Teaching Joe Pilates

Let’s read that again. First some info.

Teaching Joe Pilates

Joe = Husband

I teach Pilates

I teach Pilates

My challenge? Teaching. Joe. Pilates.

I hear the front door open and my husband calls out.

“You’re a genius!” Pause. An unfamiliar greeting…I am alarmed yet…curious.

“Go onnnnnn…” This should be good.

The day’s golf has been stellar. Okay… Joe reminds me of my suggestion to use his back muscles to hit the ball instead of his grumpy old shoulder. Evidently he hit the ball farther, and now after 18 holes his shoulder actually feels better.

I know very little about golf. I know a lot more about backs and shoulders. So how nice to receive this unprecedented salutation. Not bad for a Tuesday.

How many apprentices does it take to Teach Joe Pilates? Two.

In the early Aughts, Joe was my practice student at Excel Pilates in Washington, DC. A fellow apprentice, Kristina taught him as well. Kristina was quite fierce. With a keen eye and the face of an angel she was there to kick your ass. We made it our mission to whip Joe into shape.

No more Pilates. It's hard and your wife's telling you what to do for an hour

Easygoing Joe would become bad-tempered and moody just moments into the Hundred. His whole face would change. He declared himself ‘inexplicably grumpy’. I considered scheduling a couples therapy appointment for immediately after his Pilates lesson. *sigh* Eventually Joe turned to qi gong, no working out and yoga as alternatives. Ach mein Gott!

Fast forward to Spring 2010

My studio is now integrated into our home and Joe is literally surrounded by fantastic Gratz Pilates toys. My schedule is full and I can’t bear to squeeze another hour into my day to teach someone that will most likely be grumpy for free. Now I need to add that I oh-so-ridiculously love my husband. So when Joe expressed interest in learning the mat, this time I had a different solution:

“Here is a list of exercises. Do these now. In a few weeks maybe I’ll add more.”

And that's when the magic started to happen.

See Joe do the Roll Up!

2-Way Stretch, yo!

2-Way Stretch, yo!

Playing the game where you drink every time I invoke Jay Grimes?

Jay Grimes tells a wonderful story about Clara Pilates, the quintessential teacher. Generous with her knowledge, Clara would expertly guide you to the very precipice of discovery without giving it away. A Pilates surprise would unfold gorgeously before you and you never saw it coming. You found your own Pilates secret “all by yourself.” Jay describes the work at Joe Pilates’ original studio as a journey of self-discovery, which is all but lost in many present-day Pilates studios.

In Joe Pilates' studio you would initially learn your workout by having a finite number of private lessons. After that you were expected to know your workout. There were helpful charts and photos around to remind you. A few teachers supervised the entire room of students, each working through their own prescribed workout. If you needed a push or a pull you got it. If you forgot (again?!) how many springs for the Knee Stretches they would certainly help you out. It might be 3 months before you got even a single correction from Joe which might be “Use your gut!” But by simply doing the work, on your own, gradually something would begin to happen…

Check, please!

Part of being a good teacher is knowing when to back off. I worked as a waitress for about a nanosecond in the mid-90s. I was really quite dreadful, actually. But once I figured out they were not there to have dinner with me – and therefore I did not hover ad nauseum – I got a little better. My tips actually increased, which I found amusing. I mean, who doesn’t want to have dinner with me?

Make a Man feel like a Man: The Standing Arm Springs

Exercises created by a man for men

Exercises created by a man for men

Nothing makes a man feel more like a man than the Standing Arm Springs, so Joe got a few of these too – with minimal directions from me, from across the room…while reading my book – and some Leg Springs.

Now he has the Mat exercises and a fun finish on the Cadillac. Awesome. I have managed to zip it and not get all up in his grille with regard to form. He works well, he is not dangerous, he is moving and sweating.

2 thumbs up.

The waitress effect

Joe is thrilled. “The springs are working!”

Oh it is all working, my sweet. He is having more fun and not feeling demoralized by an hour of corrections from his wife.

Remember back when you are first learning to teach and you struggle to get the words out? Well, then we all get so good at it that we just can't shut up. Now it is a gargantuan effort to keep silent and allow the student to do their workout, to begin to cultivate their relationship with the apparatus.

But it's hard to allow little things that you want to fix just fly right by you. You feel like a bad teacher, or lazy. But sooner or later there will be something that you just can't hold back on. Prioritizing.

And maybe, as whatever-it-is flies by, you get an idea about where in the studio you'll go to fix it. Later. Problem-solving.

I tell you, the more I ignore him, the more fun he seems to be having.

Joe + the Pilates mat exercises + a few springs = a voyage to self-discovery…Uhm…Jay said it would?

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Leave a comment below if you'd like to share your story of teaching a loved one…Thank you for reading!



Nobody puts Baby in the corner.

Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner

The Arm Chair is perhaps the most underrated and overlooked piece of Pilates apparatus.

Nicknamed the Baby Chair, or the “little old lady chair” for its brilliance with small and frail clients, the Arm Chair is an oft-glossed-over piece of equipment in teacher training programs.

Few studios feature an Arm Chair and generally if a studio does have one at all it may be gathering dust in the corner.

O for a Gratz Arm Chair!

Currently the Arm Chair is garnering ‘new attention’ in the Pilates universe.

A staple in Joe Pilates’ studio, it turns out this versatile piece of equipment is good for everyone. Just try the Rowing exercises from the Reformer on it and you are in for a revelation.

All that time spent talking about getting the shoulders down is superfluous when you have this perfect piece of equipment.

The back of the chair gives you immediate feedback about what goes on behind you in the no man's land of your back muscles.

My arm starts where?

You can now feel if you are connecting into your back or just cranking your shoulders. And ladies rejoice to do Swakate on the Arm chair, originally a man's exercise on the Reformer, where we can have a fighting chance to preserve a modicum of form.

Perhaps ‘rejoice' is too strong a word…

Hang on. Tangent time:

This apparatus can help to illustrate one aspect of Jay Grimes’ magical teaching: One’s ability to choose the most direct route to address any given situation or issue in the body elevates the teaching of Pilates to an art form.

Jay knows how to make the choice of exercises and therefore the Method itself do the work for him.

Jay trusts the exercise to convey the information to the student without a lot of long-winded and therefore meaningless chatter from the teacher. The student can then ‘discover' what the exercise is doing for them ‘all by themselves' and feel like a smarty that knows a secret no one else knows about.

I love it when that happens.

The Arm chair is a wonderful apparatus for the teacher because it gives you such easy access to the person’s body making it also ideal for those tiny Pilates instructors with a clientele of large inflexible men.

Take note – Joe Pilates’ original design of the Arm Chair has a moveable chair back that one must stabilize or control depending on the needs of the person and the demands of the exercise. This means greater versatility allowing weaker clients to work safely and the aforementioned large men to have a challenge.

At the risk of sounding like a commercial, I am merely an enthusiastic fan.

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