Liane's done it again...I was laying there on my mat at Cafe Mila this morning and out she came with this nugget that I instantly thought 'ooo, blog post!'...I possibly should have been focusing on my practice, but I repeated the words a few times in my head before observing (not judging, mind!) my stiff right big-toe joint.
So, I remembered the words Liane said: "I guide. You are your own teacher."
In my job as a Pilates instructor, I see myself as someone who has a certain level of knowledge. I know the ideal body structure, I know the typical issues that the human body can present, I know the moves, I know how they should be done, how they should not be done and how they make my body feel when I do them myself. Through observation and feedback from who I am teaching and from sharing knowledge with other instructors and bending the ear of those that teach my CPD courses, I also get feedback on different body types, what works for them and what sometimes doesn't.
What I cannot do is feel what another body is feeling. The minutest difference in someone's structure to mine will affect how they feel during an exercise or a within a position, compared to me. For instance, I have quite a round bottom and quite an exaggerated curve in my lower spine. Therefore, compared to someone with less-round buttocks and a flatter lower spine, simply laying flat on a hard floor will feel completely different to us both. I feel like someone could drive a truck under my lower back as my buttocks raise my pelvis miles off the floor. The smaller-buttocked soul will most likely be far more comfortable in that position, as their pelvis settles nicely in to the ground.
Looking then at movement patterns, this rather curved lower back of mine means if you give me the full extension of Swan Dive to do, I am positively delirious (until whoever is teaching tells me to support my extended curvy back rather than trying - and failing - to look like a member of Cirque du Soleil). Someone with a flatter curve however, will possibly be a bit less enthusiastic knowing that it's that bit harder to get the extension through their spine. On the flip side, they might be much happier doing Teaser, while I curse Joseph P the entire time about how I just wasn't built for such a move!
So you can see that as an instructor I can only guide. I can share my knowledge on how moves should be done, why we do them, what you would hope to feel and where and what might work for different bodies. I can adjust, I can give verbal cues that may assist in understanding how to perform the move, but I cannot feel it for someone else.
As a student of Pilates (or Yoga, or Gyrotonic etc.), we need to be open to learning about the moves we are doing, thinking about exactly how it feels to do the moves and then remembering that for next time. We need to listen to our instructors, but most importantly listen to our own bodies and allow our bodies to teach us more about ourselves as we progress. We need to learn what works for us, what we need and educate ourselves as to how the exercises and their modifications apply to us as individuals. We have a responsibility to build on this knowledge continuously, to keep ourselves safe and by doing so we will grow in our practice far, far more than if we just go through the motions.
So, sign up to everything that Pilates is about and teach yourselves about the method and your own bodies - listen to your instructor, but really question what it's all about and allow your body to tell you what it is feeling week to week and let this carry you through your daily business when you're sitting, standing, walking, running....
I'm still learning about my body as it changes over time and now that I don't quite do as many handstands as I used to. I take guidance, but I am my own teacher.