Life as a Pilates Instructor: Kathryn Parker of Carolina Core Pilates in Carrboro, North CarolinaFeb 07, 2021
Here's another in a series of interviews I did with Pilates instructors and studio owners.
These honest conversations are a way to gain insight into what life is like as a Pilates teacher. If you're considering becoming a Pilates teacher, these conversations don't hold back. They prepare you for what you have to know.
These are some of the highlights from our conversation:
- Client relationships are the backbone of your Pilates business.
- Don't expect to have your teaching schedule stay the same. Don't be surprised that you don't have a routine schedule.
- It's okay to honestly admit to your client that you don't know how to help with her problem.
- Your student might not expect you to be able to solve her health or pain problem. Some people just want to enjoy moving.
- If someone’s not a good client for you and drains your energy, it will take away from your excitement of working with other people. It’s appropriate to say that your schedule is full or explain that they may have a better experience with another instructor. It’s okay if it’s not a good fit and it has nothing to do with you personally.
- The most important skills and personality traits that studio owners look for when hiring teachers.
Watch or listen here:
To get in touch with Kathryn, visit their studio website at http://www.carolinacorepilates.com/
Now I want to hear from you: What's your favorite and least favorite part of being a Pilates instructor? Tell me in the comments (below the transcript).
Listen to more "Life As A Pilates Instructor" conversations:
Here is the unedited transcription of our conversation:
Mara Sievers 0:01
it's Mara Sievers here, creator of Pilates Encyclopedia. And I'm here today with Catherine Parker from Carolina core Pilates in North Carolina. Hi. Hi, how are you?
Hi, Mara, thank
you for having me.
Mara Sievers 0:15
Oh, for sure. So we're here today to have a an honest conversation about what it's like to be a Pilates teacher life as a Pilates teacher. And so the first question just why don't you just start by introducing yourself? Maybe how you got into Pilates? but also where are you teaching? And what are you teaching? What are you offering in terms of classes, privates if you have some sort of niche or focus area, and so on and so forth?
Excellent. Well, so I got my certification in 2009. And pretty unique situation through Appalachian State University. The two individuals there, my mentors and teachers happen to both be Ramana trained, they saw the way things were going in the industry, or how just lack of opportunity was becoming a real problem. And so through the dance department, they created kind of a separate entity, where you had some training in the university. So I'd say at least two years of credits, mat classes, equipment classes, a little bit of experience teaching kind of helping before enrolling in their teacher training program. So it was a 600 hour teacher training program. And I got a job teaching right out of getting my certification in carvoeiro. at Carolina core Pilates, so we've been in business over 10 years, easily. And as I was teaching and just kind of doing some other jobs, too. I opened a boutique Pilates studio in Ilan says right by the university Ilan University. So I said boutique, meaning only private training. So I had enough equipment reformer, Cadillac wanted to chair it, you know, maybe not fully equipped studio, but certainly a lot of pieces, popular apparatus to use and move. So then in 2016, I took over the commercial studio, Carolina core Pilates in carvoeiro, where it's just a bigger operation, you know, we take four to five individuals in a small group class. There's certainly a lot of private training that happens at our studio two, but it's all very individually tailored.
Unknown Speaker 2:46
Nice, nice. Yeah, great. So two different spaces.
Mara Sievers 2:51
That's a lot of managing I can imagine.
Well, I'll say it's just it's become a lot more to manage, especially since the pandemic. I have clients that jumped on board virtually right away. And then there's been a shift of people that were ready to reenter the studio when we were allowed by government regulations to reopen. Now we're trending in the opposite direction, our numbers are very high, and people are kind of leaning back towards just virtual for the time being. So it's always shifting. So we've definitely been navigating so much this past year.
Unknown Speaker 3:35
For it all,
Mara Sievers 3:36
yeah. But yeah, good for you for hanging on and, you know, making it through.
Thank you. Sure.
Mara Sievers 3:45
So let's change the subject to something more fun. What's your favorite part about being a Pilates teacher?
