Quick ways to read your client: how much self-awareness do they bring to the workout?

By: Carla Ricalis

Everyday can be a different one for your clients and you need to be aware of their daily, lived experiences.

A quick catch up at the beginning is always great – asking ‘how are you feeling?’ and ‘what’s your day/week been like in terms of movement?’.

But until you observe how they move, you won’t have a clear understanding of whether or not stress (be it physical or otherwise) is impacting their awareness and how it’s translating to their movement.

In the first 2-3 exercises of each clients session, pay attention to the overall picture in that moment and consider 3 things;

  1. How connected are they to their breath?
  2. Are they paying attention to your cues?
  3. Where are they looking?


How someone breathes in a focused environment can tell us a lot about their awareness.

At the start of the session pay attention to the quality of a client’s breath: where does it originate in their body? Is it shallow and lacking that diaphragmatic connection? Does it seemed restricted into their throat and sternal area?

If so, this could be a great place to start. Instead of starting with movement, consider starting them in a supported position. Here are 3 examples:

  1. Breathing on the Spine Corrector: focusing on a posterior and lateral ribcage expansion, this is a good tool to help them open up through their torsos and feel where they’re breathing and how a more expansive breath might be more effective in their movement.
  2. Feet in Straps on the Reformer: keeping the carriage still with their legs bent in just past 90 degrees, the support of the straps can help them feel the breath move more into the lower part of their torso.
  3. Lat Pull Standing on the Cadillac: standing with the push thru bar pulled down so their shoulders are neutral, elbows are bent and cue them to breathe actively in a strong, neutral, posture awareness stance.

All 3 positions use the equipment as support so breath can be their initial focus.This pulls their focus back into their body, helping to get the session started with better awareness and purpose.


Are they picking up the verbal cues that are appropriate for them? For example, are you accustomed to giving them more complex visual imagery or are your cues simple commands of movement?

Either way, if you cue left and they’re moving right or your image of a ball rolling up their spine is being interpreted as a board bridging up and down, you may need to switch up the exercise to get them to focus.

Don’t force a movement; use it instead as an opportunity to set a session goal. Think about the possibilities that can be pulled from seeing what they’re unable to do at the beginning, how you might work with that in the session and return to it at the end.


Where and how are they looking? This is a more subtle one, but consider the following scenarios:

  1. A client staring directly at you while following your cues with such intensity you almost wonder if they’re able to hear you clearly
  2. A client fixated on the ceiling in a supine position with clear signs their mind is beyond what they’re doing or where they are.
  3. A client squeezing their eyes shut as they move that is causing their entire face to tighten, giving the impression that they’re in some type of discomfort.

If their gaze is not soft and open, looking (not staring) gently, then consider adding in a subtle cue like the following; “Open your eyes and look at the area in front/above you. Find a spot or object that your eyes can easily settle on. With a soft gaze, expand your focus to include the area around that object or spot. Relax your jaw and forehead and soften your eyes.”

There are so many ways to help a client achieve self awareness in their Pilates session and many of them don’t necessarily involve movement.

Find a way to encourage your clients to bring better awareness into the session and if it’s consistent on your end, eventually they will correlate their Pilates session with an intention to hone in on their movement, breath, listening and focusing skills. And that intention can help create better self awareness.

Want to learn more? Join us on Sunday, June 27, 2021 for our Teaching Better Self-Awareness Workshop. We’ll review some key programming options to help you help your clients ‘get’ the movement, coordination and awareness that make the workout progress and diversify.