Facilitation vs. Training
A major tenant of The Shift, is the idea of exemplifying the role of Movement Facilitator within your teaching practice. Pilates Instructors know well the role of "training," but may be unfamiliar with how that's different than "facilitating." Both are worthwhile and necessary components of teaching, especially teaching a movement practice. Training lends itself to the introduction to and acquisition of a new skill (e.g. learning The Roll-up / Teaser / Pulling Straps / etc). Facilitation encourages students to explore skills, develop personal movement strategies around skills, and embody those skills in order to develop long-term behavioral changes. It's through facilitation that we can concisely encourage our students into the home and personal practices they need to shift their body, and help them develop life-long movement skills.
- Non-hierarchical / The idea of Teacher-Student relationship is replaced by Co-Creators in which an informed Teacher guides a Student through a movement experience, but is open to hearing suggestions and feedback from the student
- Enables learning to deepen and be applied, but is not concerned with significant knowledge transfer
- Measured by self-evaluation and perceived improvements
- Open lines of communication exist / Question asking is invited
- Learning leads to behavioral change
- Hierarchical / Classic Teacher-Student relationship exists
- Specific and significant amounts of knowledge transfer exists
- Can be measured by formal assessments and quantifications
- Linear line of communication / Teacher cues & student executes
- Learning leads to the acquisition of a specific skill, or set of skills
Three Core Values of Facilitation
- Valid Information: The information provided must be understandable to one and all. We encourage Teachers to diversify their teaching styles to explore visual / tactile / verbal cues, as well as introduce variations within a movement skill (there are many ways to Roll-Up or Mermaid). Diversifying and/or simplifying your teaching strategies helps students of all physical (body) intelligence levels to understand the tasks that are being asked of them. Are bone and muscles cues really as valuable as we perceive them to be? Do all of your students comprehend those cues? How about strict visualization cueing? Do we all agree upon what it feels like to have water flowing down our backs? Or what the experience of floating feels like? How about generic cues like "engage the powerhouse?" Does everyone know what that means? Simplifying and/or diversifying your teaching strategies is key to facilitating a valid information experience that is understood by all students. Be direct and sincere with your words.
- Free & Informed Choice: Students have the choice of defining their own goals, and the ways in which they achieve them. Do you fully understand your students' goals? When they say they are here to improve their core ... what does that mean to them ... and why is that important to them? Are they really saying they need stronger abdominal muscles? Or are they saying their back hurts, and someone told them that a stronger "core" solves that problem? When does their back hurt? Is it when they walk / lie down / sit / play / dance? Is stressing core strength/stability truly going to resolve their complaint? Is it your students' goal to achieve a long & lean physique? Or is that your goal for them? When your student performs a movement well, or better than they have previously, do they feel the benefit and comment on how much better that felt? Or do you impose your experience with their movement before they have had time to evaluate their own experience. (e.g. OOH! That was so much better! Don't you feel better now that you're moving so much better!?) A facilitator can help students determine or alter their goals, and assess whether a particular option or decision meets those goals ... so we encourage teachers to ask more questions, choose words wisely, direct less, and cherish silence.
- Internal Commitment to Choices: Students feel personally responsible for the choices they make. This type of commitment results because students are happy with the decision and their involvement in it, not because there is any possibility of reward or punishment for supporting it. We'd like to encourage teachers to leave behind the idea that Pilates, or movement in general, is something to get RIGHT or WRONG. While there are certainly postures and alignments that are more or less advantageous for the successful completion of any task, the body of the student will determine those choices better than any comparison to the way something should look or the grace with which it is executed. Movement is a process to explore, not a pose to be judged ... please don't thwart your students expression of movement simply because it's not the choice you'd make. Inform them of options, encourage play, allow them to test and re-test, and even challenge your suggestions. Their practice is about them, and their commitment to their practice relies heavily on them feeling responsible for it.
So, what are some strategies for Facilitating a Movement Experience rather than Training Exercises?
- Ask Questions:
- What would happen if you relaxed your shoulders? VS. Cueing, "depress your shoulders."
