasn’t there an hour ago!


10:15a-1:15p – Archival Mat and Standing Exercises
There are many more version of Mr. Pilates’ exercises than we see today. Variations, modifications, combinations of multiple exercises in one! Fascinating, challenging and all the rest!  These versions should not just live in the memories of those of us who had access to them years ago.  They ought to be living, breathing exercises for those who need the modification or challenge!  Experience this material, then teach it so we never lose track of these great exercises!


2-5p – The World of The Chairs:  High Chair and Wunda Chair – Your Body’s Best Friends!
You didn’t know if you should invest in a high chair, but you did…and you hardly use it.  Or maybe you haven’t bought one and wonder if you ought to  It’s an amazing tool!  You deserve to learn how to use it to it’s fullest for you and your clients 0 from Session 1 to Session 4001.  Then there’s the wunda chair, the “home reformer”.  So many exercises, it’s almost overwhelming to pick and choose…and you pick the same 3 or 4 over and over again.  Let’s open the doors to the World of The Chairs!  Let’s work to understand the purpose of each exercise on each chair and make it come alive for you and your client!


For registration and pricing information, contact Elaine at Rhinebeck Pilateswww.RhinebeckPilates.com


Saturday, June 18, 2011
NYC – Real Pilates
Shoulder Girdle:  A Delicate Balance

The Shoulder Girdle is a complex system.  When I first started teaching, all I knew was “pull your wings down” and “crack a walnut”.  The more I study biomechanics, the more I know there’s very little down and no cracking.  It’s a delicate balance of bone, muscles, ligaments, tendons…and constant reassessing.  Dynamic Stability is what we’re looking for.  Let’s spend time studying where we’re going with the shoulder girdle and how to get there in Pilates. We’ll take time with anatomy and biomechanics, Pilates exercises, common ailments and all of your questions.  Take a moment to review what you already know before the workshop…then we can grow from there.

Register atwww.realpilatesnyc.com  Go to the option “Browse our classes” and then click on “Workshops”.  You’ll see it there!  If you prefer, you can just call 212.625.0777 .

***Please share this information and tell your Pilates teacher friends and colleagues to come on over for workouts and workshops that will get your Pilates-teaching-juices flowing.***
Again, these are not your typical workshops where you might get 1 useful tidbit.  You will leave full of new teaching skills and ways to look at Mr. Pilates work.  You will have a new perspective on Pilates that will enliven your teaching and your own workouts!
Shall we set up something at your studio or the one you work at?  Clearly, I travel to teach and enjoy it!  Read below for more info!

Workshops in Your Studio:
If you are interested in my teaching workshops and/or semi-private sessions for your teachers at your studio, please contact me atinfo@TheVerticalWorkshop.com
I’ll be thrilled to put together a program with you for your needs!

While my vocabulary is classical Pilates, the principles behind my teaching and workshops apply to every style of Pilates.

We have countless topics to play with within technique workshops of classical Pilates and teaching skills workshop that apply to all!

If you’re in NYC and want a Pilates session e-mail me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com
And I’m at Purchase College (Near White Plains/Westchester, NY) on Thursdays.

If you’d like a workshop and/or semi-privates at your studio, e-mail me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com  I travel all over the world and would be thrilled to come to you!

If you’d like to set up a meeting on the phone or in person to ask questions about the teaching or building your business, e-mail me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

Enjoy!- Shari

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Pilates…a Profession? Pick and Choose – An Article For Everyone!

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cindy Yee  |  June 8, 2011 at 6:17 am

    Great advice again! Just in time for my very first pilates teaching … Am nervous!

    • 2. theverticalworkshop  |  June 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm

      Hi, Cindy!
      Hang tight…do what you know…and remember that you love this stuff! Remember, too, that this is Pilates and not brain surgery. Meaning that no one is going to die if something goes astray. You’re going to do just great!

      And…allow yourself your nerves. It’s normal! Be nervous and let that propel you to think ahead and enjoy!

      Yes…that’s most important: Enjoy!
      – Shari

  • 3. Connie Borho  |  June 8, 2011 at 7:26 am

    Great blog post, Shari! Words are a powerful force, and remembering that each one that comes out of our mouths as teachers…heck, as humans…should be exactly what we mean to convey, will serve to make each experience richer. Thanks for providing some inspiration to better communication today!

    • 4. theverticalworkshop  |  June 8, 2011 at 1:57 pm

      Hi, Connie!

      Thank you for taking the time! It’s great to hear from you!

      Thanks, too, for your input on the pregnancy articles. It looks like Pilates Style will divide it into 2 articles: pre-natal and then post-natal. So…you’ll be seeing your great info in the next 2 issues! Thank you!!

