August 10, 2014 at 2:47 pm 16 comments

Pilates ComPassionCompassion is a heavy word…it is about humanity…being a true human. Feelings and actions of sympathy, empathy, virtue and consideration. Compassion is a human action of thought and feeling. Other animals seem to show compassion, too. Isn’t it about being, then? Existing in harmony with ourselves and others.

Why consider compassion?

As Pilates teachers or pilates enthusiasts, we must consider compassion for those you are working with and compassion for yourself. I’m not talking selfless vs. selfish or being a good teacher or a well-mannered student, though these are important things to consider. I’m talking about seeing humanity in others and yourself. I’m talking about putting yourself in another’s shoes (empathy) and caring. Stepping outside of yourself to see yourself…as someone who deserves care, too.

Let’s begin with compassion for others.
As a Pilates teacher, we must develop our hearts for our clients. Our clients come to a session to learn, to achieve a goal (physical, emotional or other), to move… Do they always find the task of Pilates easy? No. Our dear clients can often feel awkward or confused. Learning and growth happen best when we as teachers anticipate the needs of our clients by catching awkward or confusing moments before they happen. You  know how it feels to be confused. It’s doesn’t feel good. You feel diminished and powerless. Some will be scared. Of course, you don’t desire this for yourself then in turn, you will not want this for your client. Ah, the compassionate teacher will work hard to avoid confusion. Being a positive teacher means more than saying “good” and being encouraging. A positive teacher also works to teach in a way that is clear, well structured and avoids confusion.

With great import, let’s seek to remember what it was like to be a client ourselves. Each new exercise might have been exciting to you! However each or some might have been scary for you. And, let’s also recall that no two people are the same. In the act of compassion, we must be empathetic and seek out what our clients are feeling…which may be very different than anything that we might have felt. Fun and thrilling to you might be very frightening to your client. Easy for you might be difficult for her. Obvious to you might be completely shrouded in mystery to him.

It’s OK to share with your client that perhaps you used to have a difficult time with a particular exercises, too. I recall being a student and feeling downtrodden that my teachers didn’t seem to show any kindness in my struggles. Negative cues and demeaning phrases. One in particular that I found really rude from a famous teacher “You have a power-studio {as in studio apartment}, not a power-house.” and that was when I was just learning. That was diminishing. Why not say something akin to “You are getting stronger…and one day will be far stronger!” or don’t say anything at all!

Another place you can practice your compassion with your clients is in the way that you think about them or talk about them with other teachers. I have spent time around teachers who talk  down about their clients or gossip about them. How weak a client is or how uncoordinated a client is. The teachers often roll their eyes or make snide remarks. There doesn’t seem to be any room for this behavior in the book of humanity or compassion. People are trying hard. They want to achieve. Your negative thoughts are nasty. These people are coming to you for help and are paying your rent. You can show greater kindness to their efforts.

Along with this, I see notes on forums all of the internet where people laugh at clients who fart or who have difficult times doing what seem to be basic exercises. Again I ask: where is your heart? Some clients will fart or sweat excessively or have bad breath or bad body odor. This is going to be. That doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve your best. Maybe they deserve even more of your kindness. Do they deserve your cruelty with gossip in the teachers room or teachers forums? No…of course not.

Let’s broaden our opportunity for teaching with compassion for our clients. Our clients whether clearly open for anything or seemingly shut down lie on a mat in front of us and seek our assistance. That is what they are doing. Even those who challenge you and make seeming-steam come out of your ears…even that client is on the mat asking you for aid. Open your heart, remember why she is there and your promise as a Pilates teacher. Remember why you are teaching in the first place.

Compassion for our clients.

Now…what about compassion for ourselves as teachers? That is vital, too. We are often hard on ourselves. Too hard. Perhaps in all of life, but we’ll talk of the Pilates studio here. I have received messages from many-a-Pilates teacher sharing a hard day and asking if it’s OK that this horrible session happened or a difficult mat class or any number of things. Of course it’s OK. We all have bad days. We all make mistakes. We’re only human. If we don’t see the humanity in ourselves…we have very little we’ll be able to share with our clients.

As much as you’ll seek to anticipate issues, you will run into problems big and small. You must forgive yourself for this. Immediately. If you’re not used to being kind to yourself, it does take practice. You deserve it.

Though my rule is that we must anticipate issues and never have even one repetition of pain for a client…well…that doesn’t always happen. We must do our best, and if we certainly have, release ourselves from guilt if we do not succeed 100% of the time. While we work for a 100% retention rate of clients, we also must do our best and then, again, release ourselves from guilt if we do not keep all clients all of the time.

Are you changing your schedule and cannot accommodate everyone? That has to be OK.
Do you need to put more people into semi-privates and not all into privates? That also has to be OK. (Not to mention it is better for them and better for your business. A topic for another article:  teaching-mixed-level-semi-private-sessions-guidelines )
Did you have to cancel a day because you were sick? That has to be OK.
Did you just have a bad day? That has to be OK.

With practice and great self-awareness, each session, each day can be extremely successful no matter what is going on in your personal life or in the moment, but even the most practiced can have a hard day or moment. It has to be OK. We must release ourselves from the pressure of “every moment has to be perfect”. Nothing is perfect. All is practice. It’s a practice this life.

Compassion for yourself.

