“We do not give our bodies the care that our well-being deserves”.
I fell onto the teaching path unexpectedly and found that there is so much more to it than meets the eye.
It truly has been an amazing journey that keeps unfolding before my eyes every single day. Read on to see for yourself. I’m happy to answer any questions and comments if you are considering taking the plunge into teaching.
Becoming a Pilates Instructor
Setting the Stage
I became a Pilates enthusiast in college. I loved how worked, but relaxed I felt after a hard Pilates class. Then slowly but surely, class after class, I was hooked. Over time, I realized that Pilates works in different ways in my life: it strengthens and lengthens my body, calms me down, and puts me at ease. With new exercise variations, positions, and equipment, it’s constantly challenging and never dull. Perfect for my “type a” personality.
I thought about becoming an instructor while in college. I was already doing Pilates a few days a week, so I thought to myself, “why not get paid while I’m at it?” At that time, I looked at teaching as a part-time thing – something I loved to do and could make a few extra dollars doing while in school. So naïve of me. I was obviously not ready to take on the role of a teacher, nor did I know how much is required to be a truly dedicated and inspired teacher. After debating whether to become Pilates certified, I decided that I couldn’t fit it in with my class schedule. It just wasn’t my time. I told myself that I need to focus on my internships because they were supposed to land me my “real job” after I graduated.
Six years later, I settled into that “real job” . The internships did help and I was growing my career in politics. Pilates never left me – I continued to practice at various studios in town. Over time, I started to realize that my career did not fulfill me. I wanted more. I wanted to give that gift of Pilates to others. I wanted to show people how strong they could be. I wanted to show others that by connecting deeply to their body and practicing Pilates regularly, they can be strong and confident. Pilates became a part of my mission to inspire others to live a healthy, active, and ultimately a fulfilling life. On a personal level, being a teacher is the hardest thing that I have ever embarked upon. It challenges me to uncover the layers of what make me, “me”, so I can draw from that internal place to be the best teacher I can be.
So what did this all mean?
I decided that if you want something, you have to go for it now. No more waiting and making excuses. You never have time for everything, but you have time for the important things.
Working full time as a public policy consultant, I began taking one step at a time toward becoming a Pilates instructor. At that time, I was consistently practicing ONE Pilates and Fitness in Sacramento. I was taking classes with Sabin Morris, an instructor whom I really grown to love. She has also given me wonderful advice throughout the transition process and encouraged me to get my certification. The owner of the studio, Carol Hockridge, has also been very kind throughout the process. With over 20 years of teaching experience under her belt, and an impressive background of fitness, cycling, and Pilates, she gave me advice different programs and was the first one to give me a shot teaching at her studio (more on that later).
Choosing a Path
I started researching Pilates programs and was quickly overwhelmed by the number of choices. First, there is the decision about the type of program. Do I want to teach mat classes? Or do I want to be comprehensively trained? A comprehensive certification allows you to teach mat and equipment classes. In addition to mat, the comprehensive program includes the reformer, trapeze, cadillac or tower, chair, and barrel. The comprehensive program is obviously the most versatile. Some instructor training programs (like the one I chose) have a reformer option as well. In that case, after receiving the mat certificate, you would train to become a reformer instructor without going through the entire comprehensive program. Not all programs will allow you to do that. Midway through the mat program I decided that I would go all the way and become comprehensively trained. Again, I was hooked. All pieces of equipment have something unique to offer.
As far as client preferences go, some people are perfectly content with taking mat classes, some strictly do reformer, and others like to mix it up. The benefit of doing the full program is that you will be able to provide a really rich experience for your client and tailor a program to fit their specific needs. The good thing is that in most cases, you don’t have to decide between mat and comprehensive right away; you can start with the mat classes, and either stop there or continue on with the training. Different programs have different time requirements, but for the most part, the mat training can be completed in a few months, while the comprehensive program can take about a year. The timing will also depend on your schedule and how much time you can commit to it. The bulk of the work includes, practice teaching hours, observation hours, and personal practice hours. Because of my day job, it took close to a year to do all the required work for the comprehensive training. And that’s because I devote most of my spare time to Pilates.
