Teaching & Learning
The Art of Correction
By Lee Cooper
The intent to communicate within the instructional world of Pilates creates an on-going effort to use clear, concise language for our students. As teachers, it is what we do. This aim inside the tools of language goes beyond the verbal description of exercises and becomes a development of words and phrases to enhance and improve given movement patterns. For better or worse, the word we speak of is “correction,” or rather, an alteration that removes errors. Unless a distinct effort is made to deliver correction in a caring, thoughtful manner from a solid knowledge base, the connotation can be perceived as negative. The art form of language now resides inside the art form of correction.
There are important elements inside the venue of visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile cueing we have learned to use, even in the earliest moments of training. We can however find deeper meaning with these techniques and weave them into an expanding perspective with four additional tools or methods of application. Asking questions such as, “what kind of correction should be given right now,” “Is this an opportunity to call on information that will simplify the movement, or could a rich, visual image create a better response,” and “Does physical accuracy need attention, or is the student ready to move into a stream of successive flow?” When applying an improvement to a movement pattern, we take the process to this next step by including physical, facilitative, rhythmic, and qualitative correction, which serve as an internal observational model and was originally used when examining teachers in the dance field. (The Art of Teaching Dance Technique, p. 53).
Physical correction is exactly what it implies, the observation of misalignments or imbalances in the body and making every effort to re-align with an objective approach and an impersonal tone. Words are tools and delivering these words takes a certain skill and finesse, as most human beings have a level of sensitivity about their bodies. Using a straightforward, caring tone, speaks directly to the point of the body that needs change. For example, the instructor has a client who deals with Forward Head Syndrome in the Pulling Straps series and observes the head dropping forward when the body passes through neutral spine. Using a correcting cue in direct relation to the physical body, the instructor may say: “See if you can create a long connection between the back of the head and the tailbone,” vocalizing any number of visual images while addressing the “physical” issue. Following the correction, always acknowledge the effort or the improvement, without fail.
Verbal cueing can sometimes create only a static response, whereas, touching the point of necessary change helps to eliminate constant chatter and elicit a sensorimotor or kinesthetic response. Placing the hands on the medial border of the scapula when addressing shoulder stabilization or helping a client understand the importance of drawing the shoulder blades into adduction with appropriate use of the rhomboids, may require light fingers to signal a physical response. This tactile action creates a somatic understanding and speaks volumes.
Anatomical knowledge is crucial to verbal and tactile cueing when dealing with physical corrections. Information concerning anatomical connections makes for smarter bodies. It is the “where” behind the “why,” the knowledge behind the perception. It is the understanding of muscle association into muscle activation. Insight into the hamstring origin and its relationship to heel-sitz bone connection can lead to cues that will assist a client to soften hip flexors and lengthen the back of the legs in Roll Down. Being well informed of psoas lengthening in Teaser can lead to a deeper connection in the scoop and hollow of the exercise. A muscle name need not be mentioned. However, the instructor’s information is imperative concerning the physicality of the human body.
Facilitation is a type of correction that uses an analytical, step-by-step approach to create ease for an unfolding movement pattern. Preliminary work of fundamentals in the first steps of learning Pilates, followed by modifications when necessary, eventually lead to the full exercise once a student has mastered the specifics. Arriving at this point takes repetition, practice, demonstration, and most often, re-demonstration. Each step is strengthened with reoccurring words that promote clarity as well as the repetition of kinesthetic associations from physical practice. Consistency is the protocol, and recurrence of cues helps to imprint the information into the body. There are a variety of ways to say the same thing, thus, verbal cueing should resonate the client’s movements. It often takes varying tactics to present similar ideas because of different learning styles. This requires an instructor to be descriptive and clear while searching for the ease and understanding of the exercise. In addition, performing the movement patterns with repetition refines the material.