So much, um, you know, quite honestly, there's instant gratification. Every time I'm teaching, you know, you're empowering someone to move to feel better to understand their bodies better. Whatever deep personal connection they have to why they came in the first place. There's so much to learn. So, I've been teaching over 10 years, and I'm still learning as a teacher. There's, I don't think in most professions, you can say, Oh, this is it. Like I've figured it out. I mean, if you're really passionate about your, what you're doing, what you're excited about what you're doing. There's always more to learn. That's
with clients that's from other teachers. I'm in a teacher training program. Now with Kathy Ross Nash.
It's called the red thread of Pilates. It's an advanced teacher training program. For those that have already been teaching at least five years, so there is just the depth of the life Time of learning that comes with it is, if you're, if you're teaching part time, even, you know, there's just so many different things that you can do with that. How far you want to take it in your teaching career?
Unknown Speaker 5:15
Mara Sievers 5:17
I say your curiosities. He's sort of right if you if you close yourself off to wanting to learn more than you might not. But if you're curious about him, I wonder why this exercise worked with this person on my cue worked and was effective with this person, but it did nothing for that person. And so if you keep this curiosity and actually try to find an answer those questions, then it's really, it'll stay interesting for a long, long time.
Absolutely. And that's exactly why so much of the equipment was developed, or, you know, maybe you find it, you're stuck with this person, this client, you take them somewhere else, you take them and build them, where it makes sense in their bodies where it feels good in their bodies, then you can take them to other equipment or whatever. And it's just yeah, it always. There's always more to learn there. Even if you feel like you're stumbling a little bit down the road. It's just part of the natural process. That's why it's a method.
Mara Sievers 6:16
Absolutely, I like I like what you said, there's two things that popped up for me there. One was, we're learning. You learn one person at a time, really, right, one client at a time that you need that interaction, you need that dialogue between the person that you're working with not that's not necessarily verbal dialogue, but more like what you cue the person and they interpret that what they hear in their bodies, and then you reflect on what happened. And so that's, that's sort of the process, right? Yeah, that's, that's super interesting. I love that too. And I forgot my second point, but it might come back. That's okay.
Maybe I'll touch on one more thing about my favorite part of teaching is client relationships.
Unknown Speaker 7:04
So that's definitely something they don't really talk about any teacher training. But because of the nature of the work, you may end up teaching somebody, four sessions, eight sessions, never see them again, you may be teaching people for 10 plus years, and you become some part of their life. I mean, if you're only seeing them one time a week, you learn things about them, not just their mannerisms, you learn family stories, you learn business stories of it, you know, just natural things that come up as a part of your trusting relationship. And some of these people feel like family members, and it doesn't happen with every person, but it's a really, really beautiful part of the process. That wasn't fully explained it just in a teacher training.
Mara Sievers 8:00
Yeah, absolutely. or so. Right? Yes. Versus I just think like, versus like a doctor or you know, other people who see see the person once, right and then but they don't accompany the journey and really along for the journey for the the process,
Unknown Speaker 8:17
not exactly result,
Unknown Speaker 8:19
same type thing when we have pets, and we take them to a vet, you know, if they see them and know them as a young puppy, young kitten, and they're with them through that livelihood. They know those things that their personalities, it's the same kind of situation, and then it's very relationship based.
Mara Sievers 8:39
Yeah, that's true. So then what's your least favorite part about being applied on
a day to day least favorite things are scheduling,
Unknown Speaker 8:50
you know, if
you've if you make a weekly schedule, this is my time, my space. You know, I know I can count on this every week. You know, that's just not always going to be the reality. When you're working with people who work people who have children. Like any service industry, all these life things are constantly popping up. So I would say don't expect to have a routine schedule.
Unknown Speaker 9:18
And then you say that you should have told me that about 10 years ago.
Mara Sievers 9:26
Oh my god, I love that you say that. I'm one of those totally admitted I'm one of those people when when my schedule gets thrown around. I'm like, God, I cannot deal with it very well. I'm getting better at it. I'm getting better at it. But I think also when you have a tight schedule, it could be maybe worse than right now my schedule is laid which is good. So I feel I can be more flexible. But when your schedule is tight, then it's like you know one thing can you know it's just the you add a layer of stress. But yes, you're so right. I mean in terms of don't even expect that things stay the same. If you don't even expect it, you know, then you're you're much easier going about any changes that happen along the way. I love that.
