Size Diverse Pilates with Rachel Piper

Episode 18

 

How boring would we be if we all looked the same? We all carry abundance in certain parts of our bodies and today’s guest is passionate about changing the stigma surrounding movement for larger-bodied people.

Rachel Piper is the owner of Size Diverse Pilates, a company focused on making Pilates accessible for all people. Tuning in, you’ll hear all about our guest, how she got into Pilates, the VARK method, the importance of inclusivity and teaching for the individual, and much more!

We even delve into what connecting to the Pilates method means and Rachel gives us tools to help both teachers and students explore how to create connections in their bodies regardless of their body shape and size.

Lastly, Rachel tells us about cueing for neurodiverse students. From affirming language to props for larger bodies, this episode touches on it all! So to hear all about size diverse Pilates, press play now!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • A brief overview of today’s guest, Rachel Piper. 
  • Rachel shares her passion for making people feel included in Pilates. 
  • How she moved from the biotech industry into Pilates.
  • Rachel tells us about the VARK method and why she wants to adapt learning to each person. 
  • The importance of making your inclusivity obvious to the public as a studio. 
  • The dangers of stock imaging and why they need to be more positive and empowering.  
  • The importance of connecting to the work and what that means for people of all shapes and sizes.
  • Tools for teachers and students to connect to the work.
  • Affirming language Rachel uses to empower her students to make choices. 
  • What accessibility means to Rachel and why it is so important. 
  • The danger of assuming all students in a larger body are trying to lose weight. 
  • The correct language to use to describe different body types and what Rachel doesn’t say. 
  • Rachel’s favorite props for accessibility in Pilates. 
  • Our guest discusses the kinds of cues she uses for neurodiverse students. 
  • Why you don’t have to talk all the time throughout a session as a Pilates teacher. 
  • Rachel shares her take on teacher feedback.
  • The Size Diverse Pilates newsletter and the other accessible Pilates education Rachel offers. 

EPISODE 18

 

[INTRODUCTION] 

 

[0:00:00] RP: When it comes down to it, it’s so hard because when we get left out of fitness spaces or people get left out of fitness spaces for one reason or another, it makes it really difficult for them to be motivated to move because if you’re left out you feel bad about yourself. And when you feel bad about yourself, you’re not necessarily motivated to want to do something about it, because you don’t have the community, you don’t have the help that you need.

 

[0:00:31] 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. 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. 

 

[EPISODE]

 

[0:01:29] HT: Rachel Piper is a self-proclaimed Star Wars science and Pilates nerd. She is a classically trained comprehensive Pilates teacher who believes that you should love your body for what it can do, no matter your size, your age, or your current abilities. Rachel strives to help others find joy in movement while feeling included within the community. She works towards creating space for people who might not think that they have a place in Pilates, whether it’s because of gender, identity, race, size or shape, physical state or being neuro diverse.

 

Rachel has been a trainer in biotech industry for over 20 years, and in management for over 15 years. She loves reading, writing, and editing technical documents as well as using a visual, auditory, reading, and kinesthetic approach to training and team building.

 

In 2021. With the support of her mentor, she decided to combine her passion for robust training processes and writing with the Pilates method, which led to her writing a series of Pilates teacher training manuals that are size inclusive, and contain a range of content creators who have diverse life experiences and different body shapes to help new trainees and teachers see a diverse set of people practicing Pilates. She’s the owner and trainer for Size Diverse Pilates Teacher Training, which is a classical program infused with accessibility and creativity.

 

Rachel, I’m thrilled to have you here. Our audience just heard a little bit about your bio a second to go. But do you want to introduce yourself in your own words for us?

 

[0:03:10] RP: Yes, sure. I’m Rachel Piper. I’m the owner of Size Diverse Pilates. I teach across multiple platforms, and my main goal is to almost create a Schitt’s Creek-like Pilates industry where everybody is accepted no matter who they are, what they are, what they look like. I mean, that’s kind of what I’d really love. Especially, those who are in larger bodies who don’t see themselves in mainstream media. They don’t see themselves in advertisements, on socials, and those who are neurodiverse. That’s why I really love helping those people find the work, find connections in their body, and really start to enjoy movement no matter how short it is, or what it is, I just want people to be happy with moving.

 

[0:04:04] HT: I love that mission. I’m in it. I know that your background is in the biotech industry. How did you get from there to Pilates?

 

[0:04:17] RP: It’s kind of interesting, right? They really weren’t necessarily related at all, but I was a three-sport athlete growing up. So, I played volleyball, I play basketball, I played softball, I went to college on a basketball scholarship, but also played volleyball, and softball, like throughout my time. I was in an athletic training program for the first year, and then I decided that I didn’t really think that I wanted to nest – this is funny. Didn’t necessarily want to have to work with people day to day in that kind of capacity, at least, that’s what I thought when I was 19.

