Navigating the Critical Voice of Our Internal Dialogue

Episode 03

We are often so concerned with the physicalities of movement in our sessions, however, part of our role as movement teachers can be to create awareness of what is happening on the inside of the minds of our students. In this episode, we explore that inner critical voice, or inner monologue, that many of us have experienced. We talk about what to do about it, the impact it may have on movement, and how we can identify when it’s happening to our students. Our conversation steers toward the two different cycles of inner self-talk and their manifestations, and Hannah sheds light on different tips to support someone undergoing this experience. We hope that the content of today’s episode sparks new ideas of thinking about what our students are experiencing during a Pilates or movement session. Don’t miss out on this conversation, start listening now! 


Key Points From This Episode:

  • Where the topic for today’s episode stemmed from.
  • Why you should always ask students/clients to notice what’s going on in their minds.
  • Noticing self-talk in the approach to movement.
  • Two different qualities of self-judgment talk.
  • Being aware of how internal dialogue can manifest its way in different physicalities.
  • Hannah talks listeners through a real-life self-judgment example.
  • She sheds light on a few tips on how to support someone experiencing that inner monologue.
  • The voice of comparison and what it sounds and looks like.
  • The psychological effect of controlling or choosing where the eyes go.
  • A real-life example of a comparison loop.
  • Why comparison isn’t always a bad thing.





[0:00:00] HT: Today, we’re going to be talking about that critical voice that some of us have experienced, and some of our clients are going to experience. What to maybe do about it, and noticing the differences and the qualities that goes on and how it can hinder movement. Also, how we can identify it when it’s happening as a teacher for our students. 


Welcome. Stick around if you want to learn about the art and philosophy of beautiful movement mixed with evidence-based exercise science. We’ll be having tough and inspiring conversations with other coaches, experts, artists, and athletes. Our goal is to challenge myths, explore concepts and engage in healthy debate as we dive deep with intrigue and curiosity. 




[0:00:50] HT: I’m your host, Hannah Teutscher. I’ve been teaching dance, Pilates, and yoga for over two decades. What I’ve learned is that movement can be the joy that integrates us all together. When we can trust and express ourselves through our bodies, we are unlimited in our ability to change ourselves and our communities for the better. We, as movement teachers and coaches, have the power to help people experience this for themselves. Okay, everyone, let’s dive in. Exchanging ideas and changing people’s lives one session at a time. This is The Pilates Exchange. 


In one of our recent Train the Trainers sessions, a strategy session, something came up that I found was really interesting. We had a movement session and we were exploring creativity in that I asked people to go into uncomfortable movement situations as they explore it. One thing that I always ask is to notice what’s going on in our minds as we are creating new movement and new variations, because sometimes what’s happening is that we are holding ourselves back for whatever reason, because of, there’s a voice in our heads that says whatever it says. 


I mean, for some of us, it’s going to sound like you’re not creative, you’re not good enough. She could do that better. You could take on a lot of different tonalities and a lot of different words, whatever we have grown up with, as well. The point of the whole movement session that we do is to really start to uncover where our movement blind spots are, where our habits are, and where can we explore a little bit more. Another major one is to notice that self-talk that’s happening. I find this really interesting for us to do as teachers, but also to notice how that self-talk has interesting qualities and how they play out in the way we approach movement. Also, how it’s going to affect our students as they approach movement. 


I guess at the end, the goal would be so in the moment with your movement, so as the student, as the practitioner. In the moment that there is no internal dialogue that’s going on. If we were to take it apart, that would be a little bit of like what a yoga goal would be. There’s oneness with self and thoughts, and being. I think we could do a little bit more exploring as Pilates teachers of that inner landscape, let’s say because it’s not something that we generally jump into. I think there’s two different qualities of this self-judgment talk that happens. 


One of them is really, it’s about ourselves and it holds us back from exploring new things. It hinders us from even really starting that first step, right? It sounds maybe like, “Ah, you’re not going to be able to do it anyway.” “Don’t even try it.” Or, “There you go. You tried it and you failed again, just like I thought.” It could be hurtful to ourselves before we even start the thing because we’re blocking ourselves from doing it. When we are teaching and that thought process is going on in someone’s head, it’d be hard to – we don’t need to hear everything that’s going on in our students, but it might manifest its way in different physicalities. I’d like you to be aware of them, like sometimes maybe that self-judgment makes a person timid to try something. 