Now…there is another compassion that we must discuss. That is compassion for your fellow teacher. There’s a lot of chit and chat across the web with people cutting others down. Personal attacks. Why? Certainly because they are insecure to such an extent that they attempt to raise themselves up by trying to discredit others. It’s difficult to find compassion for people who are hurtful to you in these ways. I can speak for myself and tell you that I am pained when someone attacks me in one way or another. I see it for what it is: that attacker’s fear and self-loathing. My compassion is limited for those people, it is true. Hurtful actions are not-ever OK. Still, it brings me to recognize the need for some sort of compassion. I will not reach out to that person to try to see eye to eye, but I will remember that this person is hurting and sad…deeply. I will not fight the person who is trying to bring me into her own personal struggle, but I will recognize that this is his struggle, not mine. I will not engage, but I will attempt to humanize this person rather than demonize. Oh…it’s difficult. I tell you. It is difficult. However…let’s seek to humanize.

Let’s be true teachers. Let’s see our clients, ourselves and our fellow teachers as humans. Let’s practice Compassion.


***Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you have any comments, please feel free to post them below. And if you ever have any questions related to any aspect of Pilates or biomechanics, know that you can always leave them in the comments or email me directly at ***

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– Shari Berkowitz
Shari Berkowitz & The Vertical Workshop

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Fear Not the Foward Flexion of the Spine…Just Seek to Understand… Abdominals. Spine. Why? and Biotensegrity.

16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Amy  |  August 10, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    This article was beautiful and heartfelt. Thank you! Amy

  • 2. Kathy Sagmiller  |  August 10, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    In Seattle 2006, our paths kept crossing while attending a 3 day workshop. This was my first experience with the leaders in the field of Pilates. You were my inspiration that there was a reason why Pilates should be a part of my life. Your unspoken kindness gave me the courage to pursue this new movement experience. I continue to read your blogs and the subject of “Compassion” is why helping others as a Pilates’ instructor is my passion at this stage of life.
    Thank you,
    Kathy Sagmiller

  • 3. Arlene Salomon  |  August 10, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Thank you Shari. Once again you brought attention to another extremely important topic. Remembering compassion helps us all grow together as equals in the Pilates profession. As we work on ourselves and with others- colleagues or clients- we need to consider feeling. This applies even as we consider science in the Pilates method, from a humanitarian point of view, there is a strong relation between feeling and theory. “Theory cuts off its roots, loses its connection to reality when it ignores feeling”. Quote from one of my favorite artists/activist, M. Stevens.

  • 4. Jon Hawkins  |  August 10, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Just wrote an extended comment to this that disappeared into the ether. To summate: Totally agree with all three areas we need to show greater compassion and empathy and you are clearly more evolved than those who seek to tear you down!

  • 5. Gerda  |  August 11, 2014 at 1:43 am

    Thank you Shari!
    Being compassionate with your clients,putting yourself in their shoes,trying to feel and see things the way they feel and see makes one not only a better Instructor but first of all a great person.

    Great Blog Shari.

  • 6. amityounger  |  August 12, 2014 at 7:10 am

    Beautifully written Shari! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience with us all! I would just like to add my thoughts on one comment “the compassionate teacher will work hard to avoid confusion”- I think any good teacher will work hard to be clear and avoid confusion as this is part of what we do… I think the compassionate teacher will learn how to recognize that despite their best efforts the client is still confused and/or just “does not get it”… and will deal with the situation in a compassionate and not angry/frustrated way. Not an easy task… but it brightens everyone’s day 🙂 Best wishes xAmit

  • 7. Gena Spil  |  August 12, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Check this out holly, and her workshops.

    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

  • 8. Karin Krouse  |  August 16, 2014 at 5:34 am

    Thank you Shari, such beautiful and compassionate words. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou from Australia.

  • 9. Janet burke-Allen  |  August 16, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    WOW, as always you are sooo insightful! Really makes me look at myself and strive to be compassionate in all aspects. I am so glad you are in my life. You inspire me! Thank you.

    • 10. theverticalworkshop  |  August 17, 2014 at 12:07 pm

      Janet, I am very glad that we are in each other’s lives, too! – Shari

  • 11. The Body Sleuth  |  August 20, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Thank you for sharing, I believe that we can never have too many reminders to be kind and have compassion, for they act as gateways to the love that drives all of us. In my life practice, which encompasses Pilates for self and others, mothering, being a wife, owning a studio, and just plain existing, kindness is my constant guiding light. The more I look for kindness the more I discover the little ways in which I’m not kind and slowly and steadily repair them with TLC.

  • 12. Dominic Reigns  |  September 16, 2014 at 6:59 am

    Heart touching post

  • 13. reformer pilates  |  October 15, 2014 at 6:28 am

    Well, it was an informative post about pilates and I would say that in my practice, that encompasses Pilates for self as well as others, mothering, being a wife and just plain existing etc. kindness is one of my constant guiding light that always helped me.

  • 14. Ricky Margan  |  November 22, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Thanks for this beautiful article. Compassion is the ability to understand the emotional state of another person or oneself. It improves our health, well-being and relationships. Many scientists believe that compassion may even be vital to the survival of our species, and they’re finding that its advantages can be increased through targeted exercises and practice. If we can learn to treat our bodies with compassion we can greatly improve our physical and emotional well-being.

    • 15. theverticalworkshop  |  December 11, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      Hello, Ricky,

      Thank you for taking the time to write such a lovely comment on Compassion. Of course, many thanks for having taken he time to read the article.

      Compassion is vital for all!

      All the very best!
      – Shari

  • 16. Debbie  |  March 19, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Beautiful article. Thank you.


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