 

So, I took an immunology, genetics course, and I just absolutely loved it. Then, I got super into biology and like all small things, right? What our world is made out of, and all of that. So, I got into biotech and I started training right away. People within my first year, and I really loved that. I loved writing down instructions for people, trying to make it clear so that people could feel really good about the work that they were doing. Then, just life happens. I had a child. I had old injuries from playing all of the sports, and I wasn’t feeling great in my body.

 

I put out a question in our mama’s group on Facebook, like, “Hey, where can I maybe go do yoga?” Maybe get back into yoga again, because I had done that in my teens. Someone said, “Well, maybe you should try Pilates.” Oh, my God. I don’t know what that really is anymore. But I got a complimentary session at the local studio and I went through. I mean, it just stuck. I loved it. It just made like my whole life better mentally, physically. Absolutely fantastic. I did teacher training there. I still teach there. I still have sessions with my mentor, like twice a week. I mean, it’s just, yes, I don’t know. It just sort of changed my life, honestly.

 

[0:06:28] HT: That gives me the chills. I love that. I love that you had a good first experience with Pilates. I actually had a terrible one. Save that for another time. It took me a while to get into like in Pilates. Wow, that’s incredible. And that you’re still with the same teacher, that still same group of people. That’s such a testament for many things, great teaching, about creating a community, about really seeing you for who you are. I think those are the best that you’re still there. Amazing.

 

[0:06:59] RP: Yes, it was fantastic. My complimentary session was with someone who looked like me, someone who understands the neurodiverse, because my child is autistic, and he has ADHD, mixed receptive language disorder. So, he has like a lot of things going on, which is why that’s a niche that I love to work with. She worked with autistics, and she kind of understood where I was coming from with like my body. And it’s like, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do anything, because I haven’t really given myself attention for so many years.” She was like, “Yes, that’s fine. There are so many things going on. There’s so many different exercises in Pilates. We’ll find things that work for you.” I was like, “Okay.” And it worked. I mean, I did everything that she gave to me and it felt good and I felt accomplished again, and that’s what I want to give to other people. I want them to feel accomplished. I want them to feel empowered. 

 

[0:07:57] HT: That’s so great. I mean, I know that you are also a teacher trainer, and it’s like this – when you’re setting up your classes, and people are experiencing wins, and there’s just enough challenge to keep things interesting, but they are getting all those successes and have a little bit of room to play. I think that’s where the magic happens. That’s where they’re hooked because it’s just so exciting.

 

[0:08:22] RP: Yes. I was recently talking to my client, because I also had – I also wrote a map book, and we have them at our studio. She was like flipping through it, and she was she was looking through it. And then the next time I saw her, she was like, “Hey, I went home and I tried”, she was like, “I was trying to think of what exercise doesn’t feel good in my body and it ended up being rolling like a ball.” I was like, “Yes, it’s kind of weird, right? But like, it’s super fun.” She’s like, “Yes, I was trying to figure out how to make that more accessible.” So, she used my resistance band. She’s like, “Yes, I could totally do it and I couldn’t believe it.” And I was like, “Well, that’s amazing. That’s one of the reasons why some of us are creating this content out there, this accessibility content, and trying to put it out there so that people can have the, ‘Oh, look at me now’, kind of feeling.” I mean, there’s nothing like it. When you are struggling with something and then you get it, and then you consistently are able to do it. It’s such an empowering feeling. It was really fun. I was really excited for her.

 

[0:09:27] HT: Yes. It’s also a testament to not only the way that you view movement, but the way that you’re able to describe it, because I think that is also – that’s a talent that you could break it down and describe it into words that are just on a piece of paper, whether I haven’t yet got my hands on the manual, but I will. That, I believe, the power of your words, the power of the visuals, the power of all the different ways that we learn, sometimes get left out in the studios, especially books as well. What do you think about that?

 

[0:10:03] RP: I think that’s 100% true, and that is how I designed the book. That’s how I very specifically and thoughtfully created the teacher training manuals in the program. I’ve been doing it for 20 years without knowing what it was, until maybe about five years ago, but it’s a method, visual, auditory, reading, and kinesthetic learning. Within that, if you – so over 60% of us are visual learners, and there’s – and visual isn’t reading. It’s not necessarily reading through instructions. But there are some people who do need to read their instructions to really understand the content, which is why there’s an R in there for that whole process.

 

So, I was really specific on I wanted to incorporate, like, not just those four, but also there’s two different multi-modalities to that setup. So, it’s the VARK method, if anyone wants to look that up. And I can use that. I ask for permission to use that in my training, like, “Hey, can I follow this through so that I know what kind of learners are coming to me?” And I think that’s the most important thing. How do you learn? And are you someone who can teach to that style? Because being a trainer and qualifying trainers over such a long period of time, when I’m pairing people up, or people have been paired up, and it doesn’t seem to fit, and both people are frustrated, it’s not that the trainer isn’t good at what they’re doing. And it’s not that the trainee can’t understand the material. It just means that we need to mesh a couple different people together, so that with those personalities matching, they can really both get the most out of the experience.