Maybe it’s that paralysis analysis, right? They’re thinking so much about it that they or they’re not even able to take that first step into whatever we’re asking them to do, or barely able, or if they try the thing, it’s so timid or so lacking fullness in that movement. I think that it is because for, some people, it is because of that, that critical talk that they’ve been going through, that why even bother with this, or that fear of making mistakes. That’s a huge critical, like a self-judging thing, like, “I’m going to make a mistake anyways. I want to be perfect on this.” 


When we’re aiming for that perfection, let’s say, we’ve talked about this before. Perfection is, that’s not attainable. It really, it hinders us as movement practitioners. Perfectionism also hinders us, not only as coaches, but it also hinders your student from trying new things about going further, because then we’re always afraid of making those mistakes. In motor learning, we must make mistakes in order to go further, to experience new things. If you’re thinking about pole vaulting, right, like you’ve got to fall down a few times. You’ve got to make mistakes to reach something more. When we’re having that self-judging conversation or – it’s not a conversation, it’s a monologue that happens in our heads sometimes, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to go further in what we’re trying to do. 


I’m going to give you an example of a real-life scenario that we’ve seen. We’ll just say client one. Client one came and it was a very self-critical person, which we didn’t catch on at the very beginning. It manifested in ways that when even at the very beginning, we were working with, say, the reformer and doing the footwork, she was so critical of every step that she was doing, that she needed to ask a lot of questions to make sure she was right. That was one thing. She always wanted to be correct and make sure that it was perfect. 


If it wasn’t perfect for her, even then, it wasn’t good enough. That meant even if we were to be working on something and it was fine, what she was doing is absolutely fine. There were no problems and the footwork just bringing the carriage back and forth and finding a rhythm with the breath and all that. She couldn’t at the beginning get past the idea that I wasn’t going to be correcting her on every little thing that she was doing, because it was fine. There was no need to correct the things that she was doing, but in her mind, it wasn’t okay, because she wasn’t allowing – like that judgment circle that loop, which is going on and on and on and getting louder. 


It took us a long time to break through that by creating space for her to explore things in a way that that is sounded like, “Okay. Client A, try it like this. Now try it like this. What feels better in your body?” Giving her opportunities to feel and have the sensation and then choose which is going to be better, giving her more autonomy in how many springs would you like to use. We’re doing this. Letting her try that. How does it feel when we do – when we stretch our arms to this side? How does it feel? What do we – so there’s more invitational queuing for her that helped break that cycle a little bit after we had – after a conversation like, “Okay, I asked you to do this, what’s going on in your head right now?” “Oh, yeah. But I’m trying to put my shoulders down. I’m trying to lengthen my blah, blah, blah, blah.” 


It took a while with that client to find a way of me being aware, or us being aware, Christian and I, us being aware of how we can support her through the environment that we set up in order for her to experience movement in a way that’s joyful, not self-critical right there. As a teacher, it’s going to be hard to coach in a group class, it’s hard to find out what everyone’s thinking about as they’re doing movement, right? I think that would be, we’re not into therapy. We’re not – I’m not asking you to do anything like that, but we could through our cues and through the way we set up movement, help people experience a little bit more safety in order for them to do the thing or maybe to dim that voice that’s going on, that self-critical voice that’s there. 


That might look like even a simple like praising the steps that the person is doing. “Hey, John. That was great. You did X, Y or Z. It’s really coming along. Great effort. I like that.” Maybe it’s about the energy output that we’re looking for rather than the mechanical perfection of whatever we’re teaching. A way to support someone that is experiencing that monologue would be to not over cue. We don’t want to give them so much information that they get more lost in trying to figure things out. 


Sometimes, it’s just leaving a little bit more breath for them to experience the thing, set them up safely, and let them know exactly what the goal of the exercises. Then they could experience it. It will also be in language like, “Try this out.” Then once they try it, no matter what happened, perfect. That’s exactly what I wanted. Then clean it up as you go along. What happens sometimes with our queuing is they’re so precise. Our cues are so precise and exactly what they wanted, what we want them to accomplish, and when it’s not possible those first few times, which it often is not. That’s the point of learning. You want to try something new, right? 


