Remote Teaching: Imagination is Key

Shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, and two vertical lines intersecting them. The box was the first concept I learned in Pilates. Romana called it our inner frame and the Pilates apparatus, the outer one. She taught me to use the lines of the equipment as a reference, a ‘frame,’ to see if the body in front of you was centered or not. When the world shut down, and we quickly pivoted to teaching online, that outer frame disappeared for most clients (at home, Reformer-less). However, Romana also taught that imagination was an integral part of teaching. For me, one of the benefits of this strange time has been the creative, imaginative teaching practices that have come from it. Use a piano bench and a resistance band for Pulling Straps? How about stairs for the Swedish Bar Stretches? Or stimulate pressure points of the feet while using a rolling pin? Being pushed to think outside the box (pun intended!) is refreshing, and the continuing progress my clients are making is proof for me that online teaching is here to stay.

For clients who were relatively new to the studio before the shutdown, missing the traditional equipment is not a big deal. But the ability to do laundry or simmer a soup while exercising in their living room, not to mention the time and gas they save by not commuting to and from the studio, is a bonus! As a teacher, there are other benefits. They say when someone loses one of their senses; the others are heightened to compensate. Similarly, without the use of my hands, my words have become more critical than ever. That isn’t to say that pre-COVID, I never used imagery or that there haven’t been times when finding the right word was just what it took to make something click for someone, but hands-on teaching is what I knew and it was a challenge when it was removed from my toolbox. The sensation of my teacher’s hands- their placement and eight- are fused for me with the feelings of the exercises themselves. I realize how much I have relied on physical adjustments and support to help my clients make connections. Teaching remotely forces me to convey sensations in ways I hadn’t needed to before. For instance, imagine the weight of my hand on your right shoulder blade while I cup your left shoulder from below and gently lift up and back for the Saw. Or, touch the spot on the floor behind you as close as possible to where you are sitting. That’s where to pull your abdominals into Roll Like a Ball. Or, instead of me using my finger, place the tip of your own just above the crown of your head and raise your spine to meet it.

There are other unexpected bonuses from teaching remotely, too. For instance, after hearing my client explain how her back would ache from cooking and doing dishes, I was able to watch her in her kitchen. I could see the height of her counter, the depth of her sink, etc., and give her an exercise to do while still doing the dishes, to improve her posture and decrease her pain.

I know I’m not the only teacher to make these observations. Early on, it was reassuring to talk with colleagues and share our ideas for online teaching (not to mention, in the very beginning, how to navigate Zoom!) As the world closed down and, in many aspects, felt smaller, our Pilates community opened in ways that it hadn’t before. Having access to teachers and gaining new students across the globe has been a gift. Perhaps the only real challenge is scheduling across time zones!

So, while it is a relief that we feel safe in the studio with boosters and masks, for those who choose to log in instead, the link has been sent!


Zoë Hagler was introduced to Pilates in 1987 by Romana Kryzanowka, disciple of Joseph Pilates. A dancer with Sand Francisco Ballet and the Chicago City Ballet, she was recovering from an ankle sprain when she started her sessions with Romana. After a summer of weekly, sometimes daily sessions, Zoe returned to ballet class with more strength, flexibility, and better balance. She was inspired to study the method intensively, becoming a teacher herself and then a teacher of teachers, working for Romana’s certification at the time, the Pilate Studio of New York. Over the years, Zoë has shared her knowledge of Pilates with countless clients, apprentices, and instructors across the country. In March of 2020 she pivoted to teaching virtually, including private sessions, group classes, and continuing education workshops. In may of 2021 Zoë’s studio reopened for in-person sessions while continuing a robust online presence. She is dedicated to preserving and sharing the classical Pilates method and is committed to maintaining a staff of highly qualified, certified instructors. Zoë received her bachelor’s degree from Occidental College where she studied exercise science and education. She has served as a guest teacher at the University of Southern California, California Institute of the Arts, Glendale Community College, Evergreen Physical Therapy, and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. She is a featured teacher on Pilatesology where her classes on the Reformer, Mat and numerous teaching tips can be viewed.

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