Exactly. And one thing I don't know if maybe it was location based or situation based or just kind of maybe this is natural part of the process, I would assume because I'm not in a large city, that it took a longer time to build my clientele base, you know, you don't come in with just full schedule, there's, I mean, unless you're becoming a part of a studio that's already very established, and they are just looking for the help because the business is already built. So, you know, location to location, it will really vary. What workload is available? Or and how much you want to build it? And where do you want to take it?
Mara Sievers 10:52
Yes, for sure. There is yes, you can expect when you start as a new teacher, or in a new area, you can't expect starting like having a full schedule from the beginning it takes it takes years to establish a business and a name in an area because it's all word of mouth, that that's the thing for a brick and mortar business like Pilates, a physical Pilates studio, it's all about word of mouth, don't even waste I tell him that don't even spend any money advertising, it's not worth it. It's just word of mouth. But that word of mouth takes a little bit of time. Exactly good work in the studio, you need to help actually help people feel better, and then they will tell all their friends and then it and then it's automatic.
Exactly, exactly. But another probably least favorite point is a little more like life, you're going to have clients that you can't help get better necessarily. So if it's a like neurodegenerative disease, if they've had some sort of accident, just even basic part of the aging process, you know, when you have that established relationship with this client, and you see them declining, they they're excited to come in and move, they're excited to feel better for that day, they're looking forward to something fun there. You know, when you you know that you're there, and you know that they're better when they walked out the door. That's an ideal goal. And that's pretty much a limitation. So same thing kind of go tying in the client relationship based to it when you see these people that you love, adore, you know, maybe admire and there is a natural declining process, and I've had clients that passed away. Um, you know, there's just
Unknown Speaker 12:46
kind of a certain
point that you know, that we have our expertise, and that's what we focus on.
Mara Sievers 12:54
Yeah, so. So there's two subjects there, right. One is, maybe maybe we don't have that I don't think that's where you were talking about, but it still it could, you could think about it that way too. But maybe we as teachers don't have the skills that actually would help that person more. So that's, that's a matter of like referring out, especially if it's neurological things or either I need to get trained, or I need to educate myself more about this particular subject and learn more and include other techniques. Maybe in my practice, if I have somebody as a regular client, and they want to continue and work with me, right, so maybe I can expand my my skills. But at the same time, maybe I need to refer out and not necessarily refer like give up, but just collaborate right with a physical therapist or a doctor or a neurologist or whoever, to to just help that person. And the other aspect. So sorry, but that I think that's important for us to know, as Pilates teachers, that it's okay, if we don't know, it's told I don't have a solution. And it's okay to say that. I think I felt a lot of freedom in my own teaching career once I started to say, you know what, I don't know. Like, when people ask me, you know, anything that I have no answer for is like, I don't I just don't know. And I think that in the beginning, we might be scared to say that because we feel there's so much we don't know. So we don't want to admit that we don't know. But really, it's a very humanizing thing. And it's honest. And if you if you truly care, you know, you are going to be honest. And you say, I'm going to try I'm going to try and find out I'm going to see how we can help you. So but it's okay to say you know what, I don't know. And the other thing though, is the is the part where you feel and I felt that that's what you were talking to a little bit where you feel that you're just managing symptoms, you're not working towards improvement, you're just maybe working towards slowing down the decline or slowing down the aging effects of aging and stuff. Like that, and, and then you feel like you're standing still so much of the time, there's really nothing happening. But you don't know how how it would be if they didn't do Pilates, right.
100%. So it, ya know, both points are, are so important because that, you know, if you're able to maybe not advise another avenue that they should explore, but to even just ask them, I've never heard of this condition, can you explain to me a little line, I'd like to go home, do a little reading. So I understand what's happening here. All of that, again, part of the curiosity of how it's all connected. You know, maybe I won't be able to offer this part that can be a part of your whole health care. But I want to have these conversations with this physical therapist. Where have you come from? At what point are you at before we get started in a Pilates studio? Yes, 100%.