That when it’s not as correct as we would like or the student would like, then that self-judging voice becomes louder. That loudness, that feeling of not being able to do something well, creates a divide between that person, their movement practice, and themselves. It really, it becomes not as enjoyable, because they’re always chasing behind something. Trying to get to that perfection. Trying to do that thing. At a certain point, it’s no longer fun if you can’t be good at something. 


We’re not saying that the person has to be great at everything. We’re not talking about overly praising things, but we’re talking about praising effort, praising steps, praising progress in order to dampen that self-judgment thing, in order to make it fun, in order to release those hits of dopamine so that we can mark the progress that’s there. This doesn’t mean lowering our standards as teachers. It means creating a safer environment for people to explore in their bodies, and explore movement in a fun way. 




[0:12:30] HT: When I started teaching, I felt underprepared and overwhelmed. I needed to learn how to plan my training so that it made sense, but I wasn’t sure what was working and what wasn’t. So many teacher training programmes leave out the actual art and business of teaching. This is why we created Train the Trainers. Train the Trainers is designed to give you the tools you need to create a powerful learning environment for your students. 


Gain access to the vault of our collected knowledge where you can learn everything we have to teach you, whether you are a freelance teacher or a studio owner. Get constructive feedback on your teaching with actionable tools you can apply immediately. We can’t wait to be part of your teaching journey and to help you grow in your business. Welcome to Train the Trainers. 




[0:13:20] HT: There’s that aspect of the self-judging talk, this critical voice. It’s really internalised from wherever it is. Then there’s the other voice that comes up and that is the voice of comparison. That one has a little bit different quality to it. The voice of comparison would be, “Nikki, always – she looks so good. Oh, my gosh, look at the way she does that handstand. I’ll never be able to do that.” It could be, “She’s so, I don’t know, whatever quality it is. She’s so pretty, she’s so thin, she’s able to do that gorgeous thing. I’m never going to be able to do that.” That becomes dangerous, like what everyone’s – if you’re into that comparison loop, that could sound a lot of different ways, that depends on where you’re at and where your perceived notions of where you should be, and how they compare. 


We do that when a person is in that loop of self-judgment comparing to another person, they are no longer in touch with what they are doing. They’re no longer in touch where their body is really in space. It becomes detrimental because that person, let’s say the self-judger, then has maybe the tendency of pushing over boundaries where they should not yet cross over. It might look like — risky. It might look like risk-taking that isn’t quite appropriate for that person. It might look like choosing variations that they’re not yet ready for, just because they would like to prove something to themselves. It could also be a very self-destructive type of behaviour where a person goes to too many classes during the week, too much exercise, too much restricted eating or, or, or, or. It manifests itself in a lot of different ways. 


Not that that person is going to explicitly say what’s going on in their mind during a class, but you might be able to catch on a subtle cue that’s happening with their eyes. You might notice as you’re teaching a class that that person is always looking around, that they can’t focus on what they’re doing. Even if you give them a place for their eyes. In yoga, it’s a little bit different. Sometimes we work at the Drishti, which is an eye focus. Pilates, there’s not as much of that, but it would be helpful in this case to have them focus on something. Say you are, we’re doing this exercise, “I’d like your chin to be parallel to the floor. Pick a point directly in front of you and focus your eyes there.” 


Look, the reason why we would do something like that. Number one, it’s great to use the eyes in the Pilates practice in any movement practice. It’s a great – eyes or muscles too. We are not using them to the capacity that we could. That’s a whole other topic that maybe we’ll get into another time, but what it does on a psychological level if we can start to control where our focus is, that has the tendency to bring us back to ourselves, because then you are choosing to place your eyes someplace. You’re choosing to focus on something rather than let the monkey mind go around and looking all over the room to unconsciously, most of the time, unconsciously choose out someone to fixate on, to berate ourselves with, “That person, does it better than me?”


I’ve experienced a different client. Let’s call it just Client B. Client B was in this comparison loop. It happened to be a yoga class in there and that client was fixated on how another person’s physical practice, with their asana practice, looked like. In my classes, I ask for people to try stuff out. Then once they’ve gotten this, then they – once they’ve gotten to one level, then they try the next thing. Then they try the next thing. They’re allowed to self-judge of where they’re at. If there’s a skill that they would like to continue to practice before jumping to the next step, because I think, again, that autonomy of being able to choose is super important for them. 


