WHAT MAKES A GOOD PILATES PRACTITIONER?
For Melissa, the road to becoming a successful and effective Pilates practitioner involves a solid theoretical grounding in the technique but also, just as importantly, the ability to grasp a patient’s specific needs at any given time, along with an ability to respond to those needs with flexibility and sensitivity. “It may be that the choice of exercises for a client on one particular day is influenced by their emotions; on another, it might be the result of the alignment of their body. Pilates is highly personalised, and so it is essential for a practitioner to have the experience, understanding and observational skills to be able to make the right choices for a client in response to their specific needs.” Melissa believes that the more experience a practitioner gains, the more they are able to conduct a “non-verbal dialogue” with a client’s body, and so choose exercises that will support and complement their state of mind. “In my experience, it is very often dancers and yoga teachers who make the best practitioners,” added Melissa, “as they have experiential understanding of the body and how it works, as well as an intellectual grasp of the technique and method. There is a lot of thinking involved in Pilates, of course, but it is also a ‘felt’ technique. The best practitioners are undoubtedly those who have this grounding and are comfortable in their own bodies.” Experience also has a role to play, and it takes the best Pilates practitioners time to develop and to enhance their skills and understanding. This question of time, of gaining an appreciation not only of the method, but also of the self, is something Melissa sees as vital in the development of a successful instructor. “There are layers to understanding the method, and particular exercises; it may be possible to grasp the mechanics relatively quickly, but it can sometimes take a couple of years to fully comprehend the benefits Pilates can bring.”
Melissa believes that a recognition of this process is not only central to Pilates practitioners becoming experts in the field, but is also the key to an effective training programme and curriculum. “At first, when they start out, Pilates practitioners tend, perhaps, to be too aware of themselves. What I mean by this is that they are not as in tune with their clients as they ought to be. Perhaps they are even caught up in their own egos to some extent. However, a well-trained and experienced practitioner can let their ego take a back seat, and this is what I try to instil in all of the teachers that I train. Every client has a different set of needs and it is the role of the Pilates practitioner to respond to these needs; however, the response may be different from session to session. This ability to observe, adapt and respond is therefore a vital part of a Pilates practitioner’s training – as important as an understanding of the method and exercises – and something on which I focus on a good deal when I am training new teachers.” It might be thought that a person with a background as a personal trainer or a gym instructor would automatically make a good Pilate practitioner, but this isn’t necessarily the case, Melissa thinks. “The job of a Pilates practitioner is to make conscious what was previously unconscious with regards to movement and breathing patterns, and so they need specialised knowledge and experience in order to be able to ‘read’ patients’ bodies, as well as some grounding in other complementary therapies, such as yoga, meditation, re-birthing, Feldenkrais and Franklin Method. The best Pilates practitioners have this sort of combination of knowledge or experience.” In order to ensure that high quality training for Pilates instructors is available in Adelaide, Melissa has developed her own highly successful curriculum and training programmes. “Teachers need to be taught properly too, “ said Melissa, “if they are to go on to be successful practitioners in their own right. A large part of the Pilates practitioner’s role includes calming and soothing. This can happen in any number of ways, and may be the result of listening, seeing, feeling, or a combination of all three. The best instructors use their initiative, but this can only happen as a result of having empathy, a lot of experience and solid training behind you.” Melissa Laing is Adelaide’s foremost Pilates instructor and leading trainer of Pilates teachers. To find out more about the range of classes and training programmes available at the Melissa Laing Pilates Studio, visit www.mlpilates.com