Pain Science and Pilates with Colleen Jorgensen

Episode 10

As teachers, we have the amazing opportunity to create spaces where growth, freedom, safety, and a spirit of play can thrive! Today, we embark on an in-depth exploration of pain as a complex phenomenon. Pain is a manifestation of the intricate processes within the nervous system, which processes information from various sources. Everything, from the minutest detail of ensuring our clients feel safe and cared for to the language we employ and even our grounded presence as instructors, collectively influences how the nervous system perceives stimuli, ultimately determining whether pain is triggered. Today, we are thrilled to introduce you to the first guest on the podcast, Colleen Jorgensen! Colleen is an osteopath, athletic therapist, pain care educator, speaker, and Therapeutic Pilates, Yoga, and somatic teacher. Having endured a decade of pain herself, Colleen possesses firsthand knowledge of its challenges. And, after sensing a void in available resources, she introduced “Dare to Heal,” an indispensable online program tailored to teach those in pain to help themselves. Join the conversation as we hear about how a spinal cord compression issue changed her life, why we must understand that pain does not equal damage, why mindful language matters in our teaching, why we should emphasise play in our classes, and so much more! Don’t miss out on this episode, so start listening now! 


Key Points From This Episode:


  • Colleen highlights what brought her to movement in the very beginning.
  • She delves into the evolution, taking the functionality of Pilates and incorporating it into rehab.
  • How a spinal cord compression issue changed Colleen’s life.
  • Why we as teachers must understand that pain is not the same as damage.
  • We dive into the discussion on the narrative of “Pain means damage” and normalising pain.
  • Three things to check in with if students or clients have pain during movement. 
  • From the teacher’s perspective: two things to understand (and do).
  • Colleen explains how the body produces pain and why that is relevant: danger vs. safety.
  • The importance of creating a safe space where people are seen, heard, and respected.
  • How to change the perception of pain being exclusively viewed as a biomechanical issue.
  • She illustrates the power of empowerment when someone feels pain in class.
  • We discuss why mindful language matters in our teaching and cues. 
  • We emphasise how (and why) play is a key element of creating safety in our classes.
  • Thoughts on helping students find their own solutions and learning from mistakes; taking the self-judgment off the table.
  • Why posture, on its own, is not enough to cause or solve pain; pain is multifactorial. 
  • Colleen offers her insights on what constitutes good posture.
  • Deprogramming ourselves from the “no pain, no gain” attitude.
  • She explores the opposite scenario: the thought that pain is damaging, inhibiting movement. 
  • Colleen shares her best teaching tip.
  • Let go of the need to look perfect at the front of the class; let your injuries be seen, teachers!





[0:00:00.7] HT: I am thrilled to introduce to you to Colleen Jorgensen. Colleen is an osteopath, athletic therapist, pain care educator, speaker, and therapeutic Pilates, Yoga, and somatic teacher. She brings art and science together through her deep fascination with anatomy, neuroscience, manual therapy, and just how the body moves. 


Having lived with pain for over a decade, Colleen understands the challenges firsthand. Seeing a gap in the system, Colleen created her Dare to Heal, a much-needed online program that teaches those in pain to help themselves.


[0:00:39.8] HT: 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. 


I’m your host, Hannah Teutscher. I’ve been teaching dance, Pilates and Yoga for over two decades, and 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.




[0:01:36.9] HT: Colleen, I am so incredibly excited to have you here as my first guest on this podcast. I’ve been waiting a really long time to be able to do this, even though we worked in different capacities for a while. Where do we even start? I know that you have had a lot of life experiences that brought you to this point and I consider you an expert in many fields. I gave a briefing about what your background is but what brought you to movement in the very beginning?


[0:02:05.0] CJ: Yeah, well, thank you. First, I want to congratulate you on this podcast, I’m so excited for you guys and it’s great for all of us out there who work in Pilates and all the other movement world. So, I’m glad you’re doing this and thank you for having me on. What brought me to movement, I started dancing at the age of three and I’ve always just loved to explore what my body can do, like, that’s always just been fascinating to me.


And I was very lucky that I was one of those people that I could kind of put my body in whatever position I wanted to, and I could challenge my body and it came fairly easy to me. I realized now in hindsight, and then I ended up studying athletic therapy, exercise science with a specialization in athletic therapy. So, I did a lot of work with athletes, specifically, you know, some hands-on work but also exercise rehabilitation and I really love that element of trying to be very specific to the sport that you’re doing or the functional activity that you’re doing if you’re not an athlete, and trying to create movement that matches what you need to do or what you want to do.


So, I like that challenge of trying to not just put everything in a box of every person who has knee pain does this exercise but instead, really trying to make it functional for the person in their lifestyle, and then I had a few discriminations in some severe spinal stenosis in my late teens, early 20s, which ended up in a surgery that helped me very much but after the surgery, I still had nerve pain every day and I was just looking for a summer job. 


I had just graduated from University and I saw an advertisement for a physiotherapist who had a background in dance, and it was for something called Pilates, which I had never heard of and we didn’t have the Internet at the time for me to look up what it was. So, I was trying to debate, trying to figure out what is this Pilates thing but I applied, not knowing what I was applying to and when I was interviewed and I went to the studio and I saw the equipment, I was like, “Oh my God, where has this been all my life? This is like screaming that this is me” and I got the job.


And the job entailed a one-year mentorship and I went like five times a week with this incredible Pilates instructor and mentored under her to learn Pilates, and through my training to become a Pilates teacher, I started noticing that I got so much more functional, and my pain started to disappear. So then, I was already working at a sports medicine clinic and I started to bring Pilates into the rehab, in the clinic and it was just such a great marriage as you know, and yeah, I could keep going because my journey has kept going for many years but I think that’s a lot already.


[0:04:33.8] HT: This is so fascinating. Like, so, if you don’t mind, because I love this. So, now, you take this idea of Pilates not just the shapes, you’re not a shape person, you’re a movement person which is why we connect so well. So, you take the functionality of Pilates and you start helping people rehab as well.


[0:04:51.7] CJ: Absolutely.


[0:04:52.9] HT: Tell me more about this. This whole evolution.


[0:04:55.0] CJ: So, I’m in Montreal and there was only one studio in Montreal back then, which was 1997 and so when I proposed — the clinic I was working at was about to expand, and they wanted to bring in a multi-disciplinary team. So I suggested, purchase a reformer and let’s add Pilates as part of it but they didn’t know what it was, so I put a whole proposal together and they weren’t quite ready to do it. 


They said, “Well, what if we buy the equipment together and see how it goes?” So then, I said, “Well, you know what? I’m going to buy the equipment. I’m going rent a corner from you and this is going to be my business” and it was amazing. I thought that I would have to do all these advertisements but what I did was anytime I was between clients or before and after my shift, I jumped on the reformer, which was in this open clinic and I would just move. 