Mara Sievers 16:04
Yes, and I think clients are different, too. I think some like so I put myself into the mind of somebody who's who's a beginning teacher, right. And we get intimidated, like, somebody comes with a list of pathologies, or something like that. And we get obviously intimidated. But the other thing is that clients clients care very differently about what they feel what kind of level of expertise the teacher is supposed to have, or should have. Some people, they're fine. They're like, I just please just move me and this is fine. And you don't need to know everything. And yes, there are other clients who want a higher level of expertise they have they know maybe more about their own body already. So they want to talk with somebody who has that same level of knowledge, maybe right or so. And that's, that's something that you can notice and sense in the communication. You can also just, like, openly ask about it. And like I said, if you say that, right? So I just think that if you admit Okay, I've never heard about this pathology, can you explain more to me, then you also realize how the client reacts to it. And you can also say an offer. I'm sorry, I don't have any experience with that. I'm happy more than happy to educate myself. But if you'd rather work with somebody else, I'll help you find somebody who is more has more expertise. And then you can let the client decide, right? So you put your cards on the table, and you can let the client decide, are they happy to work with you? Or would they rather go with somebody else. And I think that's so important, because it takes the pressure off of you. Because what you don't want is to start a Pilates relationship, a teaching relationship with somebody where you constantly feel that they don't trust you, or they would rather be somewhere else. And it could just be in your own head, but it couldn't not be. But if you just put it out there and let them choose then then you can relax into your position as you know, and you can do your best job again, instead, exactly pressure.
And on the flip side, if you feel like that client isn't a good fit for you, if this is somebody who's maybe not just inquisitive, but a little too aggressive with questions, or you know, just personalities are not a good click. I mean, there's, there's a multitude of reasons. If you've got somebody who was some sort of energy slacker, it's going to take away from your energy, from your excitement from your work, you know, day in and day out of working with other people. Yes, and it's totally appropriate to say,
Mara Sievers 18:37
my schedules full,
or you may be a better fit, you may have a better experience, you know, practicing with this instructor, or that and or so, all of those things in an appropriate conversation are just as important because you don't want to exert too much energy and work too hard. If you're putting a square peg into a round hole that's just not going to fit. It's okay. Some things are just not going to be a good fit and it has nothing to do with you personally.
Mara Sievers 19:11
Yes, Love it. Love it. Love it. Love it. Love it. So, you if you were to hire a teacher right now, what are the either and we can put them together into one question, what are the Pilates skills or also the non Pilates related skills that you would be looking for? Um,
great question. So generally, all the probably important things right, the knowledge, accountability, that same curiosity will to learn. But at this point in my studio ownership, I'm looking for personality. I'm looking for that positive mental attitude. Because if there's that will to learn, they can be trained. They can learn more they can, you know, they can take the time to understand what's happening in the studio, take the time to understand your policies take the time, whatever it is. And this point, I've had great teachers, bad personality. Clients drop off, you don't know what's happening. So personality, positive mental attitude are my big, big, big things that are, it's just going to make your day or break your day.
Mara Sievers 20:35
When you say personality, what do you mean just being kind, basically kind of curious or?
Yes, so it personality being someone who's motivated, eager pot, you know, they, they walk in the room, you're excited to see them, they want to be there. They want to be that, you know, they're they're personable, they're there have excellent communication skills, you know, it's that you get inspired, you want to move because they're there, you want to stand a little straighter, a little taller, just because they walked in the room. The not even necessarily charismatic, but you know, you don't want the teacher in the room who everybody dreads and everybody's talking behind their back. And, you know, you don't want that person that you're
Oh, no, here we go again. I mean, people are paying good money to see you. You know, that's, that's kind of where I'm getting out is, most importantly, the positive mental attitude
towards what you're doing to make it a fun experience. Because yes, there's a lot of learning. Yes, there's a lot of strength training, there's a lot of all the wonderful things that come apart of being of what you get out of your practice. But for some people, I was talking to a woman the other day, she started Pilates at 300 pounds. Now, she started with a lot of private sessions, it took her instructor to pull her by the arm and say, Look, you're gonna join this group class, like, like, you are ready, you just need the confidence of me some of these more deeper inner personal things that happened you you're not necessarily taught that skill set within a teacher training program. That's what I mean by personality. Yeah,
Mara Sievers 22:33
yeah. Yes, I hear you. I'm thinking words that come up are like maybe maturity a little bit.
Unknown Speaker 22:44
Love it, love it. Love it, too, you know, ultimately be that person that embodies it, maybe just friendliness. Mm hmm. How are you going to empower this person that they, they feel better, they're more excited, they're lighter, they're lifted, when they walk out the door, that they're, they've got to have you next week.
