Teaching from the heart: on loss and mentorship

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"Change happens through movement and movement heals."

- Joseph H. Pilates

One of the most important skills of a teacher is to be a quiet observer.  It’s not sufficient to guide a lesson based on a rule book of right or wrong that treats the body like a sculpture to be shaped without nurturing the soul.  To be clear: teachers are not healers, counselors, or confidants.  There’s something different at play during a lesson in that we hold the space for another’s self-discovery in their ability to move with vitality.

My story about learning to teach from the heart unfolds with a loss.

Learning during a time of need

The trial of my life happened when I started my Pilates certification.  A month in, my Dad died.  I went from methodically digesting and repeating information to navigating life with turbulent new emotions.  I existed gingerly, unknowing of myself, unsure if I had anything of value to give others.

When I returned to the studio, each workout felt like a confrontation in need of a mediator. Short of breath, my ribs and middle back ached.  My teachers acknowledged what I was going through and how it affected my body.  During our lessons, they used supportive touch where I felt tension and respected my emotional barrier when I had little to give but my presence.  Without discussion, they could see it - me - trekking through a loss that some of them already knew. 

Holding the space for healing

Despite its demands, becoming a Pilates teacher wasn’t nearly as serious as my internalized loss.  Grappling with grief while moving forward helped me gain clarity on the importance of teaching to nurture a person’s entire being.  If my volatile physical state was the sum of my inner experiences, my teachers blazed the trail ahead to make learning recuperative.   

Guiding me without naming what was out of alignment, my teachers motivated me to discover energy and power. I became stronger and more optimistic, awake to the possibility of rejuvenation where I’d felt vulnerable.  I learned that Pilates was an adaptive scaffolding where perfection isn’t law.  I accepted my grief as a small part of the tapestry of my individuality, present without hindering my potential for growth.

Pilates can seem like an ancient language that we’ve forgotten we know  - to move with rhythm, breathe for the sake of nourishing the body.   There was magic in the healing aspect of Pilates and as I learned it during a time of need, I understood how I could share its light with my clients.  If we move in a way that reveals our inner struggles, we might also send strengthening signals inward by changing our movement.  My teachers weren't afraid to name losses of their own, nor were clients in our community who knew what had happened.  It stripped away the shame and taboo surrounding a universal and inevitable thing.  A simple workout became a celebration of the unified mind and body.

To my teachers: Thank You

Teachers are caregivers. We have a powerful desire for the good health and well-being of those around us.  We require fortitude and compassion.  Without support, we can become skeptics of our visions, choices, and even our teaching voice.  I’ve learned to practice solicitude because I’ve had teachers offer theirs without question.  Each person I connect with will experience grief and joy that they’ll manifest in their bodies and  I accept those experiences however they’re carried.  To be attuned to each person I teach is the gift I pass on - like my mentors, I offer my confidence in our ability to find empowerment and inner peace.


Relationship insight for students and teachers

Live a movement-rich life