When teaching a class so many things can go wrong, the stereo, the head microphone, the music, the air con, the bookings (or lack of), the equipment and the participants. Whether inside a classroom situation or facing a one to one client, you’re looked upon to ‘fix the problem!’ with the usual method of a sticky plaster!
In one west end club I taught at there was a class happening in the studio. It was a busy class in full swing when all of a sudden someone collapsed (presumably through heat exhaustion). The instructor managed to keep the class going, removed the victim outside the studio and literally left them in order to get back to the class! Talk about the show must go on! Nothing became of it as embarrassment always leads the victim to creep quietly away into the changing room.
Situations in the classroom are always inevitable especially when people and equipment are involved. I taught a yoga class one evening, quite late at night and I had one too many bottles of water during the day. Why is it yoga or Pilates classes have to be at eight or nine in the evening, some people want to relax after work? Anyway, I came to the usual finale of the class, the relaxation. During the relaxation, music was playing, I softly spoke into the microphone and by this time my bladder was about to explode.
I looked around the room of around thirty people thinking if I relax, there’s going to be a flood. Contemplating, can I wait! I stood up, made my way towards the door and left the room. As I rushed through the gym I still had the head microphone around my head, clasping my hands around my mouth to divert any background noise. I tried speaking calmly into the microphone, ‘Take a slow conscious breath through your nose….’ People in the gym were looking at me with the suggestive thought of, there’s a mad yoga teacher running around the gym telling everyone to breathe. I didn’t care, my bladder was controlling my mind as I headed towards the disabled toilet. Before I could relax, I had to make sure the microphone was off otherwise they would’ve heard the cries of, ‘Oh, my God, thank God for that, what a relief!’ I crept my way back into the studio, sat down and finished off the relaxation. When the class was leaving I asked a regular attendee and mate of mine Eli if she noticed me leave during the relaxation and she said she was oblivious to it all. Result! I was thinking how professional can I be for the fact nobody noticed me leaving. As with most momentous occasions it was a short-lived experience. My mate David had great pleasure informing me that during the session whilst demonstrating a wide leg stretch against the mirror, my trousers left little to the imagination. The class may have been oblivious to my ‘bladder crisis,’ however during the session when I had everybody gathered around me, legs propped against the mirror to do a wide leg stretch, everyone’s attention was drawn to the essence of the move. Unknown to me my trousers around the crotch area fitted rather well and let’s just say being a male yoga instructor doing a wide leg stretch with everything on show was a performance in itself. Perhaps a reason for consistent busy class numbers! Note to self, must choose better attire next time and definitely not wear white trousers with black underwear! Dumb and young I know but it’s a learning curve or perhaps a new fashion statement.
Along with wardrobe malfunctions and like the machines in the gym, the stereo would often not work before class, crap out during class, or be stolen after class. With most group fitness classes, music is the key ingredient to a great class and so as a temporary measure, when the stereo was not operational and until a new stereo from Thailand or some other far away land arrived months later, a small portable stereo was often the substitute. The small portable stereo was big enough for a small kitchen and had a tinny ring to it with no bass when the volume was turned up. Every movement was recorded via the CD player by it either jumping forwards or backwards one beat. It wasn’t very professional, highly irritating and often resulted in me looking up to the clock every five minutes wishing the class to end soon. It’s a kind of relief to give up those classes, which rely heavily on music and the stress that comes with it.
TESTING TESTING. . .
The microphone is a rare sight in many studios as it’s often stolen, broken or cracks during every body movement. Teaching classes that play loud music require the use of a head mic to save the instructors voice, however with many clubs scrimping over purchasing new equipment the instructor has to blast their vocals throughout a forty-five minute / one hour session. Try doing that over the space of about fifteen to twenty classes per week and the throat is pretty much ravaged. Some instructors have had to have nodules removed from their throat as a result of straining their voice. No head mic is sometimes better than having one as when it’s faulty, it can sound like the instructor is trying to perform some kind of rap with every second or third word missed out. I’m fortunate to teach Pilates and yoga, as it does not require loud house music reverberating out and therefore the use of a head mic. Saying that the members who arrive late for a busy class, forced to squeeze in the back next to the speaker and normally have a hearing problem are the ones who complain for the fact they can’t hear you. They want you to use a head microphone regardless and prance around like Madonna on Valium instead of arriving early or moving to a more appropriate location for them to see and hear you!
Being freelance, time off means no funds, so sometimes teaching under all conditions is necessary even if it does sound like a slurring of words is the presumed result of one too many of the alcoholic variety! Instructors are human and not every instructor is robotically militant in eating bananas and drinking fruit juice all day! There are times whereby the instructor teaches whilst under the influence. It can be a great hangover cure sweating in a class, whether it’s down to fear of being recognised for drinking or just consuming too much the night before and it’s simply seeping through the skin.
If it’s not the microphone or the voice that’s the issue, it’s the music. Teaching a class of thirty or so people, you’re never going to get the music to everyone’s taste but still there are those who think your Ipod should contain every single song ever composed. Some members even advise on what should be played in the next class if the music isn’t to their liking. In pre-choreographed classes some members seem to think instructors love to learn routines all day everyday without realising that it takes time to rehearse what is about to be done in the classroom! A new song requires time spent on learning – it’s fine, social lives aren’t really important anyway!
