Pilates teacher or pilates instructor – Why does it matter?

Mon,Sep 09, 2019 at 05:39PM by

Alice is walking along a path when she comes to a fork in the path, and suddenly she sees the Cheshire Cat in a tree.

Alice said. “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where – ” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

” – as long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “If you only walk long enough.”

– Alice in Wonderland

To understand anything we need to have our learning scaffolded with basic concepts from which we can layer greater complexity and knowledge. This is one of the concepts underpinning education of children, who learn through play and modelling before they start formal schooling. Once in formal schooling more scaffolds are put into place to create basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. In this article I explore some basic scaffolding of skills and goals that underpin the differences and similarities between a pilates instructor, a pilates movement teacher and an Allied Health Practitioner. The purpose of this article is to help move the discussion about the future of the pilates industry forward, to maturity; so that we can better identify what are the skill sets for those who identify differently and need to determine how to scaffold learning and skills acquisition for clients and movement practitioners.

What is a pilates instructor?

In pilates we often talk about concepts of basic, intermediate and advanced exercises but this is not scaffolding for teachers or clients, rather such an approach is a performance. Such an approach is not necessarily teaching the skills necessary for performing that task. The task being a pilates exercise as part of the pilates method, and the difference between levels is linked to strength and endurance of the client. When we work as a pilates instructor this is exactly what we are doing, we are teaching tasks or a series of exercises as prescribed. This is because as a pilates instructor our training is limited to the 5 Ss, they being:

// stability – ensuring the body is stable enough to perform a specific task eg the pelvis is stable when performing the specific task of scooter

// strength – ensuring that a body is strong enough to perform a specific task, and if not, how to prepare that body for the task of a particular pilates exercise. Very often strength is linked to the musculoskeletal system and does not translate into other more complex activities.

// spring – what is the necessary spring resistance to either support or hinder the task because the springs are so inherent in the pilates equipment design.

// system – the pilates system or method identified as a series of exercises/tasks

// scope –  to work within the learning that you have acquired through this level of foundational study on the basis that you have acquired knowledge about the delivery of a specific series of tasks and the delivery of specific exercises, safely.

What is a pilates teacher?

I understand and appreciate that this is a great starting point for a comprehensively trained “pilates instructor”.  The instructor is able to finish their training and using their specific skills to help people achieve specific tasks, namely the progression through a system of exercises and using very specific equipment. However, for many instructors this is not enough they start to see things and wonder why one client can perform the task and another cannot. The instructor starts to push the envelope, question, explore and want to challenge themselves and their clients.  The instructors starts to study and begin their journey from instructor to pilates teacher. This journey involves the identification of the next S’s:

// skills – that is the elements of a task that are broken down into components so that a person can be able to achieve the higher level tasks

// strategies – the ways a person learns and understanding how to motivate a person and to explore the cognitive elements of a skill so that a client is able to achieve a variety of skills that can be transferred not only into a pilates task but into a variety of other movements. eg the skill sets of good hip extension and how that relates to scooter but also into good walking.

// subtlety –  the understanding that at times that the human body needs more than brute strength in order to perform tasks skilfully and that movement is not always about force but about balance and flow.

// soma – there is a need to respond to the person in front of you and the system needs to be moulded and adapted to the person and not the other way around. There is an understanding that the person’s interest is in the movement and their relationship with their body rather than simply with a system of tasks.

// scope – the development of knowledge beyond the performance of a task. It is the scope that has been acquired from the undertaking of broader training and study to understand anatomy, pathology, movement, phycology or educational modalities that inform analysis and critical analysis of movement pattern correction.

It is when the instructor is starting to explore these concepts of soma, subtlety, skills and strategy that we develop into a pilates teacher.

A pilates teacher educates a student to create a change in behaviour, or action, so that student is able to critically analyse and apply their skills in a variety of situations. When a pilates instructor reaches these realisations and apply such goals you see them start to think beyond just the “pilates method” which they all love. The teacher starts to explore other “movement methods” and starts to integrate many concepts of movements into a broader structure with a goal of creating a change in a person’s movement patterns.

The pilates movement teacher focus’ on goals of movement, pattern change, breaking down movement into specific elements and skills that makes it so hard to categorise them. The teacher has scaffolded their learning of movement to evolve into a different being, to a pilates instructor. One is neither better nor worse, it is just that there is a difference that keeps tearing the “pilates world apart” because difference is hard to appreciate.

The common elements of a pilates teacher and a pilates instructor

Rather than just focusing at the differences between a “pilates instructor” and a ” pilates teacher” it is also important to remember that there are many similarities, and they require:

// embodied experience of movement – if you have not done comprehensive self mastery, then you cannot understand the skills or the tasks that you are requiring of a person. This self mastery should be at least a minimum of 200-300 hours working with a recognised practitioner in personalised classes not group settings.

// comprehensively supervised teaching practice with a senior teacher, in an apprenticeship experience, for at least 200-400 hours as a junior instructor and student. Then many hours of teaching and study as a practitioner in order to become a pilates teacher.

// respect for the principle of pilates, which are broad principles that can be expanded to so many other movement modalities but are still embodied in the learning of movement within the pilates method.

// respect for movement in its role in good health and quality of life

// respect of knowledge and client expertise of their own body, which means that the approach is outside of a biomedical model. At the same time respecting practitioners who work in the bio medical model who are a complement to the work of fully trained movement practitioners.