 

I created the training program around these principles. I wanted people to see the work in different ways. I wanted them to be able to read it. I wanted them to be able to see pictures. And I wanted them to see video. So, all of my content also has video libraries that go with it. The films, I call them silent films. There’s not a lot of talking. But I do have classes and little mini workshops in with my [inaudible 0:12:29] I’m talking about things. But sometimes people don’t necessarily need the words to go with it. They just need to see what it looks like. Right?

 

So, we have all of that. And then I do have the auditory aspect, which comes into the workshops and in some of like that mini content, and then the workshops really where you get that tactile or that kinesthetic piece of it, where you get to work with each other, to find what works. But I also use props for that same feedback. So, that’s why you see a lot of prop work and some of my work, because sometimes the brain can see it, but it can’t feel it. Not everybody has that internal intuition, and sometimes they just need something to give them feedback. It’s just like, I think someone once told me that it sounds like I just created a robust training program. Like there’s a very specific way around. I was like, “I didn’t know I was doing it.” But I did want to be thoughtful about the fact that people learn in such different ways, and I wanted to make sure that if anyone came to me, and said, “I’d really love to learn more about this”, that I had a way for them to learn.

 

[0:13:41] HT: That’s beautiful, because we were talking actually off, not yet on the podcast, just about how we would like to – we want people to be moving, right? We would like our method to be as accessible to as many people as possible. And so, when we are creating methods, it’s not that you’re creating the method. You’re creating the communication between the person. That’s the dialogue. So, all the different ways that we can hold that space for them. I think that’s also not only the communication part, but they’re feeling seen then. They’re having a space that they can create that Pilates magic.

 

[0:14:23] RP: Yes. I think you’ve touched on something really good, really great there. Yes, I want people to feel seen and not enough – there’s not enough diversity out there that’s being shown. Yes, you’re right. People need to be seen. Usually, before I accept anything like going on a podcast or writing an article, I usually look at people’s websites, and I kind of look them up to see, make sure there isn’t necessarily any harmful content on their sites, or like how do they use their words? Are they really showing that they are inclusive?

 

I think that that’s really important to note that if I was looking at a studio. Let’s say that I was going to travel and I was looking at studios. I would look for something very visual that shows me that there are other people like me at that studio. I think that that’s what people are looking at, if they don’t see a place where they feel seen, then they just don’t even try it. So, you may be the most inclusive studio in your area. But if people can’t go and see it within 5 or 10 seconds on your website, or in your content, then you might be missing out on being able to help somebody who really needs you.

 

[0:15:45] HT: Now, this, I think, yes, 1,000% to all of this. But I think also, it’s a huge issue, because there’s a lot of studios that don’t have much representation in them anyways, because of just the teachers that are there. So then, we have a problem of, are we going into sort of like tokenism? Do we have a studio that’s just going to buy some photographs of a person in a bigger body? Or a skin – it’s so interesting that there’s also an ethical dilemma there that we need representation, that actual representation and safe places. How do you feel about that?

 

[0:16:31] RP: Yes. I do think that you hit – it’s a really good point. And I think that, I can’t remember who I read it from. It’s definitely not my words or my content. But if your area doesn’t have the diversity, then yes, it will be hard for you to be able to show that. It just is. I mean, if your population is 92% White in a very small area, Caucasian in a small area, then it’s going to be harder for you to be able to show that you are inclusive. Yes, that is true.

 

[0:17:07] HT: Yes. I just find it an interesting discussion that we need to have more of, at some point.

 

[0:17:14] RP: When you said, the stock photos, I just want to say from – because I did take size-inclusive training as well, and stock photos that came up and I see it a lot to where people just try and take a stock photo and put it in there. Most of those are not necessarily real-life photos, like you can usually – I can usually spot a stock photo, for sure. But when you try and get some of the more diverse content, especially for Pilates. There’s not a lot of it. Or it’ll gear you specifically toward weight loss or like a before and after, and we just need more. If there’s going to be stock photos that need to be used, we need more positive and empowering content for people to be able to access if their heart is truly in it, and they really want to help that population or multiple populations. There needs to be access to some better stock photos, for sure, that is empowering, and not, there’s something wrong with you type of a feel.

 

[0:18:23] HT: I think that’s exactly where we get into this, the sort of like that. We got an onion, we got lots of different layers of this, because there’s not great representation from teacher – the teachers are out there, but they’re not being represented and it’s very exclusive, the way that the teacher trainings have been there, the way that our different alliances, through all the different countries. It’s not just one. I’m not going to point your finger there. But also, the content that they’re putting out there. So, it’s hard to get different teachers there, because they don’t see themselves in this space as well. Am I making this up?

 

[0:19:10] RP: No. I think that’s common, because I do follow quite a few people and different socials that talk specifically about teacher training. How people feel when they’re in those situations. They don’t want to put themselves out there because of what’s going on, kind of on both sides. So, you’re not making it up. I mean, it’s pretty accurate. It’s a disservice to those who actually want to work with all types of bodies. If you don’t have the diverse body shape and size, diversity in general in your programs, it’s going to make it harder for everybody to learn. Because they don’t come across it and then they second guess themselves because they’ve haven’t had the experience of being able to do teach someone in a larger body, or somebody who has an abundance in one place or another. Because it’s not necessarily just someone who is large all over.