And so, the other therapist and their patients were looking and going, “What is that? That looks so interesting, I want to try that” and I also gave every therapist and every doctor in the clinic a free session to sort of show them how it worked and I mean, you know, like, once you tried, it’s hard to argue with its success, right?


[0:05:59.6] HT: Right.


[0:06:00.1] CJ: There’s almost nothing you can’t do with this equipment, it’s – your imagination truly is the limit. So, people started to see that, “You know what? It doesn’t matter what someone’s issue is, we can be creative and help them with this.” So, it just grew, I ended up eventually opening up my own studio so I had a studio for 17 years. Then I started finding that I didn’t have people to work with me because all of my clients were people who had injuries and most of the basic Pilates training didn’t teach you how to work with injury.


So then, I created my own teacher training, and I would train my own instructors, which was wonderful, we had such a great team, and then throughout all that, I also became an osteopath and a yoga instructor, and then fast-forward 20 years, and I had a very different spine issue, like spinal cord compression issue, which really changed my life. 


So, as I mentioned in the beginning, I was used to being able to do whatever I wanted with my body, I could challenge my body in any way and it was just a fun challenge, you know? And all of a sudden, I found myself unable to move. I could only move my hands and forearms and it was just such a humbling experience and kind of an identity crisis of “Who am I if I can’t move? This is how I expressed myself, this is my profession, this is, you know, it’s who I am.”


And then you start to realize, “Okay, well I’m more than just that but it’s a part of me that I love” and that whole thing and so now, I’m about 13 years post spinal cord compression injury and I’m still not back to the movement that I used to be able to do. My function is very different, I have a lot of neurological and vascular issues but this piece now has given me a whole new perspective on movement because before, it came so easily to me that I didn’t have a good understanding for people who movement didn’t come easily to. 


I thought I did because I worked with a lot of them but now that I am having difficulty moving, I see, “Oh, I really didn’t get it.” And so, it’s been quite a gift, I have a lot of gratitude for these restrictions that I’ve had because now, I really get it from inside my body. I understand what people say, what people mean now when they say, “My body just can’t do that” or “That doesn’t feel good” or “That doesn’t feel right” you know?


And I just never got that before because all movement felt amazing to me. Even when it was challenging, it was always just a good hurt, do you know what I mean?


[0:08:14.8] HT: Oh, a hundred percent, a hundred percent. It is like going from – because I’ve had my own injuries and health issues, especially a lot more in the past couple of years, going from having that complete freedom to it being limited or pain. I’ve always dealt with pain for – that accompanied me it, through my dance career but that changing of the expression of the body, one that you cannot do it, once you’ve had that language, that was your primary language may be movement for, and then that being truncated in some way.


That was a humbling experience for me. Yeah, and then the pain element, and here’s where we get to, I think a really interesting discussion where I like to go further with you, the pain is not just pain. Pain is like, there’s that emotional element to pain, I felt. There’s a story with pain and before I experienced it in this big level in my history, I did not get it.


[0:09:12.7] CJ: Same.


[0:09:13.4] HT: So, my teaching has been completely transformed through my story but also working with you. So, of you helping me through my injury and your words, and I’d like to just first, can we just talk about pain a little bit of what you’ve learned from this because it’s not just that you’ve had it but you’ve really studied it.


[0:09:32.8] CJ: Yeah. I just love the way you said, “The way that you can express movement has changed.” That’s exactly what it is. You know, I was already working with people in pain, so I already had a foundation of understanding of pain but when I had my issue, everything I knew wasn’t working, and so it made me dive into, “Okay, well, there’s got to be more” and so I just dove in and I, if I read a book or an article that referenced a method or a specialist that I hadn’t heard of, I then got that book or that article or took that course and I did this for about – still doing it now.


So, I guess it’s been about 13 years that I’ve been doing that and it’s been a really incredible journey because the science about pain has exploded in this time period. So even now, it’s constantly changing. So, it’s quite a fascinating time. So, I think one of the main things that we’ve learned is that pain is not the same thing as damage and that as teachers is so important for us to understand because the way that you and I and probably everybody listening had been taught to teach is that if somebody has pain, they’re hurting themselves, so we need to make sure they don’t have pain in our class.


And then, you know, all of our cueing was kind of around making sure we don’t hurt people, which of course, we wanted to keep people safe, that’s our number one thing is, “Do no harm”, right? Interestingly, the research has shown that a lot of the language and a lot of the cueing that we have been using as movement teachers, not just Pilates but all movement teachers has actually been feeding into the fear that people have around the sensation of pain and has actually been feeding into that narrative of, “Pain means damage” and that I would love to discuss with you now if you want to dive into that.


[0:11:15.0] HT: Oh, let’s do it. Yeah.


[0:11:15.8] CJ: Let’s do it, okay. So, let’s talk about a lot of the cueing that we have all done that we were all taught to do and we were all taught to do it for the right reasons. So, we’ll first talk about what we’ve been taught and then we’ll talk about why maybe that’s not the best thing. So again, I’m going to start by reminding everybody that pain and damage are not the same thing. You can have a large amount of pain and there be little or no damage in your body.


You can have damage in your body and have absolutely no pain. So, they just don’t go together, it’s not a one, equals the other. So, keeping that in mind, we were always taught that if somebody had pain in a class, during movement, we tell them to prop the exercise to see if we can get rid of the pain or we try changing their alignment to see if we can get rid of their pain and if those two things don’t work, then we say, “Okay, don’t do that exercise, and here, let me give you another exercise so that you don’t have pain.” 


There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. However, because as humans, we have such a fear around pain and because we think that pain means damage, when we tell someone, “You have pain, so don’t do that” or “You have pain so you need to immediately change it” it’s basically feeding into that narrative of, “Well, pain means damage so I have to make sure that any movement I do doesn’t cause pain.”


So, what we want to do instead is normalise pain, first of all. We are human, pain is part of the human experience, pain during movement is part of the human experience. So, it’s not unusual that in a class, people are going to feel sensations that they will describe as discomfort or pulling or pain. It’s very normal. 


So, as teachers, we can normalise that, just every now and then, in our class, we can say, “And if you feel something, you know, not to worry, pain is not the same as damage and…” So, we can just start throwing in little things like that, planting little seeds but let’s say somebody in the class has pain. You have to address it of course. 


But instead of immediately changing the exercise or immediately changing the alignment, we can get the person to just take a beat, pause for a moment, and check in with a few things. When we have pain or a sensation that we’re not comfortable with, it’s like the nervous system goes on high alert. The nervous system’s number one rule in life is to protect us, so then it goes into this overprotective mode, and it’s the nervous system that is in charge of producing pain or not.


So, if we have a sensation we don’t like and we’re holding our breath, our breath is shallow, that signals even more danger or alarm bells, which sends the nervous system into a higher alert, higher protection, more chance that your pain is going to get worse. On the other hand, if we can reassure the system that you’re actually safe, and things are okay, then the high alert status goes down, the protection goes down, and now, the brain actually has the capacity to send messages down the spinal cord that can completely stop the pain.