Choosing a Program
Next, it was time to chose a specific certification program. I decided to seek professional opinions. I always like to get opinions from people who have been there and done that. I talked to my Pilates studio owner and a few very knowledgeable and trusted instructors and mentors. These people have years of experience teaching, and have worked with instructors with various certifications. After doing my research and speaking to the pros, there were a few programs that stood out:
There may be other smaller (and excellent) programs local to your area. These are just some of the big ones in my area. Each program is unique. Each program has its own class structure and requirements. Each program has its own individual style. But not every program is for everyone. What I loved about the Balanced Body Program (the one I ultimately picked) is that it is broken down into modules. Each module includes a weekend of training, coursework, written and practical test. The weekend modules are combination of learning the teaching skills, practice, practice teaching, and a little discussion/lecture. If you’re curious, you can find the specific requirements of my program, here.
The final test consists of a written exam and the observation of a session with a client or a class. Once you have completed all the requirements for your program, you will get a certificate of completion as a Balanced Body (Mat/Reformer/Comprehensive) Instructor. If you want to take your program further and get certified by the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA), the professional association and the only third-party certifying agency for Pilates teachers in the country, you have to complete the comprehensive training.
Whoa! Isn’t that a lot? Yes! But proper training is so important . You have to know what you’re doing when working with people and their bodies. People come in with injuries, tight backs, postural anomalies and you need to know what to do. People do Pilates for many reasons, but as an instructor you have to know how to keep a client safe first and foremost, and then guide people toward where they want to go (if that’s possible). There are no shortcuts to places worth going.
The Humble Beginnings – Remembering My First Class
My first weekend of training was challenging. I didn’t have any expectations, so I can’t say I was surprised, but I was certainly unprepared. First of all, there were anatomical terms coming at me from every direction. The instructors and owners of the studio where I started my mat training are physical therapists, and were adamant about us knowing exactly which muscles were recruited with every movement. Having no anatomy background, it was difficult. Although not required for mat training (but required for comprehensive training), I was going to take an anatomy class through Balanced Body a few months after the mat training.
Another thing that took me by surprise was how different people are – in their abilities, bodies, and learning styles, and how difficult it is to cater to each person. It was the first time that I had to talk a person through and exercise in a way that they could understand, and really look at the way their body moved. Spot if they are doing something wrong, and then correct them, all the while following a proper exercise sequence. I pride myself on being a multi-tasker (for better or worse), but this was a whole new level of multi-tasking! To be completely honest with you, I walked away from my first class feeling discouraged. I felt like I could do better. My purpose for telling you this is not to scare you, AT ALL. And I don’t want you to be scared. I was too hard on myself, and I don’t want you to be hard on yourself. Yes, I found a million things that I need to do better. But I also decided to cut myself some slack – it was my first time teaching a class, and I was on my way to do something that I loved. Going up in front of the class and teaching takes a lot of courage! Everything else will fall into place.
Then I started to practice. Carol Hockridge, the owner of ONE Pilates gave me a shot. I got a group of people I knew together (friends, co-workers, friends of friends) and anyone else who has either done Pilates or wanted to give it a try. I started practice teaching this group twice a week every week for months. I have no idea what it was like for them (in hindsight, I should have recorded myself), but that’s where the real learning started to take place. I had to learn how to watch people, cue, and bring all the anatomy knowledge together to make it work. After months of training and completing the mat modules, Carol offered me a mat class on the regular studio schedule.
6 Months Later
About 6 months after my first class, I began to see a change. I started teaching a mat class consistently, and began to feel much more comfortable. Of course, the technical skills improved with practice, but there was much more to my personal growth as a teacher – I started to feel confident. I realized that it was not that I discovered new ideas about teaching, but that I tapped into treasure chest of things I already knew.
I continued on with reformer training at a different studio and began to learn how important it is to have mentors and teachers to help you navigate the turbulent waters - people who inspire you and have qualities you admire and respect. It took me a little time to find teachers and mentors that were just that, but once I did, I was so thankful.
I cannot say enough wonderful things about the Skillful Teaching program. The creator of Skillful Teaching, Chantill Lopez, is a mentor of mine and her program is absolutely fabulous. Skillful Teaching helps you uncover what it means to be a teacher for you personally, and produces results for your success as a teacher, studio owner, or independent contractor.
Pick up Chantill’s latest book, Moving Beyond Technique: How To Nurture Your Passion, Master Your Craft, and Create a Thriving Pilates Business, it offers useful and practical tips, advice and guidance. Whether you are a Pilates teacher, yoga teacher or dance, I guarantee it will help you.
Here are some of my favorites.
Resources for Teachers
Favorite Studios and People (for instructor training/workshops)
Pilates Collective, Sebastopol CA
Turning Point Studios, Walnut Creek CA
Evolved Body Studio, Gold River CA
Master Level Balanced Body Instructors
Tom McCook, Center of Balance, Mountain View CA
Websites for Teachers