- What did you notice about the quality of that movement? VS. Next time, articulate more through your lumbar spine.
- How did that feel? It's okay to say, "not very good, or GREAT!" VS. I noticed how much better/worse that was for you.
- NERD NOTE: Due to the design of the brain (specifically the corpus callosum) men and women interpret question asking differently. Men tend to respond better to questions regarding "what do you notice?" While women can answer that question, and also equally "what do you feel?" Science has shown that the brains of gay men are designed more like those of women, so both questions work for that group as well. With special populations like Spinal Cord Injuries / MS / Parkinsons / other neuro-specific pathologies we tend to default to the "what do you notice" question as to not bring up any sense of lack for things that can literally not be felt.
- Cue Movement:
- From this lying position, roll up to touch your toes. VS. Now we'll do the Roll-Up. Engage the powerhouse, straighten the legs, use your abdominals to execute the exercise, etc.
- Roll on to your right side, and begin by lifting your top leg. Can you make as much / or as little of you touch the floor as possible? VS. It's time for side-lying leg series. Use your obliques to lift your bottom ribs so that a mouse could make a house underneath. Using your glutes lift the top leg only X-amount high while engaging the pelvic floor, etc.
- Learn To Be Comfortable With Silence:
- Recall from the Semiotics Section that only 7% of communication is word choice, and 70% of all communication is non-verbal.
- This is a hard one. We want our students to know we're educated and skilled ... how will they know if we don't tell them? Are we worth our money if we don't use all of our words? Honestly, your student has already found value in your services by showing up. They have found value in your work by exploring the movements you suggest. By inviting in some silence you allow your student to explore how they interpret the work / how they experience the work / how they feel about the work / what is difficult for them to do / what they enjoy doing ... and those are the things they are more likely to do at home, for the long-run, and tell their friends about (creating more new students). This strategy also leaves space for you to really WOW them with tidbits of knowledge along the way - they'll wonder what else they could learn from you!?
- Invite Mistakes:
- More accidents and incidents happen when we attempt to "get it right" vs. explore. Certainly we are all looking to up-regulate / improve our students quality of movement and relationship to their body and environment, but they don't need all systems to be at 100% on the very first repetition of every new skill. There's a learning curve. Think of how a baby explores its environment. S/he looks around, tries a few novel ways of moving ... maybe gets more finessed, but there are certainly A LOT of failed attempts along the way. Eventually there's crawling / walking / exploring that happens. Why should adults be any different!? In studio we're often moving bodies that haven't MOVED in decades. Expect (and appreciate) chunky, rigid, choppy movements ... with practice they'll learn the level of finesse that seems most appropriate (and important) for them. They've shown up, tried, explored ... and thus succeeded.
- If you take away nothing else, we hope you leave with this. It's okay, and in fact genius, to explore movement. That's how "exercises" were invented in the first place. Proverbially, here's a range of motion I can explore. Here's a challenge to that range of motion - our as we like to call them Movement Potentials. I'll just keep doing that thing over and again ... you know, practice it. Voila, an exercise is born. We think of the classic Pilates repertoire as archetypal movements and benchmarks for progress, but they are certainly NOT the full spectrum of movement possibilities. Some students may need more rotation, or subtler foot work ... some may find value in what they feel to be a slightly anteriorly rotated pelvis ... and having your shoulders up to your ears every now and again is actually very healthy for them. And, BOSU balls and rotator discs can be fun! So, we encourage you to explore within your teaching, and for every student to explore how the movements best fit their body and their body the movements. To the degree that you're most comfortable, we even encourage you to explore outside of what is commonly thought of as Pilates exercises. Not in an effort to change things for the sake of changing things, but to facilitate a movement experience that allows each person to embody their practice fully.
Shift your environment
But HOW!? How do I get my students to understand the exercises, move their body better, and keep coming back for more ... if I talk less / allow for mistakes / and don't train as much!?!??
You use your variables!