So, what we want to do as teachers is to create as much safety as we can. So, I’ll go back to someone tells you they have pain during movement, you say, “Okay, let’s take a beat, let’s look at your breath.” If the breath had gotten shallow or quick or jagged or they held their breath, that’s telling the nervous system, “We’re in danger, we’re in danger” and the system’s going to produce more pain.


So, if we can just get them to notice that, soften the breath, make it a little slower, make it a little easier, and then try the movement again while keeping the breath smooth and easy, all of a sudden, we’re signalling safety instead of signalling danger. Let’s say they still have pain. Okay, so, let’s look at another component that’s very common. When we have a sensation we don’t like, what do we do? We tense up.


Maybe the shoulders hike or we clench the teeth or we make a fist, we squeeze the anal sphincter, it can be anywhere in the body. We frown, all of these things also, what does that say to your nervous system? “We’re in danger.” So, high alert, more protection, send those signals down the spinal cord to produce more pain. Okay, so, let’s take a beat here and let’s check in.


Is there a part of your body that’s firing, that’s not serving you right now? In Pilates, we tend to sometimes cue people to fire every muscle in the body with every single movement and I get it. One of the things I love about Pilates is that it’s a whole-body experience. So, I agree with that part completely but we do not have to fire every muscle on all cylinders for every repetition of every exercise.


So, there is a way. In yoga, they call it “Sthira and Sukha” which is finding that balance between effort and ease and I think as Pilates instructors, we could do a little bit better on that one. Finding a way to make the movement challenging and functional but with some ease. As much effort as needed, as little as necessary. So, you check in with the breath, you check in with the body tension. 


If the body tension was tensing up somewhere that’s not serving that exercise, take a moment to soften that out and keep going. Let’s say, they still have pain, there’s still one more thing we can check in with and you and I were talking about this before we pressed record is the stories that our mind creates around sensation. So, we know now that we cannot have a painful sensation without having an emotion attached to it. 


So, I’m going to repeat that, because that’s really important. It’s not just some people who have an emotion attached to their pain, every single one of us, if you have a pain sensation, you are going to have an emotion attached to it. We may not always recognize that that’s happening, but it is happening 100% of the time. So, let’s say this person in the class, they’re trying the movement, it hurts, maybe sometime in their past they did that same movement and they associated it with being injured for the next week or two. 


They were unable to do their normal things and so they’ve got this whole story around, “Well, last time I did this, it was really bad and I don’t want to go back there again.” So, encouraging people to just start to notice, when you do a certain movement or when you feel a certain sensation, do you have certain thoughts or emotions that bubble up to the surface? Is your mind creating a negative or a fearful story around this movement? 


And usually, the answer is “Yes” it’s very common, and so offer a different story, flip the script. So, if you’ve got this story of fear, instead say, “Look at how strong I feel when I do this posture”, or “Yeah it hurt last time but today’s a different day, I’m in a different body today and I can expect a different outcome today” and the interesting thing is that the studies show that even if you don’t believe the story you’re telling yourself, if it’s a story that has hope, curiosity, self-compassion, gratitude, those things are going to take us out of our stress response, that fight or flight mode, which means, more protection, more pain, and they bring us into what we call, the ventral vagal state which is part of our parasympathetic system, which is where we rest, digest and heal. 


So, that was a lot, so I’m just going to pause here to see if you have any questions or comments on all that.


[0:18:23.9] HT: This is fantastic information, it’s really exciting information because it offers a lot of hope, not only for our clients but also for the teachers because I feel like at least the teachers that we mentor and so I think I’m speaking for a lot of teachers, not just our group, there is a level of fear that they have that they’re doing something wrong if someone has pain, and just the way that you explained it, like normalising pain is part of the human experience.


Our clients will experience it, we’re going to experience it at some point into varying degrees and we don’t need to run away from that but the way that you’re approaching it is one of curiosity and compassion and when we go into teaching with that sort of curiosity and compassionate element of it, then we could set up different ways for people to explore movement for themselves and that gives them the confidence to go further, confidence that they can get themselves in some way out of that perhaps, painful experience.


[0:19:29.0] CJ: I agree. Yeah, I think our fear of hurting people or our fear that we’re doing something wrong as a teacher is why someone has pain is a big limiting factor. So, two things, one, I think our understanding of how pain actually works is very freeing as a teacher because it actually does take that responsibility off our shoulders that what we choose as our sequencing, how we cue alignment isn’t the only thing affecting whether someone has pain or a sensation that they don’t like.


It really is not, and we can talk more about that in a minute but – so, that to me takes a lot of pressure off as a teacher that, “Yeah, okay, alignment is important, my sequencing is important.” Yes, of course, it all is, we should still do our due diligence and be mindful of how we’re teaching, and understand that even if you have the perfect sequence and cue, you know, exquisitely, you will very possibly still have many people in your class who are going to have sensation that they don’t like, that they’re uncomfortable with, and they may actually have pain and that’s okay, and we’ll talk more about other tools we can use to help with teachers with that. 


So, if as a teacher, we are fearful that the way we teach could be damaging our students and causing pain, then we are teaching from our stress response, and as humans, we coregulate with each other and when we are the teacher, in that moment, we are seen as the expert in the room and so, it’s quite common that the group is going to coregulate with our nervous system.


So, if we are in our stress response because we’re afraid of hurting people, we are more likely to actually create pain in people’s systems because they’re now going to be in their stress response as they’re doing our class. So, a couple of things. As a teacher, first of all, liberate yourself of that responsibility. You know, we’re not in charge of somebody’s pain and we’re not medical professionals as we teach a movement class. So, you know, we have to sort of liberate yourself of all that. 


Of course, if somebody has an injury, you make sure they’re seeing somebody else, like, that’s all important, that’s not what we’re talking about here. The other thing is, I think it’s really important and most teachers don’t often have the time to do this because of how our lives tend to be as teachers, we run maybe from one studio to another or we teach one class right after another or one private one after another.


Take a beat yourself in between clients or in between classes to ground your own system, so that you bring your nervous system into a grounded regulated place because then, regardless of what you teach, you’re going to bring everybody into that safe regulated nervous system state with you and they are much more likely to have a successful and beneficial class than if you’re sitting there in your stress response because you’re worried about hurting people.


[0:22:12.6] HT: Hundred thousand percent. I’m so glad that you put it that way, that’s exactly what we teach as well. So, I’m glad that I’m on the same side of that, absolutely.


[0:22:25.9] CJ: So, in that same vein, if somebody in class expresses that they have pain or somebody in class has posture or alignment that we think is damaging, if we as a teacher, do this big reaction, you know, the, “Oh my God, make sure you – you can’t do that, you got to bring your shoulders down and – and be careful if you do it like this, you’re going to hurt yourself.” Like now, maybe people were grounded and regulated and now we’ve brought everybody into their stress response again and made everybody fearful.


