Sam and I met at Moss Pilates studios to discuss her history with Pilates, her experience training with Polestar, and what made her sweat when teaching students for the first time. Sam shares some lasting impressions of her Polestar training, and some great tips about how to approach both the Polestar programme as well as new students when teaching for the first time.
Hi Sam, thanks for sitting down with me today to chat Polestar and Pilates. I think it makes sense if we start at the beginning of your journey: How did Pilates first come into your life?
Sam: Before I started teaching Pilates, I was a professional dancer with a contemporary dance company in Brisbane, Australia. I started Pilates when I was a teenager, and knew it was a great programme to have alongside dance training. As I progressed in my dancing career, it became an everyday thing I did that would help me through long dance days.
When I first started doing Pilates, it wasn’t as popular or discussed as it is now. As part of my dancing, I went to a physio that had a fully equipped studio where I trained once a week for an hour. I also learnt mat exercises that I could do at home.
Of all the conditioning and training options that are part of physio, what kept you going back to Pilates?
Sam: I had done many other conditioning programmes for flexibility, but once I started Pilates I noticed a huge impact on my overall stability. This stability then affected my strength, which is what kept me with Pilates throughout my youth. It was great everyday for warming up, and later in my career when I was suffering injuries, it served a different purpose and really helped.
At what point did your attention shift from dancing to Pilates, and what were your first steps into your new journey?
Sam: What first inspired me to teach Pilates was my love of movement. Being a dancer and teaching dance always went hand in hand. So I had that experience of passing movement on to other people in a different way.
I started training to teach Pilates in 2014. I had recently retired from being a full time dancer and I had always thought that Pilates would be a great career to go into after dancing. I had a friend who had opened a studio, and I asked her who she did her training through and she said Polestar.
That’s pre-empted my next question! How did you choose Polestar’s training programme from all of the options?
Sam: My decision to start training with Polestar was quite simple really. I knew someone in Brisbane who I trusted, and it was as simple as asking “Who did you do your training with?” The flexibility of the schedule was important, and the Polestar classes all fit well into my schedule.
More importantly, I always planned to move overseas after completing my certification. The fact I could train in Australia and potentially sit my exam in London was a big selling point. In the end I did sit the exam in Australia, but it was great because the certification was still fully effective abroad.
Let’s say I was interested in doing a Polestar Pilates training course, but hesitant or nervous about the workload and requirements. What would you tell me?
Sam: Enjoy the process! Rather than just thinking about the certification or exam as an end point, make the most of the experience and don’t rush it.
The great thing with Polestar is the flexibility it allows. Everyone has different learning levels, commitments and movement capabilities, and Polestar allows you to work within your means. Once I had completed the modules I could finish my training in my own time.
I can imagine that it is a different experience moving from your own practice to then training people. What is it like starting to teach other students?
Sam: The process of beginning to teach Pilates was actually quite daunting. Because of my previous experience with dance groups, I thought it would be easier, but it wasn’t! The apprentice teaching hours you need to complete through your Polestar training really help to build confidence. Receiving feedback from mentors and educators about your instructing is invaluable!
When I first started teaching Pilates to other people, it was to other Polestar students. That was a great way to start because they knew what they were doing!
When I started teaching people who had not done Pilates before it was more challenging. I couldn’t help but become a lot more aware of the words coming out of my mouth and whether they made sense in a more general way. Some of the more anatomical cues I would give wouldn’t resonate with clients… it was a big learning curve for me.
Did Polestar prepare you for that at all?
Sam: Polestar prepared me to teach the general public in a number of ways. There’s the Polestar Principles which are key, and follow you through the training, repertoire & modules. These Principles help designate the key ideas you need to get across to your clients for each exercise.
Polestar taught me different ways to cue clients. Through using a combination of verbal and tactile cues I can cater to a range of people and their particular learning styles.
When you moved to London, how did you discover the Polestar network?
Sam: I moved to London about 18 months ago, after having trained and received my mat certification in Brisbane. When I got to London, the Polestar network was very easy to find. My first week in London I turned up here at Moss, introduced myself, and met Polestar UK licensees, Carl & Julia Moss.
It was 2 weeks after that I saw their ad looking for part-time reception cover. Luckily I got the job, and being here at Moss with students and qualified Pilates instructors and practitioners has been great. It’s a very inspiring place to be. Very encouraging and motivating.
It’s lovely being a part of the student community here at Moss. Everyone is really welcoming and always happy to give advice.
Moving into present day, what is your daily schedule like?
Sam: I teach five regular weekly classes, and then I’m on several cover lists which means I get a lot of calls and texts to sub in for other teachers.
Since I finished my mat course, I’ve kept up with my training and am now doing the Polestar comprehensive course certification. As part of it I’m trying to get as much apprentice teaching as I can. At the moment it’s about 1-2 hours a week, but I will build this up as I get more comfortable with the repertoire.
How is your continuing education going?
Sam: Participating in courses since completing my certification has been really enjoyable. When I was doing my mat certification course, there was so much to learn and so much going on. I didn’t have the opportunity to just sit down and enjoy the new information.
Through “Continuing Education” courses you can layer on new levels of understanding and hone in on specifics. It’s an opportunity to build upon the original certification.
How does your personal Pilates ethos play out in your classes and teaching method?
Sam: The ethos that I try to bring to every class is to move and to enjoy moving. Especially in a group class I love it when people come in and just experience movement. It is great to see people acknowledge that they and their bodies are enjoying movement. I mean, a lot of people know they have to go to the gym because it’s good for them – and maybe their body does enjoy it – but they might not be fully aware of how that movement affects them emotionally and physically.
I strive to create a mind-body connection so that people say ‘great, my body feels fantastic!” I like when people walk away thinking, “I’m going to continue doing that because I want to, not because I have to.’
What do you do with people who really aren’t feeling it, or are like, way out of touch with their mind/body relationship?
Sam: It is challenging to work with clients when they don’t listen to you! The best way I’ve managed so far to bring people into their minds and bodies is to do something that’s really focused in the beginning of class; whether it’s bringing them into a co-ordinated pattern or getting them to focus on their breath. I spend about 2-5 minutes to settle them down before getting them going.
Polestar really helped here by encouraging me to think of the body as a whole. So if I’m guiding someone in a standing position and I tell them “lift your right arm,” I’m also guiding them to really think of grounding their feet first. “Imagine your arms coming all the way from the sole of the foot all the way up the body up the arm through the fingertips.” It is those kinds of cues which bring awareness and integration through the body.
With Pilates you have to keep aware of yourself and your surroundings, and listen to your instructor!
During the classes you teach, what do you find to be the most rewarding part of working with clients?
Sam: The most rewarding part of working with clients is when they notice the difference. Particularly when I’m teaching group classes and they don’t respond because they’re very into their bodies and it’s not until the end of class when they might say, “I feel taller” or “I feel like I have more space in my hips” or “I feel great! I’m ready to face the day now”. It’s really nice to hear people’s feedback.
Polestar taught me to be positive in the way I correct people or give out instruction. I always remember to encourage ideas rather than saying “that’s wrong, this is right.” Instead it is about bringing new thoughts and ideas into the process.
With Pilates I love that I can teach a group of people and they can be all different backgrounds and they’ll all walk away getting something out of it.
This is the first in a series of interviews with Polestar Pilates practitioners in London and beyond, conducted and edited by Polestar UK.