Independence by toeing the line…

July 4, 2017 at 12:46 pm 4 comments

What does Independence mean to you?
Yes…all that you just thought is exactly what it is. It is so many things to so many people.

And in Pilates…what is Independence?

It’s Independence Day here in America and I always consider what this means in relation to Pilates. As I’ve written before, Mr. Pilates wanted to encourage independence in the studio. That his students wouldn’t rely on the teachers for everything, but for only what they need. That piece was many years ago and can be read here: Independence: It’s Fundamental to Pilates!

Today, I want to consider the remarkable internal feeling our clients develop when they discover that they are getting stronger and more able…and how we really can help them get there.

You know that feeling. The feeling of accomplishment when you’ve surprised yourself that you could do something you thought you couldn’t? And do you know the feeling of confidence that you can do anything that you call your body into? The first is more common. The second is less common. Let’s discuss…

The First: The feeling of accomplishment when you’ve surprised yourself that you could do something you thought you couldn’t?

This is something that we can really work to help our clients achieve. It’s tempting to keep our clients in a safe zone of easily accomplishable exercises. Ones they feel they “get” and need very little struggle to achieve. Keeping things safe won’t help our clients achieve their physical goals. Not really. Most physical goals are achieved by going just beyond normal effort. It’s the struggle that is of value. But how much struggle is enough? How much is too much?

I’d love to say that there is a clear sign, a meter you can attach to your client or to yourself to answer these questions. Of course, there is not. However, if we train our clients to pay attention to their internal actions and communicate with us…then we make it possible to continually work towards the appropriate struggle.

The appropriate struggle is when your client can almost accomplish the task/action without being in danger of getting hurt and can sense that it will be possible in the near future.

Wow! That’s awkward! But that’s it!
1. Safety first: NO DANGER! No danger of injury relative to your client’s imbalances and no danger of injury of falling off an apparatus or pushing too hard. (You think I jest…but I’ve seen teachers push people so hard they fall off apparatus or apparatus has fallen on them. It’s not pretty. It should never happen.)
2. Almost accomplish the action: This means it’s not perfect. It should appear to be a bit of a struggle. Your client has to fight for the exercise! And that there is a positive development from the first repetition to the last repetition. However…positive development does not actually mean nailing it! (See another really old article I wrote: Expectations: It’s About Growth – Not Perfection)
3. Sense it will be possible: That’s the kicker! An internal sense of possibility! That’s where drive and desire come in! Your client will almost be able to taste possibility! She’ll want to do another repetition when all repetitions are completed…and you don’t let her. Because the truth is…it won’t happen in this session in that one more repetition. It will happen in the next session…not this one! If you give her that one more repetition she will  feel failure. So…you say “memorize that feeling! Let’s play with it again next session! And…next exercise is:____________!”

Toe the line of possibility and accomplishment! Get your client to the edge of her abilities of the day to excitement about what is possible for tomorrow! It’s just beyond comfort into a bit of a push. An appropriate push.

That’s key: ” An appropriate push.”

I am not a supporter of giving your clients exercises that they simply aren’t strong enough to really dig into. Some teachers choose really hard exercises so that their clients feel weak and then want to be strong enough to do it. No. Embarrassment is not a good teacher. Toeing the line: Good! Pushing beyond excitement and into embarrassment or deep competition: Not Good!

We toe the line to be slightly uncomfortable in the sense of wanting to get something that is just barely out of reach. Almost accomplishable…but not quite…you can see it and smell it and taste it… From there great strength and excitement develops! An inner sense of independence develops because you’ve gone just outside of your comfort zone and then over time you’ve achieved!

Make sense?

The other concept I expressed was the amazing independence of being able to do anything that you physically (or mentally) ask yourself to do. Well, that is something that not everyone will be able to achieve for many reasons. Physical, emotional and/or chemical barriers to being able to accomplish all. Some of our clients are acutely aware that they are limited and feel their Independence is therefore limited as well. They cannot do all that they wish to do. It’s more normal than not. Feeling limitations. However, I do believe that what we do in Pilates especially when we toe the line and make for accomplishment over time and all of the time helps our clients find more and more that they are able to do rather than focus on what they are not able to do.