 

People have abundance in different areas in their bodies. Their struggles are going to be different than someone else. If someone has more abundance in their backside, they’re going to access the – or they’re going to feel certain exercises different than somebody who may have more chest abundance or those different things. So, it’s not just necessarily someone who all over is larger. It can be different areas as well, that can change the way that that person needs to connect to the work.

 

[0:20:45] HT: Oh, yes. And I have a couple of different ideas about this, because I like to come back to connect the words of yours connect with the work. I’d like to come back with that in a moment. When we’re talking about just the different angles and levers of the body, things will feel different on different bodies. Somehow, in a lot of teacher trainings, we’re given words like you should feel it here. This is where these feels. This muscle is going to be working. Well, depending on your angles and levers, and where you’re facing gravity, what props we’re using, that could completely change where we’re “feeling in exercise.” So, I think that’s also a little bit demoralizing when we’re teaching and we’re saying, “Oh, feel it over here.” Well, what does mean? Our bodies are different. So, it might not feel the same.

 

[0:21:37] RP: Yes, I love that you said that. Because what it tells the person who is trying to connect to the work is, there’s something wrong with you that you don’t feel it here. And nobody wants that. So, my programs and all of my teachings, you don’t feel it anywhere, in particular. You don’t. That’s not what it is. It’s what feels best in your body in that exercise, and I think that comes to, you need to teach the person in front of you, and not teach the exercise. So, when I hear that type of wording coming from teacher training programs, I’m thinking. Okay, so this teacher training program is teaching the exercises. Teaching people words, and they’re not teaching people how to teach people.

 

It’s a little unfortunate. People ask me all the time, like, “Where should I be feeling this?” And I say, “Where are you feeling it?” Because you can feel in a lot different places. I said, “What you did today is different than what I did today.” And I will tell you that depending on the day, I feel this exercise in different places. So, do you feel solid and do you feel strong? Yes, this is challenging. Okay, then you’re doing it. It’s that simple. Right?

 

[0:23:02] HT: Right. And it’s a way more empowering way to be communicating with people, I think. It throws it back into their court. It’s not robbing them of that experience. So, it has to feel like this. It’s saying, “Hey, where are you at today?” “Okay, cool. That’s great.” That’s your connection to the work for the day. Tell me a little bit more about connecting to the work.

 

[0:23:27] RP: So, for me, the entire point of teaching people is so they can find themselves in the work. They can connect to the work. So, when I give somebody an exercise that they’re doing, I usually – so I do a lot of observation when I’m teaching. The things that I start with, I usually start with fundamentals. I’m a huge fundies nerd. And it tells me a lot about how the session is going to go. It’ll tell me if I need to leave something out, or if I need to grab props along the way. I know that it’s something that takes a lot of practice to do it, and I know that it’s not very intuitive for a lot of people.

 

So, I do go over this in my training program, like, let’s look here, let’s remind ourselves what this exercise ends up being later, so that we know if we should add a proper do, whatever. Okay. So, when I teach the fundies or the fundamentals, it tells me how someone is already connecting to the work. My goal is, is that if they look like they’re going to need a little something to connect better to an exercise later, while they’re doing their fundies, and I’m telling them, “Do this or do that.” Then I’ll just start grabbing props and I’ll just lay them next to everyone. 

 

Because if one person needs the connection, then I’m not going to say, “Hey, you, I’m going to give you this because this is what I saw.” I’m going to let a anybody experience that. Because in most cases, everyone needs a little help connecting to the work in one way or another throughout their session.

 

[0:25:11] HT: Right. Yes, I love that.

 

[0:25:13] RP: You don’t want anyone to feel excluded either. I guess I’ll just throw that in. Because the way that I teach is I will give a version of an exercise that everyone in the room can do. That’s my basis. Then, after a couple reps, it’s, “Okay, if you want to try this, go ahead. If not, you’re still working hard.” These are very important ways to say it. You’re still working hard. Try it. Don’t try it. It’s okay with me. These are the things so that they have that reassurance that like, “Hey, I’ve been there. Some days I do this and some days I don’t. You figure out what’s going on, on your body. It’s your choice.” That actually gives people a lot of empowerment too, to be able to make choices and it be okay.

 

[0:26:05] HT: Right. That’s the good stuff right there. When we have offered a buffet, I think we work probably very similar. I just sort of add different layers. I call them flavors. I’ll put in some spice if you’d like it. Maybe you don’t want spicy food today, great. Wherever we’re at, those layers, then people get to choose or not choose, depending on how they’re feeling, and it’s not a better than, less than type of thing.

