Speaking a new language

New Year

It’s a new year and as usual I find myself reflecting on what has happened in the last 12 months. What a year we had in 2018!
We relocated the studio to a larger premises. Added more equipment. Provided more options and continued together on our movement journey with Pilates. It’s been amazing to see the studio gradually settle in to new routines and new faces. But that’s not all that’s been going on. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve also been trying to learn a new language. Now this isn’t some new dialect per se in which I can communicate with people from another land. The language I’m learning is to help me be a better Pilates teacher.

It is a language that is almost the same as I was speaking but has been so challenging in its purpose and in its origin, that I questioned every foundation that I had built my practice on. Deep stuff huh?

A new language…

This new language I’m trying to learn is one where I need to change the words that I use to communicate the movement I want others to experience. This language needs to become inclusive and remove phrases that promote judgement and the fear of failure. Instead of policing the way you move and saying things like ‘Don’t use your glutes’ or ‘Activate your pelvic floor more’, I’m now more interested in asking ‘How does that feel?’ If you reach your feet more towards the wall does that change what you’re feeling?’ The end result in terms of movement is probably going to be the same but the narrative around the experience is different.

Instead of worrying about using the ‘wrong muscles’ (like that’s even possible – a leg exercise uses leg muscles, an arm exercise uses arm muscles) or making an error with a particular exercise, I’m more interested in actually seeing a student try a new movement and seeing how it feels. I’m more interested in encouraging that student to try it again and not being concerned how it looks or that someone else ‘does it better’.

Shhhh!

This new language also involves me being quiet, to listen and watch more. To try and time cues to when they can help rather than hinder movements and let students try things out. Basically I need to shut-up and let the movement happen. The most exciting thing is that this language has filtered through to my students and I now see a group of people who are positive fearless movers. My selection of language has changed behaviour. Words are powerful. Movement more-so. The challenge for me has been to be consistent with my practice and not falling back into previous learned behaviour. To not try and over-analyse or try and ‘fix’ a body. The struggle is real.

But why change?

Because it’s all about the science baby! As the year went on and I was reading research paper after research paper all pointing in the same direction. The evidence was coming in that setting up an environment of inclusiveness, and positive encouragement is more important than getting a movement to look a certain way or do a certain number of repetitions. The physical outcome is more heavily influenced by the brain and how it is using it’s alarm system than I had understood. I needed to challenge my own thoughts first.

Break the mould

In a previous blog post, I covered a little bit about the fiction of ‘Good Posture’, which received some very interesting responses both in the studio and online. It seems that one of the main struggles for most people about the concept that ‘ideal’ posture isn’t really a thing, is the idea that a cornerstone of many peoples Pilates practice is to correct ‘bad’ posture. The growing tide of evidence, studies and reviews pointing to the idea that the models of the human body that you and I grew up with is not, in fact, reality. That the ideas we were taught as real and factual are at best half-truths or incomplete pictures. What is really happening? I can proudly say now – I don’t know.

There have been times this year where I’ve been really struggling to tread water and keep up with all the new bits of information that I’m now learning about. It’s all a little bit crazy. Up is down. Black is white.

Think critically

In reviewing all of the studies and research into this area one thing I kept coming back to was something I learnt all those years ago in the first year of my science degree:
• Good scientists and critical thinkers constantly examine the evidence, arguments, and reasons for their beliefs.
• You must question the truth and reliability of both the knowledge claims of others and the knowledge you already possess. Self-deception and deception of yourself by others are two of the most common human failings. Self-deception often goes unrecognised because most people deceive themselves. The only way to escape both deception by others and the far more common trait of self-deception is to repeatedly and rigorously examine your basis for holding your beliefs.
• Critical thinking is thinking correctly for oneself that successfully leads to the most reliable answers to questions and solutions to problems.
• Emotions are not evidence, feelings are not facts, and subjective beliefs are not substantive beliefs.

If your response to the idea that ‘ideal’ posture isn’t real and trying to correct posture is not what is really happening is to say ‘But it worked for me.’ or ‘My clients get good results’, you are probably presenting a post hoc fallacy and need to revisit your critical thinking skills. We need to be honest to sit down and recognise the pursuit of the ‘ideal’ posture for what it is – a quaint Victorian-era science fiction that has more to do with aesthetics and cultural trends than it does to do with health and function of the human body. The pursuit of ‘ideal posture’ has no more to do with determining the health, well-being and longevity of a person as phrenology has to do with the character or intelligence of a person.

Practitioners’ claims of having the cure or being able to fix ‘bad posture’ have as little to do with reality as the hucksters of yesteryear peddling Cure-alls and snake oil.

So what’s the goal for 2019? Worry less about how things look. Become better with my words. Keep developing a studio space that is inclusive, supportive and positive. And move. Move often. Move in new ways.

Just move.

2 thoughts on “Speaking a new language

  1. Thank you! At last, someone who is involved in Pilates who doesn’t revel in using exclusive, condescending and ineffective language when explaining Pilates. What is worse is that when you ask a Pilates practitioner what “let your shoulders melt toward your back” or other such arcane phrases mean, their explanation consists of more degrading insider speak instead of giving you a simple straight answer. I really want to know what they are trying to say, but can’t get past the code words. I really want to get involved in Pilates and reap the benefits, but it is so hard to get started when I only understand 20% of what is being told to me. Unfortunately, my impression is most Pilates practitioners, just like to hear themselves talk and glory in their 50 dollar catch phrases rather than using clear descriptive English. The takeaway is that they, apparently that they think they are better than you. Why not just use descriptive English? Why all the insider speak? Why do they promote being Pilates bigots rather than the joys of Pilates. Somehow I don’t think this is what Joe intended.

  2. Thanks for reading Keith.
    I wish I could say that doesn’t happen but I’ve experienced it too. It’s quite sad actually and I don’t believe Joe intended it to be that way either – he really truly wanted everyone to experience his method.
    I hope you have found a teacher that is more interested in teaching YOU rather than fuelling their ego.

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