So, there’s also a way that if somebody does express pain, again, normalise it. Be very confident and calm in your own system, even if you don’t have full confidence yet, you know? You need to convey the confidence to your group so that they feel supported and they feel taken care of because then again, they’re not going to be in their stress response and it really comes down to, maybe we can take a moment, Hannah, about how the body produces pain because it will sort of tie this all together in a bow.


[0:23:24.4] HT: Let’s do it, yeah.


[0:23:25.2] CJ: Okay. So, when we have a physical thing coming into the body, so let’s say, we’re in a movement and it doesn’t feel good in the body and it triggers something, anything physical like that on its own is not enough to cause pain. Pain is not an input that comes into our system. Pain is an output that is produced by us, by our own nervous system. So, we don’t have any pain fibres in the body anywhere and I know for me, as a teacher, and for me as an athletic therapist, I was taught in university that we had pain fibres throughout the body.


And if you damage those pain fibres or squish those pain fibres, that’s what created pain. Turns out that that’s not how it works. We do not have pain fibres anywhere, so I just want people to understand that. We also do not have a pain centre in the brain, okay? What we do have are neurons that are called nociceptors.


We don’t need to remember that word but if you’re interested, they’re called nociceptors but you can think of nociceptors as alarm bells or danger detectors. So, let’s say something physical happens to the body, you sprained your ankle, you twist your knee, whatever the case may be. That will wake up those nociceptors, not enough to cause pain.


Now, those nociceptors send a signal to the spinal cord, not enough to cause pain. The spinal cord sends the signal up to the “Grand Poobah” the brain. Still, we don’t feel pain. This is the really important part for us to understand as teachers. Now, the brain has to evaluate everything you’ve ever lived in your whole entire life, physical, mental, emotional, everything.


It evaluates that, it evaluates the physical signals coming from your body and it also tries to predict what you have coming up. Do you have a dance recital, are you teaching a workshop, do you have a competition, do you have a big presentation? And based on all of that information and more, your brain has to decide, “Is Hannah safe in this moment? Is she in danger?” And it’s quite black and white. There’s no grey in this evaluation process.


It’s either black and white. “Hannah, are you safe?” Or “Hannah, are you in danger?” If your system interprets that Hannah is right now in danger, it will send messages down your spinal cord that will enhance the messages coming from your body and will create pain. On the other hand, and this is really, really important for us to understand as teachers, if in that moment, your system decided, “No, I think Hannah is safe.” So now, the brain sends a different set of messages down your spinal cord which turn down the messages that were coming up from your body and either dampen the pain or stop it altogether.


So, the key element here is danger and safety. So, in our class, the more we can do to create a sense of safety and that is from greeting them with a friendly smile when they come in the door, making sure they know where they’re going, when they schedule that first appointment, making sure that they know where to park, where to put their clothes, having a warm welcoming space, being warm and welcoming as a teacher.


Like, all those small details are informing the nervous system about whether that person is safe or in danger so that then they come to do movement that feels uncomfortable in their body. If the nervous system in that moment has a whole bunch of other safety messages coming in, then it’s more likely that it’s going to turn down those messages that are coming from the body and stop the pain.


On the other hand, if you’re in a bad mood as a teacher, they didn’t find parking, they didn’t know where to go, it’s a really cold atmosphere in the studio, people are kind of you know, not very friendly, not welcoming, you’re in your stress response as a teacher because you’re worried about hurting your people, and now, that same person does the same movement and feels that uncomfortable sensation. 


Now, when their nervous system evaluates everything, it is much more likely that the nervous system is going to say, “Uh-oh, we’re in danger. I’m going to amplify those messages coming from the body and turn up the pain.” So, from the smallest detail of making sure that our clients feel safe and cared for and surrounded and supported, that’s going to affect how the nervous system interprets things, which is going to affect whether pain is produced or not. So, I think that’s huge.


[0:27:43.0] HT: I hundred percent agree with you. Yeah.


[0:27:44.6] CJ: And again, to me, takes a lot of the pressure off because yes, we still want to be very good teachers, yes, we still want to be teaching good sequences and know how to cue alignment and all of those things but those are like, the icing on the cake. Because you could teach that perfect class but if they feel danger in all these other ways, it doesn’t matter that you’ve taught a perfect class, right?


[0:28:02.6] HT: Yeah, a hundred percent, and also, the responsibility of the teacher and the studio owner to create these places, these safe places where people are seen, respected, they’re heard. Like, that’s what we’re also talking about when we’re talking safe places. That you belong in that room there.


[0:28:23.1] CJ: Absolutely.


[0:28:24.7] HT: And that each person feels paid attention to. That is also part of our safety, right?


[0:28:29.8] CJ: A hundred percent. So, can I expand on that actually, Hannah?


[0:28:32.2] HT: Yeah, please, please.


[0:28:33.3] CJ: Let’s say someone in the class has pain or discomfort or whatever you want to call it, and we give them an alignment cue and the pain goes away, and we just leave it at that. We do nothing else, which is often how it going in a class, right? And we feel proud because we got rid of their pain and they feel good because we got rid of their pain.


If we just leave it like that, it suggests that the biomechanical thing is the one and only thing that was contributing to them feeling pain, and it’s the one and only thing that “fix their pain.” But let’s look at this for a second because what you just said is so important. When someone lets us know that they have pain, first of all, they’ve expressed it. So, they noticed, so they have awareness, they notice that they had pain.


They also went a step further and they let us know. So, that tells their nervous system, “Oh, my person is taking care of the message, I gave them a message of pain, they heard it and now they’re taking in that action to do something about it.” So, the nervous system turns down its high alert status a little bit. Now, we respond to their pain and we give them whatever thing we decide to give them.


Okay, now, they’ve been seen, they feel seen, they feel heard, what does all that do? More safety turns down the alert, turns down the protection. Then we change their alignment, okay? But it’s not just our alignment. When we change someone’s alignment, we’re going to change their breath, it’s going to change their body tension overall, and as a result of their breath and their body tension changing and the ease with which they’re doing the movement, now, it’s also going to change the story that the mind is creating around that movement because now, the movement all of a sudden feels a little more easier. 


It feels a little more supportive, it feels a little better. So, even without outlining all those things that I outline before the step-by-step process, which is one way that we can do it, we can just let someone know, “Okay, we change your alignment.” You can just say a sentence and say, “You know what? We change your alignment but when you change your alignment, it also changed your breath, it changed how much tension you had in your body, and so your body felt more safe, so it changed the story around it and that’s why you feel better.”


So, just adding those few words to an alignment cue, now tells the whole group, “Oh, okay, her pain was not just about that one biomechanical thing.




[0:30:44.5] 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 programs leave out the actual art and business of teaching. This is why we created Train the Trainers.


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[0:31:33.0] HT: And what you’re saying, a couple of seconds of validating that experience also empowers them, and it empowers everyone else that’s in that room with them to say, “Hey, what can I do? I’m not a victim of my pain.”


[0:31:45.7] CJ: Yes.