 

[0:26:33] RP: Yes. That all comes back to connection. So, when somebody finds connection, you’re just adding something that can challenge the connection. They already have the connection to the work. You’re just now challenging the connection to the work. And that just shows that there are – these are ways that you subtly build your clients without having to necessarily write it down and think, “Okay, well, they couldn’t really do the roll-up. Now, I know that they can’t do Jackknife.” These are not the ways that we should think about it. The ways that we need to think about it is what are the parts in the roll-up that they’re connecting to? That’s amazing. That means that I can give them this version of Jackknife, because it’s the same connection, and it will be even more empowering, those types of things.

 

[BREAK]

 

[0:27:19] 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. 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.

 

[EPISODE CONTINUES]

 

[0:28:05] HT: Yes. Yes. Yes. We’re going to have a whole podcast of me just saying, “Yes, please.”

 

[0:28:12] RP: That’s okay. It’s good. But I do love the fact that you said spicy. I’ll say, “Okay, if you want to take it up a notch, then give this a try.” So, yes, I like the word spicy. I might just steal that. 

 

[0:28:23] HT: Take it. Take it. I have a bunch of questions that I prepared in some topics, because I think that, Rachel, I could probably spend just hours and hours talking to you, because I just love you.

 

[0:28:37] RP: Thank you.

 

[0:28:38] HT: But I would like to talk just a couple of these things. When we are talking, what does accessibility mean to you? How about let’s start there?

 

[0:28:50] RP: Yes. To me, accessibility is all about finding a way to help someone connect to themselves in a positive way. So, I’ve already kind of touched on that with connecting to the work. As humans, we spend a lot of times telling ourselves or receiving information from outside sources that are telling us that we are less than, instead of celebrating ourselves on where we are, and how far we’ve come, what we’ve overcome.

 

So, giving people the tools to feel empowered, and in Pilates, feeling connected to the work and eventually learning some autonomy is really the basis of accessibility. But I mean, I could get into some extra details on this. You can look at your space and see whether or not it’s accessible to different bodies. You can look at your website. Does it look like it’s accessible? You can think about your words. Are the things you’re saying and how you’re cueing, actually accessible? Are they empowering?

 

But ultimately, just in general, accessibility to me is helping someone have a positive experience with work.

 

[0:30:10] HT: In our Pilates spaces, who do you think gets left behind the most?

 

[0:30:17] RP: When you look at social media, you know that there’s not a lot of diversity, and ethnicity, and body size, body shape. I even would say the background. The way that Pilates pictures are shown, it’s always a very pretty background. There’s a clean wall. It’s angles. And maybe you only see part of a person if the person is in a larger body, or you only see certain body types of different ethnicities.

 

So honestly, the way that things are portrayed, even when you’re in the minority groups, you’re only seeing certain types of people that are like you. Therefore, there’s still an exclusion even when people are trying to show inclusion. You know what I mean?

 

[0:31:15] HT: Yes. That really makes sense. And I think that you also hit on something like the – I was just in a – I’m not going to name the thing. I was looking through photos for something that that I’m currently working on. Looking at the Pilates photos and the choices of pictures and bigger bodies had almost not – there were so few with an entire body there. It was like an angle, or here’s like an arm that’s a little bit bigger, or here’s – but it really didn’t have just, can I just see a person? It’s just a person. It was very strange. I had actually commented right before we were – to Christian, right before we got on here. Yes, that’s strange.

 

[0:32:06] RP: Yes. They want to keep a certain aesthetic, like, it’s okay to be big fish. I mean, it sends a very interesting message. So, I mean, if you look at my videos on Instagram, right now, my reformer is in the middle of my living room, so there wasn’t a lot of content for a while, but I’m going to throw it out here. But I mean, I wear all different types of things. I have at least three or four rolls. I mean, I got to show it because there are other people that are out there that don’t think that they can do Pilates because of how they look and it’s just not true. It’s not about how you look. It all goes back to how you connect to the work.

 

But people who are looking at Pilates, they don’t know that aspect of Pilates. Like me, back in the day, I didn’t really know what it was. I thought it was a bunch of crunches. I’m just going to be honest. Who wants to do 1,500 crunches in 15 minutes? Nobody. But it’s completely different. That’s not what it is. So yes, we just need to get the message out there more to people that there’s more to the work and it is actually inclusive, more people can do it.

 

[0:33:12] HT: It’s not just like a before and after photo, which makes me bonkers, like [inaudible 0:33:16], because then we’re putting the work, the movement, just we’re narrowing down the scope of the thing, and there’s an assumption there that anyone that comes into the space is looking to lose weight. Where that’s not what – that’s not what it’s about. It’s about moving joyfully in a body.

 

[0:33:36] RP: Yes, exactly. That’s 100% accurate. That goes to, if you have somebody coming into your studio, who is in a larger body, don’t assume that they are there to lose weight. They probably just want to feel joy and movement, or maybe they do have a weight loss journey. But really, it’s not for us to necessarily know that, or help them with it. I am not a dietician. I can tell you the ins and out of almost every single diet. That’s for sure. Because I went through diet culture for so long.