I don’t put people in dangerous situations in that, like if you’re not ready to do an exercise, I will like if it’s going to be dangerous, then I will, of course, say, “Hey, leave this one out today and we’ll work up to it.” This particular person was so going past their own boundaries, because past their own level of pushing, pushing, pushing, to try to achieve something almost to the point of injury, because she wanted to be like this other student in the class. 


At first, it was really – it could be very – we have to be mindful. I had to be mindful of like there’s a fine line between trying to achieve something and pushing your own boundaries of, “Okay, let’s get something further.” Okay, that’s great. We like to push those boundaries, but if it’s coming from a place of just trying to be like someone else, then that’s where it gets really not good. It took a while for me to figure out how to cue this client B into experiencing again in her own bodies to bring her eyes someplace else that’s focused on her and her mat and what’s happening on that day, not yesterday, not where she wants to be, but what’s happening to right now in her body. 


Sometimes I would ask something like, can you be aware of your thoughts, right now? Are you engaging in self-talk? What does it sound like? Is there an element of comparison? If that comparison is there, what are you going to do with it? Can we let it go? Because the only thing that matters right now is what’s happening in your body on your mat today, not yesterday, not tomorrow, not where we would like to be, but what’s happening right now. 


Subtly, well, that one’s probably not that subtle, but about creating that atmosphere of the importance of the moment, of the importance of being in your body and making those choices for you, not your neighbor is an aspect that I think we could do more of in our Pilates sessions. That kind of stuff, I think we do more of it in our, more of it in our yoga classes. I think that’s more normalised. The example that I just gave was actually coming from one of my yoga classes, but that queuing, that engagement is something that I do integrate into Barre and Pilates because I think it is so important. There’s that aspect of it. 


I don’t think that all comparison is a bad thing. I think that sometimes it’s great to look around and say, “Oh, my gosh. That person can do whatever it is. I think I can also achieve that.” Sometimes it’s setting the bar just a little bit higher, and that happens with comparison that happens with noticing what’s out there. We learn from other people. That’s also a big part of motor learning, is being able to see something and say, “I can replicate that. I can do that.” 


I’m not saying that we have to put our blinders on and only focus on ourselves, because I think that exploring or it being able to be witness to the magnificent variations of human movement and what’s possible in this magnificent body that we have, I think that’s amazing. I’m not saying to narrow that down. I’m just saying that there is a whole landscape of things going on under the surface in our classes that through our setup, in our – the way we structure our movements, the way we choose our cues, the atmosphere we create, the communities that we create can either heighten this self-critical talk, the self-judging talk that we do a comparison, or it could tone it down and even mute that behaviour. 


When we are able to be aware of it, we have more options of creating, creating spaces for people to explore, and creating these movement playgrounds, which is why I like to – what I’m always saying. It’s always it’s a toy. It’s a playground. It’s a fun place that we get to explore. Just like when we were kids and you’re playing on the playground or the monkey bars, or if we go into it that way, kids, I don’t think, judge each other the way that we as adults have developed into. When a kid is playing on the monkey bars and they see something that one kid can do — then they try it right after. That’s the atmosphere that we would like to nurture in our classes. 


To bring it around one more time, I think in my experience, I’ve noticed these two archetypes of things going on with self-judging. It’s either coming through an internalised voice. It’s all about myself and the blinders are on. It’s a way of, it’s a self-contained way of keeping ourselves a little bit small. That’s one thing. Then the other one is this comparison self-talk, this self-judgment. That maybe pushes us to an extreme work head that could also be hurtful to the student. While I’m not advocating for teachers, if this is not your background to be working and I’m not advocating for you to do therapy in your classes. I’m just advocating for creating awareness that many people go through, either one of these cycles.


Through that awareness, we can eliminate the shame of what is that internal monologue, whatever texture it has, taking that shame away that a lot of people experience that, and opening it up gives more freedom for our students to find a more healthy way of approaching their movement practice coming into the studio. That’s what we want. We would love to have a happy place for people just to move better. 


I think everyone that’s listening could definitely agree with me on that one. I hope today opens up some new ideas of thinking about what our students are experiencing during a Pilate session. I hope that’s helpful or at least a starting point to maybe engage in new conversations with them or to consider the choices that you’re making during your sessions. 




[0:24:51] HT: Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. A great cost-free way of supporting us and the podcast would be to give us a five-star rating. You could also look down into the show notes and grab any one of the free resources for teachers. I hope to see you next week on The Pilates Exchange. Happy teaching, everyone.



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