      All the best,
      – Shari

  • 5. Kate Donahue  |  June 8, 2011 at 11:57 am

    thanks Sheri very helpful one of your best articles yet…..putting things into words can be very challenging. Time for everyone to reread 1984,,,,very relevant for

    • 6. theverticalworkshop  |  June 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm

      Hi, Kate,

      Thank you! You’re very kind!

      The pros and cons of indoctrination: In Pilates…pro! In politics…con! It is, indeed, time to reread 1984!

      All the best, Kate!
      – Shari

  • 7. Max Lobatto  |  June 8, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Hi Shari

    such a great article and for me, ties in so nicley to your ” Flow and Rythmn” workshop which I attended last weekend at PI studio. The two days were truley an inspiration and fortified me with my direction in the Pilates method.


    • 8. theverticalworkshop  |  June 8, 2011 at 9:46 pm

      Hi, Max,

      Thank you for your wonderful participation last weekend in London! It was great meeting and working with you! I hope we have many times to do so again in the future!

      And thank you, too, for taking the time to read this article…and let me know that it works for you! I’m really glad that you feel you are going in a strong direction for yourself!

      Please stay in touch! Ask me questions whenever they arise and feel free to request a topic for me to write on in the blog!

      All the best!
      – Shari

  • […] Pilatespeak – Choose Your Words Carefully2011/06/07 […]

  • 10. CathB  |  October 29, 2011 at 2:27 am

    Dear Shari,

    I have been following your blog with much interest and absolutely love your approach. Thank you! I absolutely agree that Pilates teachers need to be extremely careful with the words they use when cueing. Clients tend to do exactly what they are told. If the cues used do not capture the quality of the desired movement (which is the difference between pull and hug, for example), then the movement performed by the client will similarly lack the intended quality. A movement performed without the correct quality will likely involve muscles which ought not to be recruited for that particular movement, or involve them excessively. Worse, the client may fail to recruit the intended muscles altogether. For example, a ‘pull the navel to spine’ cue may result in (amongst other things) pelvic floor depression, excessive recruitment of rectus abdominus and excessive engagement of the upper fibres of the abdominals at the expensive of the deeper, lower fibres. My understanding is this: repeatedly performing such a movement results in weakening of the pelvic floor muscles, potential pelvic prolapse, pelvic instability, spinal stiffening and a host of other ills. That is, it seems to me that bad cueing from Pilates teachers combined with a lack of detailed attention for whatever reason, may actually have a damaging effect on the bodies of their clients. This is not to say that the Pilates method (whether classical or contemporary) is in itself harmful. Not at all. However, thoughtless cueing, even by teachers who have the best intentions, may have negative consequences. This is of course true for any movement discipline. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. I understand that you are extremely busy, so no rush.


    • 11. theverticalworkshop  |  November 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm

      Hi, Catherine,

      Thank you, again, for your time in reading my blog and commenting, asking questions and keeping on top of it all.

      Here are some thoughts to what you’ve said, though I’ll keep it brief because I don’t want to repeat myself from the article/blog/post already: What we say has tremendous impact on our clients. We have to make sure that what we say provides the desired result from our clients. With that, we need to be certain that what we’re asking our clients to do is even good for them! So, we must study, study, study how the body really works and make keen choices of words to direct our clients in such a way.

      We must be more than mindful…we must be fully educated and able to express our knowledge through movement words and cues directly to our clients so that our efforts to get them stronger, healthier, etc…can really be successful!

      Thanks, Catherine!
      – Shari

  • […] Pilatespeak – Choose Your Words Carefully2011/06/07 […]

  • 13. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    […] Pilatespeak – Choose Your Words Carefully2011/06/07 […]


Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Sessions via Skype

Would you like to do a workout, question/answer or mini-workshop session with Shari? Each week, Shari works with teachers all over the world via Skype. Email Shari at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

Workshop Download – The Music of Pilates

Buy, Info, FREE Sample


Full info listed under “Workshop Calendar” at www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com/workshops

EVERY DAY at your home:
The Music of Pilates

March 18 Webinar (with recording)

April 15 New York City, NY
27-29 Colorado Springs, CO

May 11-13 Seville, SPAIN
19-20 Atlanta, GA

June 22-24 Rio de Janeiro, BRASIL
16 Paris, FRANCE

July 20-22 New Orleans, LA

Aug 10-12 Boston, MA

Sept 21-23 Istanbul, TURKEY

Oct 12-14 Chicago, IL

Nov 2-4 Austin, TX

Dec 7-9 Venice, ITALY


(more soon to be posted with work online, recorded and in person)

EVERY DAY at your home:
The Music of Pilates

The Vertical Workshop

The Vertical Workshop Pilates

%d bloggers like this: