We Need To Talk About Perfectionism In Pilates - Norah Myers

March 3, 2022by Norah Myers
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What’s my biggest pet peeve as an instructor, aside from when you don’t listen to me?

Great question – I would love to tell you.

It’s when you think you have to do every exercise perfectly and you beat yourself up when you can’t do something.

You don’t come to Pilates to do every exercise perfectly. You come to Pilates because you want to feel better, whether you want to manage pain, rehab an injury, or get some exercise. Perfection is not the point of Pilates, and you shouldn’t leave class feeling worse than when you walked in.

My client finished class by saying, ‘I’m a perfectionist,’ and she’d spent the whole class frustrated and mad at herself when her foam roller slipped a little sideways, when I had to explain things a couple of times, and when she couldn’t get every exercise perfect right away. I understand why she beat herself up, but it’s counterproductive and unnecessary. I don’t judge her, so why should she judge herself?

Here are five ways you can shut out the noise in your head during your Pilates class and stop beating yourself up.

Breathe

It always comes back to the breath, the foundation of Pilates. In through the nose, out through pursed lips like you’re blowing through a straw. Take big breaths and feel your ribcage expanding. Let the breath relax you. Coordinate your breath with your movement. When you focus on what you’re doing at the moment, you can stop the endless hamster wheel that might be telling you you’re not enough or reminding you to pick up curry paste from the grocery store on your way home.

Count

Count the reps as you do them to keep the rhythm and pace going. This helps you to ground yourself back to the movement and stop overthinking. Your Pilates instructor might lose count because she’s doing a correction or modification, and she’ll ask, ‘What count are we on?’ or say something like, ‘Just two more,’ when she isn’t counting at all. Counting fills the space and helps you stay present in class.

Be precise, not persnickety

Pilates is about deliberate movement, but I would prefer to keep the flow of class going rather than be too nitpicky. I get you moving and then we clean up the exercises as we go so that you do the work correctly while still getting a good workout in. Just today, I forgot to cue lifting the ankles in Stomach Massage, so we had to clean up my mistake, but then we laughed and moved on. Don’t dwell on the small mishaps. As long as you’re safe, comfortable, and you haven’t injured yourself, you’re okay.

Take it seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously

My favourite classes are the ones where I get everyone laughing. I love classes that are fun, where we all giggle like imbeciles. Those are the classes I most look forward to and love teaching. That’s why I love my career – I like to make other people happy. If you can’t laugh at yourself in Pilates class, when can you? Take the work seriously, but take a moment to laugh at yourself.

Leave it at the studio

When you’re done for the day, leave any mess-ups at the studio. Take note of what you need to keep in mind for next class. Then, forgive yourself and let it go. I’m the kind of person who holds grudges for a long time, who has a hard time letting go of things, especially in work. I used to spend weeks and months beating myself up over mistakes at my job. Now, as an instructor, I learn from my mistakes and I get on with the next class. If I held on to every screw up, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. I wouldn’t give myself room or permission to learn and grow as an instructor.

Failure is natural, unavoidable, consistent, and useful. It’s the only way that we make progress. Don’t hold yourself to a standard that’s so impossible that you are unable to move forward. Get yourself out of your straightjacket, laugh at your mistakes, and sign up for your next class.