Virtual lessons during the pandemic have been a blessing in so many ways. Students are able to keep up with their Pilates practice while staying safe. Many students and teachers are enjoying zero-minute commutes as well! Alongside the benefits have also come a unique set of challenges.
If you've been doing virtual lessons throughout this last year, I'm betting that your verbal cueing is sharper than ever. You've probably fine-tuned your descriptions to be as clear as possible. Despite these efforts, do you still sometimes find yourself dying to be able to give your students a hands-on correction? If only you could teleport yourself into their room for just a few seconds. You could give them the tactile cue or visual demonstration they need that would make the movement "click" for them.
Props can be a real life-saver in this situation. A small inflatable ball or foam roller, for example, when placed at just the right spot, can be used to assist your client with a movement and give physical feedback that words just cannot.
Here are a couple of ways you can use props in lieu of a tactile cue while we wait for Zoom to add a teleport feature:
Use a Small Ball to Assist a C-Curve
Teaching an even C-curve throughout the whole spine can be difficult. For many people, the upper back flexes easily and the low back stays fairly straight. All the verbal cues in the world might not help someone understand the shape the lumbar spine should be in.
Instead of talking in circles, ask your student to place a ball on the mat behind her. She can grab the back of her thighs to support her upper body while she melts her lumbar spine into the ball. Have her lean back to make sure the hip flexors don't take over. Ask her to move the ball slightly up or down as needed so she has the feedback where she personally needs it, and where it is comfortable. The physical contact of the ball against the part of the back that needs to flex will do wonders for helping your student understand how to do a C-curve.
Use a Block to Correct Lower Body Alignment
It can be difficult to teach lower body alignment for Bridging in virtual classes. You can explain that the feet should be parallel and the knees should track over the center of the foot, but most people feel like they're already doing that.
You might notice that a lot of students supinate the feet and open the knees too wide. To correct this, try asking your student to place a yoga block between her inner ankles. Tell her to anchor her feet on the floor and hug the ankles to the block as she does her Bridging. It might not seem like the block is doing a whole lot, but the physical contact of the block against the inner ankles brings awareness to the feet. Since the feet are the foundation of the whole body, it helps the alignment up the whole chain of the body. Hopefully, you'll see that she now has parallel feet and that her knees are pointing straight up to the ceiling. Yay! Her alignment is now correct and you can save your voice a little.
Try this trick with prone exercises, too:
For exercises like Dart, place the block between the feet and press all 10 toenails into the floor. This will help to keep the lower body active, which helps to avoid overly extending the low back.
Use a Strap Under Your Back to Teach an Imprinted Spine
It's often a good idea to teach supine exercises in an imprinted position as your student builds enough ab strength to maintain a neutral spine. The tricky part is that a lot of students have a hard time being aware of whether or not their spine is truly imprinted. Even when they have the best of intentions, after a couple of repetitions of an ab exercise, they might get tired and not even realize that their low back has started to lift off the mat.
A yoga strap or belt is an awesome tool to bring focus to the imprinted spine. Ask your student to lie down on her back with her knees bent. Have her place a strap on the mat under her low back, opposite the belly button. Explain that the goal is to press the low back into the strap so firmly that the strap can't be pulled out from under them.
From here, perhaps you can teach Single Leg Stretch with the head down. As one leg reaches, ask her to pull on one end of the strap and see if it moves. If it does, she'll know she needs to press the back more firmly toward the mat.
Try the same thing with the chest lifted. This will concentrically contract the abdominals, making it easier for some students to maintain the imprint.
This level of detail and focus might mean she gets tired after just a couple of reps. Help her appreciate that this is a good thing. Quality over quantity, always!
Teaching Pilates is so much more than knowing the exercises. Each and every student has a different way of learning and different relationships with their bodies. Expanding your teaching skills to reach all different kinds of learners and bodies helps your students make almost unbelievable changes in their bodies and movement patterns and makes your career fulfilling and rewarding.
To help equip you with the skills you need to teach impactful Pilates lessons, I created a chapter for the Pilates Encyclopedia membership called Teaching Skills. I discuss things like verbal cueing, hands-on cueing, using props as teaching tools, and other movement principles. Learn more about the membership...