 

But when I started Pilates, right away I decided, this is not a weight loss journey for me. I am not going to attach weight loss or any kind of diet culture to my journey. It was the best decision I ever made, which is probably why I have stuck with it for so long. I love it so much. It’s because I completely separated the two. I just wanted to be stronger and I wanted to feel better. That was it.

 

[0:34:37] HT: Yes. Love that. Thank you. This may sound silly, but let’s just go there. I think that sometimes we lack words with a compassionate way to say, a person in a bigger body. There’s a lot of discussion like, well, let’s just say something different. What do you think?

 

[0:35:01] RP: Yes. So, I would never use the word obese, and I actually don’t use the word overweight. I’m just going to throw those out there right away, toss those out. If people talk about that, there are ways that you can sort of turn the conversation a different way. But saying the word overweight is sort of putting, again, we’re giving power to a billion-dollar diet industry to say that there is an ideal weight. We know that that’s not true based on genetics, biology, and body shape, and size. Just because I’m 5’9”, if it says somewhere that I’m supposed to weigh 140 pounds, like, that’s not going to happen for me, just based on how I know. I have extremely broad shoulders. I carry weight in different areas. It’s just not a thing, right?

 

So, we should never – there is no ideal. It should all be about how you feel in your body. So, coming back to wording. I do use the word bigger body, larger body, when I am describing myself, and if I’m in a workshop, and I say, “Hey, when I’m doing this exercise, I might move – I have some abundance in my belly.” So, I just might move a little bit or I have a little bit of abundance in my backside. I’m just going to move a little tissue so that I can connect more to the mat. These are the ways that I talk about it, and it’s not a negative thing. This is a fact. I have some stuff. This is what I’m going to do and look at me now.

 

I do like the word abundance, because that can be for anyone in any size, or shape of body. We all carry weight in different areas in our bodies. That’s fine. How boring would it be if we all looked exactly the same? Like what would we even do?

 

[0:36:45] HT: Exactly, yes.

 

[0:36:47] RP: We’re not robots. We’re humans, we’re meant to – there should be. The more diversity that we have over on the world, the better, because that just means we have a lot to learn from each other.

 

[0:36:59] HT: Yes, thank you. I love that. I think that sometimes studio owners or teachers think that being accessible is going to be expensive for them. And someone, “No, I have to redo my thing. Now, I need to buy all this stuff, and to be accessible, to have all these props.” I think we have a lot of props here of different things, just because I like props. I think they’re fun and make everything spicy. If money were not an issue. Number one, I don’t think it’s that expensive. Anyways, but if money were not an issue, what props would you have on hand to be the most accessible for people? What do you love working with?

 

[0:37:42] RP: Well, I actually have a free YouTube video. It’s on my site that says, that’s about all props that being created equal when it comes to bigger bodies. So, I highly recommend that. I may redo it at some point, same content. But it’s just kind of me talking for like an hour and however many minutes about that.

 

[0:38:02] HT: Fantastic. We’re linking to it.

 

[0:38:04] RP: I love resistance bands, because there’s a lot of support and strength that can come from that. So, sometimes having a resistance band, that building the strength can get them stronger, faster. However, when you have somebody who’s in a larger body or maybe is heavier in the legs, they may need a stronger band than what you have.

 

So, if you look at your bands, and they’re super thin and stretchy, this is where I say it’s not created equal. You need a nice thick band and I know that won’t – I know me holding up my hands is for you. But you need a nice, wide, and thick band. It still may not be enough. So, having a double band for some people might be really good. They just might need more support to be able to hold up their leg. So, for example, my brother is, I think, one of my brothers, well, both of my brothers are, I think 6’1”, but one of them he’s a big guy and he has a lot more weight in his trunk. So, his legs than my other brother. My other brother is like all upper body guy, and then my other brother is like just kind of like a tree trunk. He’s like, “Yes, I’m like a solid tree.”

 

So, for them, like my oldest brother would need just like a regular band, because he’s got the upper body strength, and he doesn’t have a lot of the extra weight in his legs. But my other brother, I would absolutely double up his band because he is going – he’s strong, but he’s going to need that support to get the range and find the connection. So, that’s just something to think about, is what kind of resistance bands you actually have in your studio. Are they actually sturdy and strong? I would love to get some that are like the fabric circle bands. I would like to get those in an actual resistance band, because I feel like they would hold up have a little bit better and be a little bit stronger, and have the different weights. Anybody who does that out there, please make those because that would be fantastic.

 

That is something that I think is very simple, because you can get a roll of some pretty heavy resistance bands for pretty cheap, and then you can just cut them to length. If you have a five-foot band, that’s usually typical, having a 10-foot that can be wrapped, or just having two five-foot available for someone can be really, really helpful. Anybody can use a double band. It’s going to be a lot of strength work. Some people might not need that support, but it’s going to give them some extra strength-building. So again, you can give it to everyone in the room, even if only one person needs it.