Mara Sievers 23:14
Like, you can be the rock, right? The the person that makes them feel better. So they want to come because they know they're going to feel better at the end of the day. I love that.
Unknown Speaker 23:21
Mara Sievers 23:22
There is a the other thought that I had earlier, it was just remember it was there's a balance in teaching Pilates between educating and challenging, maybe challenging is a better word challenging and supporting, right, you need to do a little bit of both. You can't just support and babysit and baby people, but you can't just challenge and drill and write, you have to know when to do what or how much of what and stuff like that. So that's, and it, you know, it may might come with experience. But yes, I think it's also a personality thing, whether you just have it or don't have it a little bit,
because everybody wants to feel successful. Mm hmm. And it can be a giant leap. But it can be some very small point, maybe it feels insignificant. But any of those successes along the way. Those are going to be the things that when they leave they they have gained another tool in their toolbox
Mara Sievers 24:26
that you say that it's so true love that, that everybody wants to feel successful. That's why I tried to I made it a rule for myself at one point to mention everybody's name in my class at least once in every class and just acknowledge acknowledge the effort. You know, and because yes, it's so true. Everybody wants to feel successful.
Yeah, right. I want to jump on that because that that train of thought, it is so important, whether you mentioned their name, or you kind of get that Learning maybe nonverbal learning when people like touch, some people do not like touch, and you need to know that or have a conversation about it before you put your hands on someone. But too, even like a lot of my group classes, I may just stop and we have conversation. So more theory that they're practicing, they can think, oh, here's my purpose, right? Or here's my point of stability, like, now I get it. Now I understand the action that I'm asking in my body. And that's so helpful because classes. At least in our studio, if you find like, there's just a more certain sense of flow, than it is being so individually tailored to that particular individual. So it's, it's absolutely okay to just have those conversations. Because when your clients mentally engage, when they're bringing their physical practice into it, you're just building on their, their building blocks and their layers of understanding.
Mara Sievers 26:06
Yeah, it's mind body, right? It's the mind that shapes the body, it's, we have to know what we're doing in order to be able to do it.
Unknown Speaker 26:13
Mara Sievers 26:15
lovely, wonderful. I love it. Um, so what last question, What do you wish you had known before you started your teacher training journey before you became a teacher?
You know, what I this is? This is the hardest question. Because I had told myself the things that I know now, I probably would have never done it and not be a teacher, so different. To become a teacher was absolutely one of my most important life decisions ever, ever, ever. It was not my original idea. It was my teachers who encouraged me to do it. Same thing for becoming a studio owner, not my original idea, but I pursued it. And then buying a studio that was a whole nother separate, not my original idea. So as far as just becoming a teacher, if it is nothing but personal enrichment, it's still one of the best life decisions for me that I really needed, you know, on a physical level, on a mental level, see, I was in college at the time. And just noticing it was helping my reading comprehension so much. It's like, neuro part that, right? So there's just so many benefits to becoming a teacher. The more you teach, the more you kind of learn the things that work for you, where you want to take it what you want to do with it. And then studio ownership is an entirely different conversation. Yes, I think so many of us get into becoming studio owners just because we want to help people, we see the need, we see it growing. But there's also a lot to learn. on the business side.
Mara Sievers 28:13
Also, I think often because there's no place where you could get hired or you know that, then there's a whole other subject where sometimes teachers think they can do better on their own. That's a whole other subject. And I talk a lot about this and other places, we don't have to get into it. But yes, often you become a teacher and you there is no studio where you could go and get hired. So you have to sort of open your own studio, why whatever form that is, but I have to ask the question again. So because it was not clear to me, so what what is it that you wish you had known before you started?
