Teaching with our WORDS (and all it entails!)
Well practiced teachers draw upon a number of tools in their teaching ‘toolbox’ in each class they take, using a combination of visual demonstration, tactile feedback and ‘hands on’ correction, and verbal cueing and instruction. Recently, we have been reflecting on the power of words and language. How can we use our words to our best ability, what power do they have, and how to refine our language to better serve and inspire our clients.
1. Using words for DIRECTION
At the most fundamental level, our verbal instructions give directional cues for each exercise. These should ideally be clear and easy to comprehend for all attending a group session, explaining what the exercise entails and which body part should be where (without these in our vocabulary, we would be in the dark!!) When training to become a movement teacher, learning a vocabulary of directional cues is the first building block toward helping clients.
Verbs at play might include: pull, press, lift, lower, stand, sit, kneel, lie.
2. Using words to add MEANING and INTENTION
We believe that using language to add meaning can transform the experience of a movement. This goes beyond simple instruction, with select words lending themselves to the nuance and depth of each exercise. ‘Meaning’ verbs may include: lengthen, release, yield, open, float, spiral, sink, scoop.
For example, when descending out of a shoulder bridge, we may describe this as a ‘releasing of the spine into the mat as each vertebra sinks into the floor’. This same movement performed with only simple, directional cues, ‘lie on your back and lift and lower the spine’, is missing that vital piece of rich information that makes a shoulder bridge, a shoulder bridge, the sequential spinal movement. Clearly, using words for MEANING can offer clarity and purpose to the movements.
3. Moving BEYOND WORDS…
Language is so much more than words! Using INTONATION, RHYTHM and VOLUME can add personality and flair to teaching. Do you recall having any teachers at school that had a monotonous voice? Do you remember anything they taught you?! Using the three tools above can be a powerful combination to deliver any of the below during a class:
- A supportive, gentle pace – a quiet voice accompanied by soft MEANING words (ease, release, unfurl)
- A dynamic energy – varying vocal volume and intonation during a class to add interest, moments of crescendo accompanied by moments of mindfulness.
- A flowing rhythm – certain movements call for rhythm and pacing! Sharp, short words can add a faster paced rhythm, as can clicking fingers (The Hundreds comes to mind). Long delivery of words, savouring the syllables, can lend itself to a longer, fluid movement like a Roll Up or Cat Stretch.
4. A final note on LANGUAGE for ENCOURAGEMENT and PRAISE
We are increasingly mindful of the language we use with clients and are always seeking to improve on our teaching skills. Our mission statement is clear, ‘to empower each and every client’. Empowering and inspiring language is an essential part of this. This is vitally important when we meet clients who are new to Pilates, or have suffered with chronic pain or a challenging injury, and can very often be nervous of movement. The language we use with one individual may be completely different to the next, so that we do our upmost to reinforce confidence and to give positive encouragement to any individual, at any age or ability.
Communication is a skill that can be constantly fine-tuned, refined and developed for all of us. Which is why we truly believe it’s worth spending the time on reflection, attending courses and classes for ourselves, to keep fine-tuning our teaching practice. Our words matter. As teachers, we will continue to do our best to use them wisely!