 

I also have a firm policy on the resistance band thing, where when certain people come in, I was like, “Hey, if you need your resistance band today, go ahead and grab it. You can incorporate it where you need to.” Then, they’re like, “Cool.” And they grab it and they do their thing. I would say that you have your stable props and your props that challenge stability. So, a barrel, and having different heights of barrel. If you have the money, some people who are in larger bodies may not be able to lift up and get a an eight-inch or six-inch barrel underneath of them, but they may be able to get a four-inch barrel underneath them a little bit easier. Also, the higher it is, the farther you fall. So, it may not be as comfortable or they might slide back a little bit more pending weight.

 

Again, that’s one thing, we’re not all props are created equal. So, just having different heights of a stable prop is excellent. And when it comes to foam rollers, as I love all the props, if you’re not rolling out, a half roller is also shorter than a full roller. That’s where you can do that, if you have some foam roller stuff and want to use that. Then when it comes to balls, bigger balls, those are great. I would consider those the stability challenge, because you really have to focus on staying on a ball. You’d want to make sure that your ball has a really good weight behind it, so that someone in a larger body would feel more secure on top of it.

 

The last thing we want is for a ball to pop, or the little pin to pop out and shoot across the room or something, right? I have had really good luck with Trideer balls, just in general. So, that’s probably my favorite ball. We have like three large ones in our house, and then I have a smaller one that I really enjoy. Yes. I mean, those are, I think I would just look at it from, is it a stable prop? Why would you need a stable prop? Is it a prop that’s going to challenge stability? Why would you use it, and just kind of play around with it from there? But sometimes, accessibility can just be as simple as words and not necessarily the prop itself.

 

[0:42:58] HT: True that. So, when you’re talking about accessibility in words, because I love your work, I said that before. I’ve listened to you in a couple different things. So, accessibility in words, and the way that we’re cueing doesn’t always necessarily mean that we’re choosing getting rid of all the BS of the toning and the weight loss. That’s one side of being accessible in our wording and our cues. And the other side is when we’re cueing, say people that are in the like neurodiverse folk in our classes, that’s a different type of accessibility. Would you like to talk about that?

 

[0:43:37] RP: Yes. I love talking about that. I love talking about that. I use the same simple cues for exercises. When it’s a similar exercise, I typically use the same word pattern. Because what I have learned, especially having a son who’s autistic and with mixed receptive language disorder is when I say something, and he’s 11. So, we learned this right away, when we found out he was too. Saying the same word or same phrase, and then pausing, give it like a five-second rule. And then saying the same exact thing, again, is a good thing. If they aren’t responding to your short and simple cue, it’s not that you gave a bad cue. You shouldn’t change the cue. Repeat it again and see what happens. Because if you change your wording, and someone has trouble processing the information, they are going to have to reprocess the information, which could be frustrating for both parties. You’re like, “Why am I not teaching well today?” And they’re like, “Why can’t I understand?”

 

And really, that’s the gap. Both people are not feeling like they are doing their best job. But really, it’s as simple as you changed your wording here, and this person doesn’t have a choice, that’s just the way their brain works. They had to try and reprocess the information. So, I will use the same cue over and over again. What that actually does is it ends up building autonomy quicker, because people will relate your phrases to a movement, and an exercise, and their connection. So, that’s number one, you don’t have to have fancy talk, right?

 

Every once a while, I’ll throw in something fun, and say something totally weird. That’s imagery, or something like that. But rarely, most of the time, it’s very much an external cue, reach your leg away from you, pull your legs into, use your arms, be strong in your arms, things like that, and that’s helpful for me. I am actually not an auditory learner. It’s hard for me to process auditory information as far as listening to podcasts. I have to be on a walk with my dogs. Then I can actually focus on it. But if I try to do things around the house, or I get into something, all of a sudden, I realize, “Oh, I have no idea what’s going on in this audiobook”, or those types of things. I have to be on a very specific path, to be able to hear it. And I really do need to be able to see something or feel it in my body to understand it.

 

So, that’s how you can be accessible in those cases. And neurodiversity is such a large range. There’s so many different things. Like what I said, will work for quite a few people, even those who are not neurodiverse. Because it’s a simple cue, an external cue, reminding them what they’re supposed to be doing, observing, giving them time to think. The more you talk in a session, the less autonomy could be built, because they’re not being able to experience. They’re trying to pay attention to you. That’s just something to think about and I learned that from one of my mentors, as well, that talking the whole time isn’t always needed, which I’m like, “Oh, okay. Also, save your voice.”

 

When it comes to the neurodiverse range, I will say that there’s the sub population that they are the neuro clients who there – I would say neurodiversity is related to the fact that their connections are starting to weaken, potentially, because they have PLS, or ALS, or MS, or one of those types of things. Sometimes I have found working one one-on-one with a client like that is that their body does need a slight change in how you say it, because it’s not working. Their brain needs a different way to understand the information, or they may need more of a tactile cue.

 

So, I would just throw that in there as a side note is, again, we’re teaching people. So, get to know your people, and then you know how best to help them. It’s very, very rewarding for you and for them when you’re able to do that. But it will take some time and some practice, of course.

