I must sheepishly confess that in the past I was incapable of finding the time to take Pilates classes for myself. I don’t need classes, I told myself; I get some sort of workout when I teach. But I was living in denial. And it would take a pandemic for me to find the time to reconnect to my body.
I enrolled as a student in online Pilates classes at Body Harmonics.com thinking it would do me good to watch other teachers. Immediately I was swallowed into the bliss of movement. Every muscle in my body was alive. Afterwards I felt taller, more elongated—a stretching of heart and spirit as much as spine. How could I have managed for so long without structured classes? I hoped my students felt even half of the joy/pleasure/release I felt.
After I got over the thrill of participating in something I sorely missed, I began to analyze what was the same and what was different between online and in-person classes—from a student’s point of view. The Body Harmonics online teachers were excellent and their explanations clear. They made sure my shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and feet were placed in proper alignment; and their cues and prompts helped me feel the significance and layering of each exercise. But I realized that as a student I needed to be more mindful than in a studio. And I noticed it was much easier to become distracted in one’s home environment. Whether by a cat or a doorbell. Or the mat-level view of cobwebs on the ceiling and dust bunnies under a desk.
It was also easier to slack off. I definitely did this more often than I would in a studio where I could be clearly seen. When my abs were groaning, or I had enough of an exercise, I could lie back on my mat and gape at the moon outside my window. If I knew a movement was aggravating to my particular low back issues, I could easily modify the exercise, or leave it out entirely, without a second thought as to who might see or wonder what was up. A few of my students had told me about these advantages. They informed me how during the online class they could insert their physio exercises in place of weight lifting segments that were not good for their shoulder injuries. They confessed that in the studio they felt more self-conscious when they were doing something different from the others. And in-person there was always the tendency for comparisons with others in the group.
Something else I noticed: how luxurious it was to be at home. Outside winter raged, yet I was on my own comfy mat and not in need of facing a crowded subway or an icy parking lot. And the advantages kept adding up. After a delicious ELDOA class (a series of deep powerful myofascial stretches), I could roll right off the mat and head into a warm, relaxing bath.
There are a few worrying problems with online classes, however, and one of them is neck strain. It’s easy to fall into the habit of craning your neck to look often at the screen, to see what the instructor is doing. After signing up as a student, I was tempted to do the same myself. In the studio, an instructor does not constantly demonstrate—Pilates teachers are trained to give clear instructions and to walk around the room, supervising and correcting students. In online classes, an instructor demonstrates a lot more—sometimes for most of the class. I saw that the Body Harmonics teachers had resolved this problem by reminding students often to listen to their words and only look occasionally at their screen. I also noticed how these teachers designed their classes so that considerable segments of the hour were done in standing position. This was brilliant and I copied it. Standing work was not only more functional than an hour down on the mat, but eliminated neck strain and a second serious concern—dizziness.
When an instructor moves the camera from one place to another, this creates a flickering image that can literally make the observer feel sick. Teachers who understand this warn students in advance when moving to a new position. This gives students time to set themselves up and to avoid watching the screen. If nausea or dizziness persists, you might find an online class that is structured so that you are facing the camera for most of the class, and one where the instructor does not move her camera at all.
A new question cropped up for me with online classes: should a participant have her camera on or off? My first classes as a student I joined with my camera off. I’m not sure why. I was tired, I was shy, I was dressed in pyjamas. There may be many reasons why people don’t want to be seen. Some may be embarrassed by their home environment and/or having other people in their space. Some might have security reasons.
Although personally I love to see my participants and how well they are doing, most important to me is that they show up and have a good experience. In any case, it should be a personal choice. I totally get that some days, or all days, they might want to turn their cameras off. Now when I participate as a student I join with my camera on, but occasionally I angle my camera up to where the wall meets the ceiling. I just do.
To a greater or lesser extent, online is here to stay. It means no parking problems, crowded subways, icy pavements, or health concerns (that lingering, hacking cough weeks after your illness is not an issue in an online class). This points to the most significant advantage of all: attendance. Before, I was not able to attend classes as a participant with any regularity as I was either in my studio or commuting to and from it. Now I, like my students, can attend from home two, sometimes three, classes a week. This means double or triple the deep-body conditioning, posture, balance, and relaxation benefits.
A few tips to help make your online experience more beneficial and pleasurable:
- Try to listen to the words of the instructor and only turn your head occasionally to your screen. Turning your head often may not only strain your neck but bring on dizziness.
- There are many benefits of being seen by the instructor. To make yourself more visible during mat-work put your laptop, iPad or iPhone down or close to the floor with you, but don’t get too close to your device. Close curtains behind you to eliminate glare and position the main light source near or behind your iPad, not behind you. For standing work, lift up your device and set it on a table, in the same place each time.
- Make the area that you work out in as pleasant, clean and comfortable as possible. Ensure that you have plenty of space around you and invest in a thick comfy Pilates mat. Eliminate disruptions during your workout including switching off phone and social media.
- Commit to attending your classes as often as you are able. Many online businesses allow students to take as many classes per week as they choose. Online classes are live, and the teacher is able to see who attends. You can make the same mental, emotional and physical connection to online classes as to studio ones.
- Be alert. Monitor what you are feeling. Is it pain; or simply the sensation of a muscle working as a result of moving a new area of the body? You are responsible for working at your own pace. If your teacher suggests something new, ask yourself if this is really the right moment for you to introduce a more challenging movement. If not, stick with the familiar until you are ready. Use the chat box, or email after class, to ask your instructor questions or give feedback about an exercise.
- Do you understand the goal of each exercise? If not, always feel free to ask.