Independence…are we working with our clients and ourselves (our favorite client…oh there is a piece I wrote on that right there: Your Favorite Client) in a way that we seek to accomplish what is just out of reach all of the time? Can we help our clients focus on what they can do more than what they cannot do. And not by saying…but by letting them experience it!

As always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, please write in the comment section! I’m glad to have a discussion!

Thank you for having taken he time to read this article and I hope it encourages you to move forward in your teaching and practice in this stunning way!

If you have any questions at all or want to share your thoughts in the comment section, please do!

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What will it be this year? I’m coming back to the blog…

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tracy Sue Du Plessis  |  July 4, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Hi Shari thank you for another great article that I resonate with. I had my own studio in South Africa and I have recently moved to Australia, 3 month ago. I am working free lance at two studios and it is very different to what I am used to. I’m classically trained and I’m used to working for myself. I had classes of only 7 as I have 7 chairs and all equipment but I had a normal class and I had a class what I called my unconditional class for those who had problems and I needed to work slower and give lots of attention to. It is very different here and change is good but I feel as if I am not givng the clients what they deserve.
    Pilates here is called contemporary pilates so if I call the name of an exercise as we would hardly anybody knows the names let alone the purpose of the exercise. But the problem I have getting my head around it is they have these studio classes. Maximum of 3 or 4 people and it’s rather costly. When I first got here I did some of these classes all over and it freaked me out. One class in particular that I did it was myself, I’m 47 but advanced level then a young beginner and then a weak 65+ year old. When I finished the class it did not sit well with me. Now I’m teaching those type of classes. Last week I taught my first time at this studio and I had a 36 week pregnant lady a 27 week pregnant lady then a very strong fit athletic man the husband of one of the ladies.
    So I taught well challenged him where I could and made sure both ladies only did what they should be doing but I have this feeling that I was doing all 3 in. I feel like I couldn’t give them what they needed or were capable of because of the vast range. It would have been different if it had been just the two ladies on their own. I teach with a lot of enthusiasm and I probably lean more to teaching strong people so the entire class I was so aware of my voice projection incase the two ladies worked too hard when I was directing an instruction purely for him. All the classes seem the same though. A complete mixture. One old person who can’t even lift their head up off the floor and a super strong young girl with a very large lady. I did not do that in my studio at home. I kept like with like. I am obviously learning quickly to accommodate as a good instructor should but I have a strong opinion about it.
    So why I am writing is I would like to hear your opinion on that. Is this the usual way in America too?? They people here don’t know any different I suppose so it’s me who has to accept but I am the kind of teacher who wants to give my all to the client. I’m passionate about pilates and I sometimes feel like I can’t do that. With some groups I have even been going back to pre basic as they don’t seem to have a clue and they have been doing pilates for a couple of years.
    Any adivice you can offer me I would appreciate.
    Thank you for all your amazing blogs.
    Warm regards
    Tracy Sue

    • 2. theverticalworkshop  |  July 12, 2017 at 6:34 pm

      Hello, Tracy,

      Thank you for reaching out about this. It is a considerable issue all over the world: mixed level group classes. I do have quite the technique to make these classes wonderfully dynamic. I discuss it to some extent in I imagine that the article is relatively incomplete as I have developed even more than what is in that piece from 2010, but it’s a place for us to begin a conversation. Why not read that and then let’s discuss more. I will very gladly teach you my entire technique on it. I know we are 1/2 way around the world from each other…but there are always Skype sessions and recordings! Let’s see what we can do!

      Either comment here or email me at with more questions so I can really assist!

      Thank you!
      – Shari

  • 3. Max  |  October 22, 2017 at 6:10 pm


    Exquisite piece……you really hit the spot….thank you!

    You inspire!!!

    warmest regards

    (ps can’t believe I’ve only just read this :-))))

    • 4. theverticalworkshop  |  October 22, 2017 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks, Max…for taking the time to read this, comment and…comment so kindly!

      All the best to you!
      – Shari


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