Goal-itis: An Infection of Intention
There’s a problem.
Frankly, I’m nervous … about the health of our teaching, and our industry. I think sometime years ago we were infected by an intention (a hard and fast goal) to FIX our clients as if they were broken, and we knew better how to make them better. We’ve been holding on to that infectious intention for far too long, reliant on the idea that if something is wrong then there is something specifically right that will fix it. Now too many of us are stunted by a constant regurgitation of cues designed to show how well we know the craft of the fix. Learned from someone who probably didn’t know much more than we do now. Probably someone we respect because they seem smart, or famous, or have just been doing this whole teaching thing so long we’re just suppose to respect them.
So, let’s talk about regurgitation for a bit … and let’s talk about regurgitation in the context of cueing, and the fact that it happens way too frequently for our industry to be well.
Regurgitated cues are the ones you hear and you know the instructor heard it somewhere along the line and for whatever reason just copied the wording (we’ve all done it). Maybe it worked for them, so now they’re tied to it. You know you’ve heard a regurgitated cue when it strikes you weird like when you hear a five-year-old say something radical like “indeed” or “ostentatious” or something very New England-y. It just stands out as … weird.
I know there are amazing teachers … Pilates teachers … Yoga teachers … CrossFit teachers … Zumba / GroupX / Olympic Lifting / you name it and I’m sure there’s a genius out there teaching it, but let’s talk about the median … the average.
I had this boring story I was going to tell you about my recent experience at a Yin Yoga class that made this cueing conundrum come to light, but I’ll spare you the time. Just put it this way, I took a class from a VERY popular yoga instructor in my area, and all I got outta the deal was the realization that citrus essential oil not only smells good but opens up the chest breath, and that this instructor wasn’t very good at teaching movement … her cues a slurry of divinations and recited sanskrit. (‘Cause everything sounds better in a dead language.) Yet her classes are packed! Some yogi clients and I got to chatting about common cueing, thoughtless cueing, intentions, goals, and the meaning of life, love, and movement. (That old story.) What I realized was that in terms of common passed down from teacher-to-teacher-to-teacher cues, there is a vast difference in what is stressed between the Pilates and Yoga worlds (generically and on average), and obviously looking at studio counts, cultural awareness, and the shear numbers you see in Yoga classes vs. Pilates classes … one of us is doing something more right, and it has little to do with the actual movement practice.
Here’s the difference: The average Yoga thrown-up cues are all about spirit, and universal assistance, and pulling from deeper resources while relying on the support of the tribe. I’m not saying it’s right (in fact I stopped going to Yoga classes because I find it annoying), I’m just saying there’s something awfully popular (read financially in demand) about it. In contrast step foot into a Pilates studio and you’re gonna get an ear full of verbal-vomit about what to squeeze to make something happen, while making sure you also squeeze this for safety, but also relax your breath until we get to this part because this is how you breathe right here and it’s different … not that way … this way … because it’s the right way to feel what the instructor has told you to feel, and that instructor is dead set on fixing you, and you obviously don’t know your body the way they know your body.
And Classical, Authentic, Pure, Sanctified, whatever Instructors … it’s alive in that realm too. “So & So use to say _____ (name the cue, there are hundreds of them).” That’s cool. Who did they use to say that to? What was this person’s lifestyle like? How often did they do Pilates? Lift weights? Run? How much sleep did they get? What was their average diet? Did they like art / sports / dance / literature? What was their learning style? Basically, please stop giving me your regurgitated cues that were meant for a different mystery client that has nothing to do with me and my body. It’s literally making my body sick trying to keep up with stuff that was never meant for me.
For a moment just pause. I know I said some irritating shit there. I meant to. And if you were triggered by it, you should probably keep reading.
Here’s why I think Yoga is trumping us at the bank. It’s giving people the experience they want, and people will always pay for stuff they want. The message is one of assistance and deliverance rather than a list of can’t / should / use to be. Let’s face it, people are tired. People are over-worked and exhausted, and for the most part we’re all a little lazy, and adamantly opposed to being wrong. So, I go to a Yoga class and I hear that there are resources outside of myself that are cosmically designed to assist me. WTF? You mean I don’t have to do all the work myself? I feel supported! Sign me up. Then I do some movement, and often I feel better. I go to a Pilates class and I keep hearing about how much more work I have to do, all these things I have to remember (to do and not do), and how wrong I am each time I move, but I keep coming, and I keep moving, and voila I feel better. The true fix, the common denominator, has nothing to do with anything the teacher has recited … it’s movement … generically … and it happens with or without our regurgitated cues.