// respect that health is the responsibility and experience of the person who commits to their practice it cannot be obtained from a pill, a cream or simply paying money.

Ways forward

Perhaps our industry needs to start identifying that there are different types of practitioners within it; each with different interests and skills, some are instructors and some are teachers. The different categories are linked to how and what the pilates practitioner sets the goal or focus within that class. What is most important though, is that whatever the focus, that practitioner has a base level of training, which encompasses more than a weekend course. The longer training is needed for the movement practitioner to embody the movement experience, and it is from that foundation they can develop their other skills, knowledge and abilities. The reasoning for this clarification is multiple as it can include:

// clarity of roles and goals

// standards for training

// clearer career paths

// greater clarity around what is, and what is not, the scope of practice for all people wanting to use the pilates kudos.

// greater certainty for clients

// better delineation of when a person is a pilates practitioner and when a person is an Allied Health practitioner.

For an outsider looking at pilates, there are things that are difficult to understand, and as such can lean to confusion for the consumer and commodification of the name of pilates. Some concepts for clarification are detailed below.

// Does the person I am seeing have sufficient knowledge and skill to meet my goals?  Whether those goals are to fit into a wedding dress or to walk better because the current walking patterns are leading to pain and problems. The problem for many clients is that they don’t know the differences between an instructor and a teacher and therefore there is a goal mismatch.

// How does an instructor scaffold their learning to become a teacher? How can our industry articulate a clear path of knowledge acquisition to the teacher level,  or are their many paths for a person to travel before they can call themselves a teacher?

// What is the professional standard to show that an instructor or teacher is at least comprehensively trained? Can there be an agreement at least as to the foundation levels of comprehensive training and self mastery as recognised by the pilates industry body/bodies.

//  What are the exercise or movement theories that underpin pilates, and how does the pilates practitioner use them differently to an Allied Health Practitioner? I would say that Pilates practitioners use dynamic systems theory, motor learning theories and neuro-plasticity. The concept being that the whole person, including mind and body, is involved in their movement experience in working with a client. The goal is to identify the person’s movement strategies whilst understanding the compensatory patterns and adaptations that have become embedded as attractor wells. The long term program is to help the person understand their movement patterns, become mindful of them to lead to the development of more effective strategies. The process is a long one, as it is ultimately about creating a relationship of self mastery and awareness. As such this approach is not biomedical.

 A movement teacher is not working in a biomedical model whereby there is an expert (the practitioner) who knows best for the client. A pilates movement teacher practices in a way that the client is the expert of their own body and the teacher is facilitating a better understanding to meet specific goals around quality of life and movement. The goals of pilates teachers are not as easily measurable as a goal specified by a physiotherapist. eg a physiotherapy goal would be that the client achieves X range of movement by Y date; a pilates instructor’s client goal might be that the client can perform the teaser; a pilates teacher’s client goal might be that they are able to walk with ease when they are going to the shops or caring for their grandchild, and the understanding of ease will change over time.

// The pilates approach is of health not:

beauty and fitness – which is generally focussed on short term goals with very little focus on self reflection and understanding. A hint that you are in this world when you see words like glamorous in the promotional material.

– not acute medical care – which lends itself to medical insurance scenarios, requiring specific medical goals in specified time frames. Remember that in Australia a person does not need a doctor’s referral to see an Allied Health Practitioner. As a result many Allied Health Practitioner’s diagnose, but that is linked to a physical condition and there is a clear identification of a plan for recovery. In those situations the Allied Health Practitioner should be working on a plan beyond acute stage, and ensuring that there is a broad support team for the client and that includes well trained movement practitioners.  The Allied Health practitioner would be working towards normalisation of the person’s exercise diet and activities so that the client is not overly medicalised

From a client, from a community and from a practitioner point of view it is important for us to recognise that the term pilates has been commodified and safeguards are needed. Those safeguards are for the consumer but also for the professional practitioners who have made major investments in their training and development of skills.

The identification of the modality of pilates as a protected term in Australia may be a starting point. This would mean that:

// Only those practitioners who have undertaken the comprehensive self mastery linked training can use the name of pilates and images of the equipment as part of their advertising.

// That membership of one of the two existing associations in Australia (either the APMA or PAA), is a pre-requisite for a person to use the term or images of pilates in their job description or service advertisement. This is consistent with many modalities that use professional bodies for self regulation and accountability. Throughout the world there are other national pilates associations, and it is about time that they cooperated to create international standards and codes of occupation towards formalised recognition of a profession and a protected modality.

// The process or adoption of the method by Allied Health Practitioners attracting medical insurance should be clearly limited to those practitioners who have undertaken comprehensive training in the pilates method and can clearly identify the use of the method in individualised sessions to acute care scenario, modifying the method to a biomedical approach. If the method is part of the pilates modality which can only be advertised and practised by those who have the requisite qualifications.  Pilates is a modality in its own right it is not physiotherapy on a spring, and clients deserve to receive the product that they have sought out.

// The use of the pilates method, by image eg group reformers, in group fitness training sessions without individualised focus or goals to attract medical insurance and clients is a model that is undermining both the Australian health insurance system and the pilates method around the world,  as well as compromising consumer safety who are being mislead into what they are purchasing.

The ideas discussed in this article are essentially about scaffolding individuals and also about the industry in order to move towards maturity, because it is time to claim our path.

cheshire cat holding a sign

cheshire cat holding a sign

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