How many phrases can be found to speak directly to an issue? Try some, play with some, get creative, read about other instructors and their cueing, watch other instructors and listen to their facilitating corrections. For example, begin naming all the words in the English language that describe use of the abdominals inside the Pilates repertory. Address the client through different processing, for instance, the auditory learner will “hear” the descriptions, the kinesthetic learner will respond to cues like “feel” the power house, the visual learner will “visualize” the verbal description, and the tactile learner will “react” to a two point touch system of drawing the stomach muscles in and up, while speaking about the desired effect. A facilitation correction is powerfully understood when the instructor places their hands, with permission and warning, directly on the body to help achieve positioning or understanding of the given cue.
A rhythmic correction does not necessarily refer to the connotation of keeping a rhythmic beat, as it would apply in the dance field, although sometimes applicable. It is addressable from the standpoint of the natural tempo and pace of flow having been achieved after reaching a certain level of expertise. There can be a regular recurrence of movement patterns interspersed with long or short pauses and a rhythmic structure. However, the teacher in us is speaking to the natural, organic movement that grows out of the Pilates form. The consequential beauty is the resulting recipe of the Pilates Movement Principles, which now find integration into Whole Body Movement. Yes there is breath, yes, there is concentration and centering, yes, there is precision and a sense of rhythm and flow, and yes, there is the ongoing goal of balanced muscle development. The beauty of these guidelines is the moment when a Pilates practitioner feels, for the first time, this sense of integration into the body, the mind, and the spirit. There is a moment of profound awareness when the sense behind the movement becomes embodied, thus rhythm has been felt or achieved or understood.
The final mode of correction comes under the heading of Qualitative or improving the aesthetics of the work. It is the richest of the improvement vocabulary and addresses meaningful images or references to the final effect. It supports the learning and substantiates the practice opportunities by giving promise to a desired achievement. Now, instead of using language to merely describe physical improvement, the verbiage is directed toward visual, kinesthetic, and auditory images that help to illustrate the case in point.
Such examples are certainly found when exploring the depth of breath, not just the anatomical necessity, but also the way it can flow into the spine, providing space between the vertebrae, to lift, lengthen, and support the body. Breath can be described with a sense of life attached to it and the synonymous relationship it has with the movement. In Short Spine, attach paintbrushes to the toes and paint an arc of color when taking the legs over the body. In Pulling Straps, send a rush of water out through the toes to keep the entire leg engaged. When moving into extension in Down Stretch, visualize a fountain of water starting at the sternum and shooting up then curving in space, to find a sense of lift in the thoracic spine.
When creating verbal cues and phrases, consider the design and space the body occupies. When on the knees in Chest Expansion, think about the adductors as the inner walls of a skyscraper holding the center of the building and scooping inward and upward and the hamstrings as the back of the building, pulling up strong. Create cueing examples from the concept of dynamics applied from the perspective of how forces produce change. Is there greater volume or intensity to a certain movement with a dynamic breath as opposed to softness or gentleness?
Aesthetics is an appreciation of beauty. For those of us in the Pilates instructional field, there is a devotion to the individual and personal outcome of our students, which can lead to an exercise that has physical and mental benefits, and yes, is beautifully performed. This happens with time and reveals the unfolding precision that becomes the goal.
Why use another modality when considering how the client is corrected? Why place four more words inside the already filled mind of an instructor? The panoramic view of teaching is endless and the goal is to increase the effectiveness of learning. The more skills acquired, the more information is at hand, and the more tools provided, the deeper the attention directed at the student. Inside of each session, the instructor has these four helpful categories to use for reflection. Has the hour been directed toward a physical concentration, or did the instructor remember to bring in aesthetic or qualitative images? Was the hour overshadowed by facilitating the “how to” of the exercises, resulting in too much breaking down, or was opportunity offered to flow into the movement, with a sense of rhythm? Every tool available to the teacher brings the practice to a higher body and mind experience. It is clear there is no one definition of teaching that accurately captures the essence of the hour and in fact, by introducing more information, the instructor may encounter an encouraging outcome. As an instructor of Pilates, the job is to connect the pieces of the Pilates puzzle and present with knowledge and integrity. What a rich, delicious challenge, all the while remembering new innovations such as the idea that correction is an art form presented by creative, innovative instructors.