[0:31:46.4] HT: Right now, or this sensation, there’s something that I can do and participate by doing all those things that you just outlined and it takes 15 seconds? 


[0:31:55.2] CJ: Seconds. Exactly, and that empowerment piece is huge, Hannah, because you know, think of it, when someone’s in class, and they have pain, they don’t have the anatomy training that we do, right? So, they can’t visualize what’s happening in there, and again, most people on the planet still have the understanding that pain is equal to damage. So, they think that if they’re in pain in class, they’re damaging something in their body.


So, we need to disassociate those two things from each other as teachers over and over and over again but that empowerment piece is huge because when someone feels pain in class, they feel vulnerable. They feel fear, they feel fragile, and our bodies are not fragile. Our bodies are incredibly strong, and resilient. Our bodies have this inherent ability to find the right path, an inherent ability to heal, and that’s what we need to highlight as teachers. 


I’ll go back again to the language that we used because we were taught to in the past of saying things like whatever alignment cue, we’ll use a common one that we’ve all done, make sure your knee doesn’t fall inside of your big toe because that’s going to damage your knee or that’s going to hurt your knee or you’re going to end up with knee problems or careful not to run too much because that wear and tear on your joint is going to catch up with you. 


[0:33:06.3] HT: Another one that I hear a lot is like, “Do this so it protects this.” 


[0:33:10.7] CJ: It protects, exactly. So, what does all that say? We’re not saying it explicitly but it’s implying that we have these fragile bodies that need protection. That is not true, our bodies are incredibly resilient. We think of the neck as so fragile but look at some of the cultures that pile these things on top of their head and that’s how they carry their food or their water or whatever the case may be or their equipment. 


And they’ve got pounds and pounds and pounds on top of their head, they have incredibly strong necks because they’re using them in a functional way. If we protect something too much, it actually becomes weaker and more fragile. So, we have to be careful as teachers with our language, take protect out, take don’t out, take be careful out. Our system is already careful enough, people are already fearful enough, and people already think that they are fragile. 


So, we need to give messages of strength and resilience. So again, take seconds when somebody is doing something and they’re doing it well, we tend to only tell people when they’re doing something wrong, right? Because we want to fix it but highlight when people are doing things well that, “Wow, you look so strong in that posture. Do you feel how much power you have in your body in this moment?” Highlight things like that. 


[0:34:30.3] HT: Sometimes, what we do around here is that if we’re setting up something that is a little bit more difficult or before was unattainable but we think that the person is ready, we take it block by block by block and have an affirmative way of like, “Oh, you did this and this. Would you like to try this now?” 


So that there’s an opportunity to maybe explore something different even if it was perhaps a little bit scary. But giving the person that confidence of, “Yeah, we think you can do it. Do you want to try it now?” and I think that’s also that, what you’re talking about a bit, right? 


[0:35:04.4] CJ: Absolutely. That language you used is amazing. So, you said, “You know, would you like to?” It’s language of permission, you’re giving them the ownership of deciding whether they want to do that next thing or not and you didn’t present it as a harder thing. So that’s another thing that we’ve been taught to do, show the easy version, the medium version, and the challenging version. 


[0:35:25.5] HT: Right. 


[0:35:26.4] CJ: As soon as we do that, people go into self-judgment, and they’re watching you and saying, “Oh, I could never do that one” or “I feel stupid if I can only do the easy version because I should be able to do the hard” you know? People have this whole story that goes along with when we show something and we think we’re doing that for a good reason but if you do it more in a way that you just did, take people through. 


And don’t talk about whether it’s supposed to be easy, medium, or challenging because that’s different for everybody, first of all, but it also just sets them up with this false narrative of what they’re about to try whereas the way that you just put it, it’s all about exploration and curiosity and that’s it. So if you want to show different versions of something, show different versions without biasing people towards whether that version should be easy or hard for them. That’s a huge one. 


[0:36:14.0] HT: That feels good. I think there’s also creating an environment like that, it’s like a playground, isn’t it? 


[0:36:19.3] CJ: Yes.


[0:36:20.1] HT: In the very beginning, when we’re talking about like what you loved about movement, what I love about movement and dancing and stuff but like it was always a very playful place to be and I like that element in our class or at least in our class and I know there’s a lot of different studios. A lot of different studios like go around and there is no talking in class, we are laughing and playing the whole time if someone comes in and takes a class. 


And I think just because of that, when someone comes in and says, “Oh yeah, this and this is kind of bothering me today” like, “Okay” you know, there is that validating, we do everything that you are talking about but there’s also the element of play that is also kind of an element of safety, isn’t it? Like the – 


[0:37:01.8] CJ: I was just going to say that, it is such an element of safety. Think about it, when we’re playing we’re not in our stress response when we’re playing. We’re in play mode, think of children or puppies, like think of what they look like when they’re in play mode. That’s not when they get hurt, you know? Or even if they do happen to get hurt in play mode, it doesn’t bother them. Think of as a child, they’re out playing with their friends and they don’t even notice that they scrape their knee. 


It’s only when they come inside and someone says, Oh my God, why are you bleeding?” Now, they start crying. So, when we’re in playful mode again, it takes us out of our stress response. So, what does that mean? More safety, less of that high alert, less of that protection, so that’s huge, yeah. I love it, that playful thing and again, I know that some teachers, now they say, “Oh okay, now I have to be funny too in my classes?” 


No, we’re not saying that. We’re not trying to put an extra responsibility on your shoulders. If your personality is more serious that’s totally fine but give your students permission to be playful in their attitude toward exploring your class. 


[0:38:00.1] HT: I think that’s it. I mean, Chris and I, we are playful, dorky, funny people by nature. So, like if someone has – 


[0:38:06.5] CJ: I connect as well. 


[0:38:08.8] HT: So, it is, coming to our classes that’s what they should expect. You know, we’re pretty clear about that but I think that’s also right what you say because we teach a lot of – when we’re mentoring our teachers it is about authenticity and teaching. When a teacher is feeling authentic in their experiences then that’s confidence that they’re bringing across in their room also gives the students that same, you know it’s – exactly like you said.


[0:38:33.6] CJ: Coregulate, absolutely, and then I think that playful piece comes into a little bit of you and I were talking before about the over-correction. In Pilates, I think we do that quite a bit. I know that I did for sure, probably the first 10, or 15 years of my teaching, I corrected every minuscule alignment issue for everyone and it hit me one day. I was in my class and I gave one person the cue and I could see the whole class do the cue. 


And at first, I was really proud of myself, “Oh, I must be such a good teacher that they all know how to do that” and then I saw it through a completely different lens like all of a sudden and I realized, “Whoa, I’m not giving them a chance to figure it out in their own bodies.” I’m cueing them so much and yeah, they’re really good at understanding the cue and correcting and that’s great but that’s not the same thing as being able to feel it in your own body and find your own solution yourself. 