I don’t think we need to change our exercises (unless that’s your bag … then have some FUN … it’s my understanding that someone else made up all the exercises we’re doing now anyway, so why not create some of your own) … and I don’t think we need a marketing revolution (unless the PMA would like to take on a new task) … I think we maybe just need a shift in goals and intentions. What if we all came to the understanding that a singular exercise does not FIX anything. It’s a bandage to the larger issue of overall sedentarism, but regardless of how intricately and stealthily you cue it it’s just a bandage. The fix to the issue is movement, and more of it, in as many unique and pleasurable ways as possible. See what I said there, pleasurable. That’s the kicker. More often we’re forcing our clients into difficult, above their pay grade, upper-echelon exercises and it feels crappy to them, and it’s literally making their body sicker trying to keep up with YOUR goals (and regurgitated cues). So they don’t move enough (it’s too complicated to remember what muscle to use and what else not to do on their own). No amount of squeeze this, isolate here, or use this not this, cueing is going to make your client’s anxious nervous system feel good about doing something it’s too exhausted to do. Simply naming muscles to squeeze assumes your brain is in charge of your body … superior even … or at least separate from. It’s honestly the opposite of a mind-body experience, and certainly not the best place to start training a tired body, and it’s exhausting to listen to.
So, consider a new goal. What if your intentions switched from fixing (‘cause that’s already happening through the movement, not you) to facilitating a pleasurable movement experience. I didn’t say an easy experience, but a pleasurable one. What if the goal wasn’t to get better at an exercise, or halt this or that pain, or experience a history lesson on who use to say what cue, but instead the goal became for your client to really be honest about their body, their movement experiences, and their relationship to their environment (what they’re avoiding or overusing), while looking for and experiencing new ways of moving freely. What if the Pilates studio became a place for them to openly ask questions, and say truths about their body and its movement no matter how ridiculous they sounded. What if your clients never felt like they got it wrong? What if you gave them tools to shift any relationships they find value in shifting, but allow it to be their choice to shift or not. Kinda’ like learning to control their own body. Expose them to movement options without attachment to outcome. What if you just stopped giving them cues that were meant for someone else? You know, help your client Return to THEIR Life (not the one you’d prefer for them). Basically make the experience about the client, and then show them how you can be that resource they rely upon for support when they need it, with the intention of creating autonomous self-sufficient movement explorers. What if you helped them reunite their mind and their body, as a team, co-observing and exploring together.
I bet more people would pay for that experience.
Go back and re-read Joe’s works. Write down all the times he named what muscles to use for what exercise. Write down all the times he said to cue this movement exactly this way. Then take notice of all the times he just had a body move, uniquely, within varying environments. To teach well, yes, you are going to need tools (maybe even more than you have now). You might need to know anatomy, exercise variations, this method or that one, historical cues and strange new ones, but the goal isn’t to regurgitate them as if they carry magic. It’s to be quiet enough to observe when to say something interesting. It’s to be quiet enough for your client to create their own experience around this Method you love. For them to thoroughly find the value and the desire to experience it more richly and frequently, and for you to be available as a guide (not a dictator).
Maybe our communal future wellness isn’t about holding on tightly, but letting go in reverence … and exploring what now?
There’s a revolution going on, guys. There are smart creative people stepping forward with brilliant fresh ways of looking at archival movement ideas. Views and strategies are shifting, and comfortable with it or not, it’s not going backward. Maybe you “get it” and maybe you don’t, but you can now teach in any number of ways you find valuable! What you can’t do is hold the rest of us back as we progress forward into ways of teaching that best serve us and our clients. It’s time for our brains to let go of old goals, and the idea that there is a right or best way of doing this thing that was always meant to be the gift of exploration and liberation. It’s time for our bodies, and our body of work, to find peace and grace. The only way we heal is together, with enough space and malleability for infinite styles and shapes and ideas to coalesce and flourish communally … like a tribe … supporting one another universally.
And it starts with you being uniquely you … helping your clients be exceptionally themselves. That’s really what they want.
After all “everyone is the architect of their own happiness,” J. Pilates.
by James Crader