Honestly, maybe just the tip about client relationships. Okay. So no, not to go back and, you know, warn myself of Oh, there's all these things that are gonna come up or, you know, in my personal experience, I felt like I was handed a lot of clients that had issues that I really didn't know much about. I knew sort of my limit of where I could start them within the Pilates method and then grow them. But I didn't really know a lot about, you know, it wasn't handed a bunch of athletes to work with. I was handed this one who had chronic vertigo, this one who has Parkinson's, this one here, whatever the conditions are, I felt like I wasn't always getting just a healthy human body coming in the door. And it's okay. Right kind of back to the same conversation we were having earlier. It's okay to open those conversations with your clients. Have them again and again. Hey, I remembered you know, the ankle injury from 10 years ago, um, you know, it's not anything you have to harp on or when you watch the moving, you don't want to say, Oh, look at that angle. But to, you know, just to, you know, it's okay. to not know certain things, it's okay to say, I really don't know what to do here. Why don't we change gears and do some of this? You know, like what let's, let's maybe just focus on opening your chest? Why don't we spend time just focusing on how to breathe? Whatever it is, you can always take them to a level where they're, they're going to learn something, they're going to feel something to keep them moving, keep them exploring. Yeah, it's it's okay to not know and be able to provide an excellent service for them.
Mara Sievers 30:58
Yes. And I love that you bring it up, because I think that's why I am. It's so important to me that somebody who takes who starts the journey of becoming a Pilates teacher is prepared for the exact situation that you just mentioned. Because I think that's the reality, a lot of people seek out Pilates, because they've heard from other people that it helps with certain issues, or that they can do it, even though they have low bone density, or spondylolisthesis, or scoliosis or whatever, right. And the reality is that you as a Pilates teacher, you will get people like that you will, if you're teaching CrossFit or I don't know what some kind of, you know, if you're a personal trainer, maybe you won't, you will, you might get people who are already healthy and fit and they just want to get fitter, right? In Pilates, very often, that's not who you'll get. And that's in the nature of the technique. The fact that it's so adaptable, the fact that you can modify it in a million ways to suit everybody. Yes, you can also make people fitter. And yes, you can also challenge athletes and cross train athletes, but probably more than that you'll or you know, or get like 20 somethings in college, you just want to work out and and you know, get some tight abs. Yes, you get that but you don't you get a lot more probably, of people who have some kind of physical issue that they need help with. So I think that any teacher training program really needs to prepare you for that at least and they can a teacher training program cannot prepare you to know everything because ever and nobody wants to be in school forever. But initially,
uncommon ones like like, scoliosis is very common. And often, people may not necessarily know that they have scoliosis. Yes. Yeah. If it's not a pain point for them, but just a life condition. They're not they're not coming to you for pain relief, right?
Mara Sievers 33:18
Unknown Speaker 33:20
I'm sorry. No,
Mara Sievers 33:21
you're totally right. And the same, same thing with osteoporosis, right? If you work with older clientele, and I'm my studio was in New Hampshire, and we've definitely had a lot of older clientele. I mean, every other person has low bone density. So it's right. It's it's just, yeah, the reality. And you don't have to know every little detail. You just have to know your starting point in the beginning, you just got to know. Okay, so low bone density. What do I know? Okay, let's just start neutral. Let's just start neutral and extension. And I'll worry about the rest later. Right. So the starting point, and then it can develop over time to add whatever you want to add in terms of level of education. But yes, no, you're so right. That's, yeah. Be prepared for working with not just healthy people. Right? Yes. And, yeah, that's wonderful. So I can't think that gets me nicely into into our teacher training program. So we have recently partnered in the Pilates encyclopedia teacher training program, which I'm super excited about. And if if somebody is interested in finding out more information about that, go to Pilates encyclopedia.com forward slash teacher dash training. And if they want to get in touch with you, Catherine, how can they find you? Great question.
Carolina core pilates.com is our studio website. My email address is the same Carolina core Pilates at gmail. You can find me on the web. Catherine Parker, my home studio here is pure Pilates in C but yeah, mean any of those avenues? Well, that's great. Okay,
Mara Sievers 35:03
I'll put all of those avenues into the into the description below the video. Guys, don't forget to subscribe to the channel and hit that notification notification bell so you get notified when we have a new video out. And also stay tuned for more of these conversations with Pilates teachers to shed some clarity and some have some authentic conversations about what it's like to be Pilates teacher, which is good and bad. And you know, but awesome. Awesome at the end of the day.
Mara Sievers 35:34
It was so lovely to talk to you.
It's so lovely to talk to you again. Mara. Thank you for having me once more.
You are very welcome. Have a wonderful rest of your day. All right, you too. Thanks. Bye bye.