I don’t mean to say that we should never cue, not at all but like anything, there is a balance and I think a perfect example – so two things. One is that we learn by making mistakes. Our nervous system learns through what does not work and the more we do things that don’t work, the nervous system tries it another way, tries it another way, tries it another way until it does work and then when it does work, it feels so good in the body that it gets kind of tattooed on your nervous system and it goes, “Ah, that’s how I want to do it again because that feels a lot better.” 


And a great example of that because as humans, we don’t like failure, we don’t like to do things wrong, and especially in a class setting we want to look like everybody else or we want to look like the teacher but think about how we all started life. When we all learned how to walk, nobody taught us how to put one foot in front of the other. How did we learn how to walk? By falling down a lot and we all learned how to walk because we did it through experimentation, through trial and error, through play. 


Nobody got chastised by their parents for falling down the first time they tried to walk. We didn’t say, “Oh, you’re so stupid. You should know how to do that” which is what we do ourself in a class when we do something wrong, right? So, that self-judgment piece is another piece that signals danger so we need to take self-judgment off the table and teach people and teachers instead to bring kindness and self-compassion. 


That if you’re doing something and it doesn’t look like everybody else, maybe there is a really good reason for that. Your body is really intelligent and maybe your body is doing it differently on purpose and you want to tap into the wisdom of, “Oh, okay, that’s really interesting. How come my body is choosing to do it like that?” and then work with what your body is choosing to do for you like your dance partners instead of judging yourself and saying, “Oh, I should be doing it like she’s doing it.” 


No, she’s got a different body, so let yourself experiment, be curious, play, do it wrong a whole bunch of times so your nervous system knows, “No, we don’t like it like that” because then when you do it the way that supports your system the best, it’s going to feel so good your system will find that place again without your teacher having to tell you how to do it. 


[0:41:48.1] HT: Something that I have been talking about on a previous podcast is setting up the space to fail in class. 


[0:41:55.3] CJ: Yes. 


[0:41:56.4] HT: To make mistakes because all of the science says that like falling over a few times, well, you’ll learn faster how to not fall over just – 


[0:41:56.4] CJ: Exactly. 


[0:42:06.7] HT: Me cueing something to death, me making it perfect so you don’t fall over that’s not the best way to learn and we’re taking away that value, that playground. We’re taking away the experience if we over-correct or overdo it and it’s not a bad thing to set up. It is not a bad thing for the teachers to have fall over in class, you know what I’m saying, right? 


[0:42:29.6] CJ: Figuratively, yeah. Yeah. 


[0:42:30.5] HT: Figuratively, you know? 


[0:42:32.5] CJ: Or it could actually too, as long as, yeah, it could be a fine fall over literally too. 


[0:42:37.2] HT: Look, just stay. You know, just in general like say I am setting up. So, it is a little bit of a departure from talking specifically out about pain but I think it’s setting up these experiences as a playground, as an experience. So, say I’m setting up tree pose, okay? So, we know that tree for most people in yoga would not be a dangerous experience. 


But if in the beginning, I am telling my person every minute detail of what to do of, “Now, you would like to spread all your toes onto the ground and press the foot into the leg and the leg is giving attention back, lightly pull the belly button in towards the spine so that…” like all of those little things, yeah, maybe. Maybe that works for that person, maybe it doesn’t work for the other person. 


But what we’ve done is we’ve heightened the thing that it’s made it so inefficient because all those muscles are working together, what you were talking, that perhaps that person is just going to fall over anyways because now, they’re barely even breathing into that, into that thing. 


[0:43:38.7] CJ: And then we’ve also made it so intellectual, so cerebral. If we can experience it more somatically through the body, like have the experience through the body, and then if it’s not going well, it doesn’t feel right, okay. Now, let’s experiment with trying all those beautiful cues you just used. “What if you do this? How does that feel in your body?” you know? Instead of setting up that you have to do A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, you know? 


Before you can even get into the posture because yeah, then we’re taking them out of their body and putting them in their mind when people are spending way too much time up there in their day anyways, right? And one of the beauties of coming to a movement class is to get out of your head. 


[0:44:14.2] HT: A hundred, hundred, hundred, and million percent. So, tell me a little bit about, we were saying the body is resilient, right? 


[0:44:21.5] CJ: Yes, very. 


[0:44:22.5] HT: Okay. Actually, the chances of us — of hurting ourselves in a movement class is not really that high if the head is for example, you’re on the reformer and the headrest is up a notch instead of all the way down and you’re doing short spine that you’re not going to probably end up with a spinal cord injury from that little thing. 


[0:44:41.6] CJ: No. 


[0:44:42.3] HT: For example. 


[0:44:43.2] CJ: We can never say always or never with the body because it’s so beautifully complex that we can’t predict what’s going to happen but yes, what you said is that highly unlikely that from doing one thing with incorrect alignment in a class is going to injure your body. That is highly unlikely. Can it irritate your system? Sure, but that depends on so many other things than just the headrest being up. 


It depends on did they sleep well the night before, have they been eating inflammatory foods. Did they have an argument with their spouse as they were leaving the door? Did they get stuck in traffic and were late for their session? You know, like it again, think about all the different components about you, your life, and your environment that the nervous system is evaluating in order to decide whether to create a pain experience or not. 


So, if that headrest was up on a day where all those other things were off then yeah, maybe that day that person is going to go home and have some neck pain and they could do the exact same thing on a day where they slept super well, they’ve been eating nutritious foods for weeks, they’re in a happy, healthy relationship, they were 10 minutes early for the session, and were greeted with a smile, totally different experience. 


Now, they’re going to do the exact same thing with the headrest up and they’ll feel nothing from it. So, I think the key as teachers is yes, what we do and what we cue is very important but it’s not the be-all end-all. It’s not the only thing that is going to dictate whether someone experiences pain or not and you had brought up, Hannah, that there’s this misconception kind of broadly but probably a little more so in the Pilates world, that if we can get people to have perfect posture, they’re going to have a pain-free life. 


But we know it’s scientifically proven that you can have perfect posture and have terrible pain for various reasons and you can have awful posture that we look at and think, “Oh my God, they must be living in so much pain” and they have zero pain. So posture is an influence because poor posture can be nociceptive, meaning that it can wake up those nociceptors, which will send those signals up the spinal cord to the brain but on its own, nociception is not enough to cause pain. 


It’s about all those other factors that we talked about and more that we didn’t talk about. It’s how the nervous system then interprets those signals coming from the poor posture, plus everything else in your life and in your environment past, present, and future that dictates whether pain will be produced or not. So good alignment, good posture, I still think that’s something that we should strive for and that’s an opinion that is not shared by everybody in this field. 


Some people do say now and I just did a podcast about this with the work in podcast with Erica Thomas that you know because I got a bit of a bug up my ass when I saw a post on social media about how posture doesn’t matter because posture doesn’t have any influence on pain. To me, that’s a misinterpretation of the science. What we’re trying to let people know is that posture on its own is not enough to cause pain or solve pain. It is one factor though and to me, it is an important factor but it’s just not the only factor. 