 

[0:48:16] HT: You’re talking about tools that we would all like to have in our toolbox, because I think it comes down to what you and I are passionate about, is teaching the person and finding the way to communicate with who they are, and what their goals are, and how they would like to experience movement. So, having more stuff in our toolbox is just going to help that be a richer relationship, I guess.

 

[0:48:42] RP: Yes. I agree. Just being on that, because I mean, I could talk about Pilates forever. I could also talk about neurodiversity larger bodies, all of that. I could just talk about it forever. I don’t think I’ve ever told this story before, but one of the main reasons that I got so interested in training people and learning for myself, the patience and understanding of the people around me, and how people learn different, is because within the first six months of me working in biotech, I actually had a good friend and a co-worker who was schizophrenic. When things were not going well for her medication-wise, it was hard for her to understand the job that we were supposed to be doing. We didn’t really have any documentation at that time, that laid out what we were supposed to be doing and things like that. So, I started creating some checklists for her and for everybody, right? I’m like, “Oh, everyone can use these.”

 

And some quick and easy instructions at certain areas within the lab, so that if things weren’t feeling quite right for her, that she would be able to pick up one of the pieces of paper that I have, and write it out in her notebook, and be able to use that, so that she could do the job and feel good about the job she was doing, because that’s a huge worry, for a lot of people, who are on that have something, some sort of neurodiversity, is that they feel less than already. And there aren’t a lot of accommodations out in workplaces, or training facilities or anywhere that really address the need to give them the tools that they need.

 

I was 22 years old, when I had that experience, and it was one of like, such a – we became such good friends. It really taught me the value of, “Okay, like, let me write this out. Oh, you have questions on that? Okay. Let me reword this a little bit.” So, I have been honing that for the last 22 years of my life, trying to figure out how to make things work. But we all have to realize that times change as well. So, I always want feedback. Is what I wrote or what you’re seeing, are you understanding it, or how can I make it better? I think that that’s missing in a lot of places in general, especially teacher training programs. It’s people don’t want the feedback because they’ve created something personal or something for everything, and they’re like, “This should be perfect.” Well, maybe it’s perfect for 90%. But like, how can we get the feedback from the 10% to make it even more inclusive and accessible? That’s what I’m looking for. I want feedback. It’s like, “Oh, shoot. I didn’t think about that. Darn it.” But I have the opportunity to change this to make it more accessible. I’m going to take that challenge and I’m going to try and do it.

 

[0:52:00] HT: Thank you so much for that story. It sounds like such a pivotal moment in the way that you also are viewing the environment that we’re in, the situation that we’re in, and that you’re able to connect so deeply with a person and really help. That’s amazing.

 

[0:52:17] RP: Yes. I love connecting with people. I say that I’m an introvert, but I’m an introvert with special interests.

 

[0:52:28] HT: I so get that.

 

[0:52:31] RP: Yes.

 

[0:52:35] HT: Right now, this is my comfort zone, connecting with one person at a time. I go from there, or I could be on a stage with a thousand people, and that’s okay, but anywhere in between.

 

[0:52:46] RP: Yes, exactly. Oh, my gosh, yes, 100%. I only like three things. So, if it’s one of those three things, we’re going to be fine.

 

[0:52:58] HT: Oh, my gosh. So, our audience, I think, in this podcast is mostly teachers, movement teachers of all kinds, but I’m assuming many, many Pilates teachers. And I’m very, very excited for them to get in contact with your work. So, I’m going to be linking into all of the good stuff and everything that you have, that you would like from your website, and I know that you mentioned that you have a newsletter and something also special on your website. Want to tell them about that?

 

[0:53:27] RP: Yes. I have – so, if you go to my main page, you can subscribe right away. When you subscribe, I kind of have that thing where you get maybe five emails, but you get a freebie. So, I changed that up every once in a while. In my newsletters, at least every quarter, I try and do something special where I send something out, maybe it’s like 15 minutes of movement, or maybe it’s a link to a workshop or something like that, I call them raw mini-workshops. It’s just me sitting around talking about something I’m interested in. I have like those little things that come out, or just little tips or tricks. Just little things like that. I don’t want to overwhelm people with stuff, but I want people to have access.

 

Then, I also have a section that just has, I think it says freebies. But I have accessible reformer, accessible tower playlists that I try and keep adding to. I’ve been on a little bit of a hiatus with the construction going on in my house. But I’m planning in the next month to get back in there and continue to add like little movement nuggets, and classes and things like that, just so people can experience me and have an have access to some accessible Pilates. Because sometimes accessibility is people don’t necessarily have the money to be able to do it either. But we want as many people in the world to be moving and enjoying it as possible. So, I like to put those free nuggets out there. There’s a link to my YouTube on there as well.

 

[0:54:55] HT: Yes, awesome. Well, I will make sure that everyone gets that from you. I really, really thank you for all of your time today and your wisdom and your insight. This is what it’s all about. Thank you.

 

[OUTRO]

 

[0:55:12] 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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