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Teaching vs Instructing ~ Where the Pilates industry is trending

There is a subtle difference between these two words, I believe there is a crucial difference that leads to a profoundly different experience and resulting outcomes for the person learning.


These words are used interchangeably throughout the Pilates industry, teachers or instructors, clients or students, sessions or classes. It all blends together. Researching online, I found the difference phrased this way, “You instruct a soldier but teach a student.”


Instructing might be defined, in Pilates, as the act of directing someone to perform a movement or exercise a certain way. Instructing can have layers to it’s effectiveness, depending on how detailed the directions are, however, it will never achieve the transformative possibilities that teaching can.


Teaching in contrast, is the process of imparting knowledge to someone through examples and experience. In terms of Pilates, it’s about educating people on the principles of the method, the ideas Joe held about the mind and body relationship, so that they can apply and explore these concepts through their own bodies and their own journey of physical self discovery and mastery.


In the past, Pilates was only taught to a few hardcore students willing to dedicate themselves to the practice, and their teacher, who would pass on the knowledge they had gained from their own teacher. There was a clear lineage of master to student, from the original students of Joseph Pilates, known as the “elders”, through the first and second generations that followed them.


Today, Pilates has moved beyond the intimate private studios with a few pieces of apparatus and into large fitness studios, in some cases, with multiple locations. Although there is nothing wrong with reaching more people, oftentimes, the teaching aspect has been let go completely in favour of instruction only.


There are many factors that might help explain why this is occurring.


  • A demand for more staff

As the industry grows rapidly, the educational courses have become more instructional and less of that master/student impartation through guided experiential learning over time. This allows the industry to get instructors up to a minimum level of ability quicker. Someone who has not walked that path of self learning and discovery within their own body is not going to be able to guide others beyond superficial cueing and direction.


  • Uniformity

As a business looking to expand, It is hard to perform large scale quality control when many people are allowed to be individuals and teach freely. This is what happened with the rise and fall of the Les Mills method popularity. In the early 80’s, Les Mills developed a style of step aerobics that was wildly popular, as he taught his method to other teachers many were just as popular as he was but others were less so, which slowed down the exponential growth. Les moved to a structured format that all staff had to follow as the method expanded rapidly. The most popular staff were not allowed to freely teach because a standardised structure was enforced company wide in an effort to control the quality.


  • Cultural shifts

These days we are spoilt with the ability to access anything very cheaply and quickly. This is compounded when the teacher, who wants to be able to teach and earn money faster, and the student, who wants to see immediate results, both live in the same modern culture.


  • Quality vs quantity

Every business has to manage this tension to some extent. In Pilates, It is very possible to gain a lot of benefit from simply following a set of instructions to move you through a range of Pilates exercises. To remain at this level does allow for large scale “decent” results across the majority of participants.  I believe this is why Pilates is in danger of following Yoga down a diluted drainhole in the coming years.


So, what can you take away from this?


– If you teach Pilates

Find a mentor/s or studio with Instructors that have many more years teaching than yourself. Work on your own practice, seek out different teachers and pay for their time, practice with intentionality and consistency, always be a student. Take continuing educational workshops and courses in areas that you are passionate about but don’t be in a hurry.  Keep learning and growing as your focus, enjoy the journey, you’ll end up way ahead and happier than those chasing quick gains.


– If you do Pilates

Plant yourself in a studio that values the integrity of the Pilates method and the student/teacher relationship i’ve described. See yourself as a student of Pilates, intentionally clear your mind before a class and give your full awareness and attention to your practice and teacher.


We’ve all heard the saying “you get what you pay for”, in many areas of life and circumstances this is totally accurate. I think we could expand this saying in terms of a Pilates practice by adding in something like the following. “And, what you put genuine, consistent, effort, care and attention into”.


“You’ll be very pleasantly surprised at how amazing your body is and how much more there is waiting for you… if, you just enjoy the process and let it happen naturally over time.”


– For Ourselves

As a Pilates studio and group of teachers, we are constantly looking to maintain the integrity of the Pilates method within the business structure we chose.. We have seen, over more than 15 years now, just how powerfully transforming it can be and we don’t want to rob our clients of this just for the sake of more. We also don’t want to see students falling through the cracks because they didn’t fall into that majority who are fine with good instruction. We have many changes and ideas coming in the next year to do an even better job of this but just like your own practice, we are enjoying the journey as we go!