The air-conditioning, oh where to begin with this one. Before, during or after a class it’s either too hot or too cold. Normally I don’t even get the chance to change the temperature, as some members will take charge of that aspect for me. Half the room want the heat to avoid getting cold, the other half want it cooler so they don’t overheat. A small select few, paranoid about sweating during exercising want it to be neither hot or cold but would prefer either the fans on to keep the room cool or want the fire door left open (using a fire extinguisher) to circulate the air in the studio. Leave the fire door open and the manager then complains for jeopardising health and safety and potentially ruining his health and safety record (and potential bonus). Have the air conditioning on in the first place and the model wannabes fear a change in their skin condition. Heaven forbid if cracks appear! The solution is best left up for everyone to fight it out; I’m not getting involved! Perhaps mini fans per mat placed above like some kind of air conditioning unit in a plane, control at your own mercy!
APPROACH WITH CAUTION!
Participants bring to class an array of drama and dilemmas. I always ask the ‘any injuries, pregnancies’ question and tend to walk around the room hunting down replies, as people generally tend to shy away from throwing their hand in the air. Saying that if someone does wave me over, everyone turns to look at them as if some kind of tourist attraction, but without the cameras. Intense glares signify the question on everyone’s mind, what’s wrong with them. A woman once signalled me over. I crouched down and as I repeated the question of injuries / pregnancies she was in the process of removing one of her legs. Trying not to collect too many flies with my jaw dropped open I thought interesting situation. Pilates predominantly requires the use of both legs and arms for the dynamics of working the core. I asked her if she could leave her artificial leg on but she found it got rather clammy during exercise. So we compromised and she removed her leg during exercises involving upper body and fixed it back on during lower body exercises. It’s something you don’t learn on a course, how to deal with someone legless literally speaking. It definitely felt different having to tell a member, ‘You’ll need your leg for this next one!’
Often during a Pilate’s class I’ll walk around and correct people to avoid them jeopardising their back, knees or some other part of their body. Unfortunately not everybody feels they need correcting after all they have been doing it for years. They’ve read the ‘how to manual’ and know what they’re doing! There are even those members who like to tell me how it should be done. With a sarcastic tone (as that’s the only way to get through to some people) I’ll explain what I’m trying to achieve in a particular exercise whether it be stabilisation or mobility. This is where the individual might be familiar with the exercise but not understand the reason behind modifying the move within the exercise, and they’re forgetting, it’s not all about them, there is more than one person in the room. There are those who believe they are advanced, but to look at, and then tell them that they need to stream it back to basics can sometimes feel like chewing on meat that’s hard to swallow. A look of, how dare you say I’m shit, I’ve been doing this for ages, is written over their face. Years of doing Pilates doesn’t mean it’s done correctly. The term autopilot comes to mind for many who work an exercise and switch off while they’re doing the move. Thinking about what they’re having for dinner, the conversation from the previous day to whether they’ve locked the front door when they left the house runs through the minds of the mentally befuddled! I know this too well as the befuddlement in my mind in my earlier days switched my ears off from listening to the teacher. Focus! Focus on mind with body!
It can be tricky and in the fitness arena quite controversial whether a hands on approach is the right or wrong way. Sometimes it’s necessary to lightly tap a knee from collapsing out especially where a move might jeopardise the back. As I found out the awkward way it helps to be a good judge of who is fine with being corrected and who is not. I guess for those that fear being adjusted should be prodded with a stick or zapped by taser as a measure for reinforced training!
I had a confrontation in a gym with a lady who I saw in the passing as I walked to the studio. She came to my class a few times but then I hadn’t seen her for some time. She must’ve had a January season ticket! I stopped and spoke to her asking how she was and if she was planning to come back to the class. She had a lot of problems with her lower back and told me that the doctor had advised her that Pilates was making her back worse. It was the tonality and conviction in her voice when describing how her doctor said she was getting worse as if it was my fault. As an instructor you reflect on yourself questioning if you’re in the correct job, do I need to retrain and it was then that I started to devalue myself. I felt the gun pressed against my forehead as if to say, ‘What have you done to me you bastard?’ I logically started to compute in my brain the questions to fire back at her. ‘So how often do you do Pilates then?’ She replied, ‘I come to your class!’ Thinking to myself ok I’ve established that much, ‘How many other times do you exercise or do Pilates?’ The answer I received put all logic back in my mind. ‘Just your class, once a week!’ It wasn’t doing Pilates that was making her back worse! It was the lack of attending Pilates that was causing her problem. I explained that in order to help herself she needed to invest a little more time in the gym and by doing once a week was possibly doing more damage than good. I stated strongly to her that a minimum of three if not four times a week would help keep the back mobile and strengthen up her core. I wanted to grab and shake her, screaming, ‘Own your body, don’t blame others for your lack of doing!’ Also I strongly advised her if she needed an opinion on her back, to seek a physiotherapist or chiropractor, not a doctor. Taking painkillers would just mask the problem and make matters worse. I headed for the studio with my head held high. I thought to myself, that’s another piece of useful advice handed out to somebody who either takes it and acknowledges it or just continues with what they think is right for them.