[0:48:01.1] HT: I’m going to link into Erica’s podcast in the show notes because I think everyone should also listen to that. 


[0:48:07.2] CJ: And sorry, can I come back to one thing on that, Hannah? 


[0:48:10.3] HT: Yeah. 


[0:48:10.6] CJ: I remember going to my first Pilates conference, I think it was like in 2000 or something and I was struck. I need to choose my words because this is going to sound awful but I was struck by how all of us, myself included, all of us teachers walked around like we had a pole up our ass. We all had such “perfect posture” that we all looked and because we probably were, we looked like we were firing every muscle even as we were just standing there talking to each other. 


And so to me, when I say everybody together like that, I viewed my own body very differently because I had always – I strived for that. I wanted that, I thought that that was a good thing but when I saw that many people in a room together like that, to me all of a sudden I’m like, “Okay, no. That’s not health.” That is not health, that’s not movement. Nobody in this room looks like their body can move because we’re so strong. 


We’re overly supported that there’s not freedom in our bodies, you know? So, I started teaching very differently, I started moving very differently after I saw hundreds of Pilates instructors in a room and I thought, “Okay, what I was striving for, that actually is not healthy” and I think that’s an important thing that yes, to me a good posture is a posture that you can hold with ease. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a straight line or that perfect alignment that we talk about, the plum line. 


For some people, that’s achievable and that is the right thing but for some people, it’s not. We all have a different structure, we all have different anatomy, and for some people, trying to achieve that plum line is actually not helpful for them. So, a proper posture should be one that you’re able to support with a fair amount of ease and that you’re able to move from. Like we talked about, if you got pushed, you’re not going to fall over because you’ve got both that stability but also the mobility to react. 


[0:50:04.5] HT: Yeah, that ease of movement. 


[0:50:05.5] CJ: And if we’re holding ourselves rigid all the time, we can’t react, and the other thing that now, I didn’t know so much about the nervous system then but now, when I picture those hundreds of Pilates instructors in the room with all of our muscles firing on all cylinders all day long, all I can think is how much danger that’s sending into the nervous system because when we’re in our fight or flight response, our bigger muscles are told to contract so that we can stand there and fight our ground or run away from the situation. 


The opposite is also true, if our big muscles are always firing on all cylinders, it’s informing the nervous system that we’re in fight or flight. 


[0:50:43.7] HT: Right. 


[0:50:44.8] CJ: So again, how can we achieve this health that we’re looking for with ourselves and our students if we’re holding ourselves so rigid that we’re feeding into the stress response before we’ve even tried to do anything? 


[0:50:58.7] HT: Yes, yes, yes. Oh, yes. 


[0:51:06.5] CJ: Oh, yes. 


[0:51:07.7] HT: I do have a couple of – I mean, we have our Pilates teachers that listened and we have our dancers and dance teachers, it is quite a broad audience there. So, I’d like to, if you don’t mind, talk about something that maybe as young dancers, we were taught not to pay attention at all to pain. This was something that was – 


[0:51:30.0] CJ: Drilled. 


[0:51:30.7] HT: Drilled into us. 


[0:51:32.9] CJ: Yeah. 


[0:51:33.6] HT: And this is not what we’re talking about what we’re doing, what the conversation you and I are doing right now, and I would like to be really mindful of that because I think the damage that was done for young people and that sort of – I mean, it was very close to brainwashing for some of the schools that I went through and also have been part of. So, I’d like to, if you don’t mind because I know you have also a dance – 


[0:52:01.1] CJ: Please. No, this is really important. 


[0:52:02.2] HT: Background. 


[0:52:03.2] CJ: And it’s not just about dance, also that no pain no gain attitude that so many people, you know, 80s, 90s, that was the way, right? And it is hard to deprogram ourselves. Okay, so I am so glad you brought this up. I’m going to start by giving a real-life example and then we’ll backtrack into the science of how that all works. So imagine you wake up one day and you have like a toothache and if you’ve ever had an abscess tooth, you know what that feels like. 


It’s pretty intense, so you call your dentist, you ask for an emergency appointment. The dentist can only see you in six days, so like, “Oh, crap. Okay, I’ll take what you have and put me on your waiting list if you get something sooner.” Then it comes to the day of your session, you go to the dentist and you find yourself apologizing. “I’m so sorry, I was in such a crisis when I called you and now, I don’t even remember what tooth it was.” 


But you’re there, so the dentist does the X-ray, and they see you do indeed have an abscess. So, what happened here from a physiological perspective, from a biological perspective? An abscess is there, that’s an infection, which sometimes can be silent and invisible so you don’t know about it. The nervous system’s number one job in life is to protect you, so it says, “Hannah, I need to let you know that something is going on.” 


“So, I am going to produce this pain in your face, in your jaw” whatever it was, “So that you are aware.” You, Hannah, got the message. You felt your pain, you acknowledged it, and you took an action, you picked up the phone to call your dentist. Your nervous system says, “Okay, my job is done. Hannah got the message, I can back off” and now, it sends those signals down the spinal cord that turn down those messages coming from your body because you heard and you took an action. 


How fascinating is that? That just because you acknowledged what was going on with yourself, you did something about it, your nervous system backed off. It’s like there’s a little guy in there saying, “Okay, Hannah heard me, my job is done. I don’t need to keep warning her.” The opposite would be also true. If you had that pain and you had a really busy work day so you ignored the pain and you went to do your job and you know, days and days went by because you were too busy to address it. 


Your pain is going to get worse and worse and worse and maybe now your face swells and all the things, what happens in this situation? Is your nervous system, your number one protector, gave you the signal, you didn’t listen, so how does the nervous system interpret that? “Oh my gosh, Hannah didn’t understand. She didn’t get it, I need to make it bigger, louder, stronger so that she can’t ignore it because she’s in danger.” 


And so it creates more pain, higher intensity pain, or it spreads the pain to different areas, or inflammation or all those different things or muscle weakness, muscle guarding or blocking, giving way all those kinds of things, so it’s a really fascinating system. So, what you’re talking about is teaching people to ignore the pain but all that does is increase our protective response because it’s telling your bodyguard that you’re not recognizing that there is someone there holding a gun to your head. 


So, it is going to make sure that you can’t not see it and it makes it worse and if you keep ignoring it, it will keep making it worse. So, if this fine balance, I talk about it as enjoying, exploring your edge where you want to acknowledge any time you have any sensation, positive, negative, or neutral. It’s your own system tapping you on the shoulder and trying to have a conversation with you. 


Just like in a relationship, if you don’t communicate with your partner it becomes very frustrating for your partner and not good for the relationship, the same is too in our bodies. So, when you get a signal, positive, negative, or neutral, recognize it, notice it, acknowledge it, and enter into the conversation and if the signal is a negative one, meaning pain or discomfort, it’s your system telling you, you need to change something. 