We see Mat Work as the pinnacle of the Pilates movement experience. It's a simple scenario: Student / Mat / Gravity / Flat Environment. Nothing changes. It's as close to modern "real life" as you can get. You're training with the same variables as someone would experience in the grocery store, at home, or jogging out on the street. It's standard, and makes for a great learning and benchmark environment because of that.
Enter the apparatus ...
We see the Pilates apparatuses as new ENVIRONMENTS on which to explore and play (and the truest depiction of Joe's genius). They create a richer sense of physical thinking. We believe that too often we're trained to, and hence training our students to, think cerebrally and over-critically about movement. For example, I'm asked to initiate an exercise, and so my brain cues my abs to do a job, then I use this muscle to do this job, and think about keeping my shoulders down while doing it all. (I mean, how many times have you heard from a student, "There's so much to think about!?") Physical thinking is the idea that your body has the capability to negotiate, navigate, strategize its way through a movement while you observe the experience and create a feeling about it. It's the difference between thinking about how to do something vs. remembering how it feels to do it. Certainly while you are teaching a student a new skill you are training them, but after that skill has been proposed and reviewed a number of times it might be advantageous to facilitate a movement experience and let the environment inform the student of what is working and what is not. Good movement quality is an emergent property of a well-designed environment, superior movement facilitation, and the willingness of the student to be open to / honest about / and available for the experience. If the Pilates mission is to achieve graceful fluid animal-like movement ... we've never seen a cat engage its core before pouncing! It just does it.
Some variables to consider include: flat vs. peaked / weights & loads / speed / friction / varying relationships to gravity / and more
Each piece of apparatus has unique environment factors. When you allow yourself to view the apparatus in this way they become less like satellite stations and more like a cohesive system. There are no Reformer exercises that are separate from Cadillac exercises that vary from Barrel exercises, and beyond. There are simply Movement Potentials that each body is trying to experience, practice, and master to a degree that are repeated and challenged in a number of Classical and Contemporary ways through varying environmental variables. All with the intention of helping students progress through a method (and beyond) by enabling them to experience similar movements and challenges in various ways so they can self-create strategies to master varying scenarios.
The Reformer has the capability to change in friction levels (spring load), and shift your relationship to gravity by allowing you to practice squatting to standing exercises (footwork) in a new orientation to gravity. Movement feels vastly different (and requires different strategies when) practiced slow vs. fast, and that can easily be assisted or hindered on the Reformer. The Cadillac has the ability to create infinitely varying relationships to gravity when you begin to slide and shift the vertical and horizontal bars, and place spring tension in a number of ways that assist or challenge the movements you've practiced on the Mat. Barrels become undulations that ease or challenge the way our bodies yield to and interact with surfaces that aren't flat. The Chai,r in all its forms, plays with available surface area and gravitational tension. In fact all of the apparatuses change our relationship to gravity and balance at large by lifting us off the ground. The apparatuses are symmetrical allowing users to check symmetry along the way by using sight and touch. These variables are but a few of the ways we see the Pilates apparatus (and props) as new environments in which to explore the ways we can practice Contrology through the lens of Pilates exercises, with the intention of upgrading our Movement Potential. The Shift is about learning to be adaptable and mutable within a number of environments, rather than "getting good" at your Chair or Reformer protocols.
We hope learning the craft of facilitation helps us all to move away from a results driven performance of exercise toward a sincere practice of connectivity.
- Investigate how doing Short Spinal Massage on The Reformer FEELS different from doing Tower on The Cadillac. Both require similar movement skills, but each environment creates a unique learning space. How does one inform the other? Why would you choose one exercise over the other within a session?
- What are some Mat exercises that prepare for, and inform the body how to execute, Gymnast/Tendon Stretch on The Reformer?
- Pick a Mat exercise of your choosing - then have a student (or yourself) explore that exercise on various apparatuses utilizing the components that apparatus has to offer (springs / larger or smaller surface area / rounded surfaces). What did you learn about the exercise, or the body, from simply exploring without expectation?
- Then pick an Apparatus exercise - can you find a way to re-create it on The Mat? What new thing/s came to light from that exploration?