The tricky part is that our system is not at all good at telling us what the problem is, where the problem is, or how bad the problem is, so that’s where we have to be more discerning. We have to do a bit of trial and error, this is where we bring in the curiosity into play so that instead of being fearful, we’re just really interested. “Okay, my body is trying to tell me something, I’m not sure what it is yet but let me try to figure it out.” 


And then make it like a game or an experiment or like you’re a detective and work with your body to try to figure that out. Does that answer your question at all? Does that make sense? 


[0:52:03.2] HT: Yeah, that does make sense. Yes. 


[0:56:38.4] CJ: And sorry, I should also talk about the exact opposite. So, you as a dancer were taught, “Ignore your pain, just keep going, just keep pushing through” and we just talked about what that does to the system. Then, we have the opposite scenario, where people are so afraid that pain means damage that the moment they feel any discomfort in their body, they stop moving. This is also not good. 


We have a saying, you need to challenge it to change it and use it or lose it. So, if every time you feel a sensation that’s not comfortable, you stop what you’re doing, what it signals to your system is that thing is very dangerous and so it ramps up the protective response, which increases pain. So, what we have found seems to work the best is that when you have a pain sensation, first of all, remind yourself that pain is not the same as damage. 


Now, we’re not talking you just jumped off a cliff and your knee buckled and now, you’re on the ground writhing in pain. That’s a different scenario, right? We’re on the same page there, okay? We’re talking about you’re in movement and you feel something you don’t like. Okay, acknowledge it, bring that awareness in, recognize your body is trying to talk to you, enter into the conversation, experiment with your breath, with how much body tension you have, and with the stories that your mind might be creating around it. 


Keep playing with those parameters as you continue to explore and what we see is that if you do that, we can gently start to nudge where that point is, where the system will create pain as a protection for you that if you start to go to the pain but reassure yourself that, “You know what? We’re actually okay and I’m going to show you that we’re okay by having this nice slow calm breath and I’m going to show you that we’re okay by keeping my body tension low and I’m going to show you we’re okay by having a story of strength and resilience and empowerment.” 


Over time, the nervous system says, “Okay, yeah. We can do a bit more, we can do a bit more, we can do a bit more” and eventually, your edge is further away, meaning that you can do more movement before that pain response kicks in. I think of it like a little flirting dance that you go and say hello and then you back away kind of coyly and then you come back and then you back away, all the while reassuring your system that you’re safe with all the different ways that we talked about. 


[0:58:59.2] HT: Just that what you’re saying and our audience doesn’t see you, the mimic that you do, but it reminds me a little bit of the way that I was thinking about is like you’re on the beach and the ocean is there and the waves come in and you dip your toe in and at first it’s freezing cold and then you go out and you go in a little bit more. It’s that play of just finding where is that edge today or right now or tomorrow. 


[0:59:21.5] CJ: And that’s so perfect, Hannah, because exactly what you’re describing, you go in, it’s freezing to the point that it’s almost burning your leg, right? Like it hurts, it’s that cold. You know you’re not in danger in that moment, you know that your leg is not actually going to fall off or get burnt or start to bleed or anything like that. So, if you hang out there for a little while, all of a sudden that sensation that was really uncomfortable becomes neutral. 


And then sometimes, it even becomes pleasant and you go, “Oh, the water is lovely today.” It’s the same day, it’s a few minutes later but you communicated with your nervous system, you communicated with the feedback that was coming in, and you changed the story. So that’s a perfect example. 


[1:00:00.5] HT: Do you have a best teaching tip? I think you just gave us an hour or more of teaching tips, so. 


[1:00:07.1] CJ: My teaching has changed so much over the years and I hope it continues to change as we continue to learn but I think one of the best things we can do for our students as teachers is to give them the freedom to explore. I really was a teacher that was very rigid as we talked about, about alignment at first, and I thought it was so important for everybody to have this certain posture when they were doing movements and recruiting their muscles in a very certain pattern as they were doing certain movements. 


And yes, those things can be helpful but as we talked about, it is so much powerful if they can figure it out on their own and we can come in and help with little cues and confirming that yes, what you just did there, that’s – like look how much easier your body found it and just giving people permission to not be judging themselves but instead to have compassion because I mean, we know Hannah, and we’ve done it ourselves I’m sure, that we compare ourselves with the people next to us. 


We compare ourselves to what we were able to do the last time we were on the mat and we compare ourselves to the teacher, and all of that has this in our stress response, which is not where we learn from and it’s not where we heal from. Can I just say one more thing? I meant to say before and I just remembered now, as teachers we also have to let go of that need to be perfect at the front of the class because the more perfect we look, the more our students are going to judge themselves more than anything else. 


So, I’ve done this myself for sure, I’ve changed it now but it took me a very long time, how many teachers out there listening, when you have an injury you only teach on your “good side” because you don’t want people to see you doing it less than perfect? What a disservice this is doing for yourself and for everyone in your class because what a fantastic opportunity to show them that, “Look, I’ve got this injury so today, this small little movement is how I can perform this today and this feels fantastic in my body.” 


And doing it like this is what’s going to allow me to do it like I do on the other side. Instead of pretending that everything is perfect and you always only do movement perfect, that’s not a good lesson. It’s not setting up safety and we’re all human, we all have moments where we have to respect our body, and that’s such a great teachable moment. So, I hope everyone out there, if you have an injury, let it be seen, and use it as a teaching moment.


[1:02:18.8] HT: I think that yes, I love that, more accessible, that is more body affirmative. It’s really, you know, it’s not about being body-positive. This is like, this is the human experience and we as teachers, we represent all of the humans, you know, the variances of the human body of where we’re at and pain wise, age wise too. Just because you were, you know, we talked a little bit about this at the very beginning, just our bodies, especially for us teachers that are in it for the long run, when the body that I started teaching at you know, 17, 18 years old is different at past 45.


[1:03:00.8] CJ: Yeah.


[1:03:01.5] HT: And that is also beautiful, there’s nothing to be ashamed of doing that, showing up as we are on that day.


[1:03:09.1] CJ: Exactly. Not only is it not something to be ashamed of, it’s something to be embraced and celebrated, you know?


[1:03:14.1] HT: Yeah, I think, you have just given us, Colleen, so much wisdom. I hope that people go back and listen to this many times over because there’s so many amazing things that you have offered us in this last hour. I really appreciate it and I know everyone at home does. In the show notes, which I’ve said maybe at the beginning also of the podcast, I’m giving every different way a teacher and contact you.


[1:03:39.8] CJ: Thank you so much.


[1:03:41.6] HT: And work with you in the future. I really appreciate your time, thank you.


[1:03:46.4] CJ: I so appreciate you having me and for anyone listening, I love it when people reach out. If you have questions or if you totally disagree with something that I’ve said, I’d love to get into a professional discussion, let’s talk. Feel free to email me or DM or whatever.


[1:03:59.6] HT: Thank you.


[1:04:00.2] CJ: Thank you, Hannah. 




[1:04:02.2] 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 anyone of the free resources for teachers. I hope to see you next week on The Pilates Exchange. Happy teaching everyone. 



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