It’s the final installment of the “Feel It Client” series and this week we focus on the “I Don’t Want To Feel It” Clients.

This archetype of client has truly clarified my role as a teacher of movement.   Each time I’ve encountered someone who isn’t as willing as I would have liked them to be or who has an emotional release when moving a certain part of their body,  I’ve realized that in addition to “working people out,”  I must remember to hold the space for movement to happen at a surface level, without judgment, or critique.  I can motivate, but it is not my responsibility to “make” them love this movement practice as much as I do or meet the goals that I may have for them.  It’s my job to listen, watch, do my best to meet them at their level and not push for an agenda that doesn’t take their personal needs into account.

The trick for me is to detach from the expectation that I can “make” them more willing, fix them or avoid a release.  I’ve got to be willing to be there with them, where they are, and let them take the lead to tell or show me where they want to go.  This takes patience and persistence.  The more I can help create a space for them to explore within their comfort zone and build confidence in their movement, the more there might be opportunity for breakthroughs.  I don’t have to have all of the answers.  I just have to have the willingness to be with them in that uncertain space.

It’s worth clarifying that the avoidance of physical feelings can be conscious, but often times runs deeper. The most important part is to let your clients set their boundaries surrounding their experiences. They get to decide the level of intensity, duration of endurance and degree of challenge.  Not everyone requires a teacher to push them to their limit.  The ability to hold space for many processes on the spectrum of movement allows one to add versatility into their teaching toolbox.

Let’s explore some strategies that can help when working with clients who are resistant to physical sensation in the Pilates sessions.


The first consideration in anyone who comes to you with an unwilling, fearful or even traumatic motivation is to check in with their support system.  Let’s break down some possible scenarios:


If they are in pain, have they been to a doctor? Even if you believe you can help, it’s in their best interest as well as your own as a professional to have them seek out a medical professional who can rule out a larger problem.  If they have been cleared by a medical professional, are you able to start a dialogue that acknowledges their pain?  Ex:

I am listening and I hear you very clearly that you do not want to be in pain.  I also do not want you to be in pain.  You get to be the driver of this session.  If it’s possible to drive close to the boundary of your pain but not into it, we may be able to discover some additional movement strategies that could help.  If not, my number one objective is for you to feel good when you move.  Is this something you think you are ready to try?

By  putting them in the driver’s seat, Pilates or Movement doesn’t become the villain, but instead, allows them to temper how far they want to go.  It may also help their mindset surrounding movement when they are outside of the studio.



If they are unwilling, perhaps you can do more investigating to find out their motivation to be in the session.  Do they fall into the prisoner category of last week?  Do you need to establish more trust in order to move forward?  Is there something that they love that could get them in the “mood” to step outside of their comfort zone? Is the movement causing them pain? Investigate to receive feedback and always ask what they DO want to do – this can yield more direction to you than fighting for your agenda.



When a person has a nervous system response that is telling them to fight, fly or freeze, you MUST take it seriously.  This can be an indication that their nervous system has been over stimulated.  In some clients, I’ve seen this type of stimulation bring up trauma that they didn’t know was there.  Additionally, it can be just as overwhelming for the teacher.

For me, it’s so important to slow down and go back to breath in moments of panic – for both of us.  The best possible option for both you and your client is to slow the breathing and come back into the body.  Eyes opened, whatever comfortable position they want to be in.  Slow rounds of breath.  Avoid over touching in this scenario.  Avoid over emoting.  This is your time to hold space and help them regulate their state of mind.  After an instance like this, you might investigate further:

That seemed like it was really intense.  Sometimes movement can bring up feelings physically and otherwise that are overwhelming – I know I’ve experienced those feelings.  The best strategy I’ve found is to return to my slow and deep breaths, stomp my feet or pat my legs to calm down my nervous system.  You don’t need to share with me, however, if there is something deeper that came up from this experience that you feel you need to talk about, I have some beautiful practitioners in my referral list that I’d be happy to introduce you to.  I also want you to know that this happens with many people and your body is responding.  Now that we know the intensity of the response, we can go about things a bit differently in your next session.  

Your dialogue will most likely be very different than mine.  This was actual context from a session that became overwhelming.  I was able to refer my client out to a therapist and we continued in our movement practice for a time until she wanted a more therapeutic (cranial sacral) approach. Because I could support her in this way, it was a very easy departure towards something that would serve her needs better than I was able to at that time.


No matter what feelings your client is or isn’t having, remember that they are simply having a human experience, which is a multi-faceted event that happens every day.  Practice gratitude for the learning that comes from these experiences and also kindness to them as well as yourself.  Being present for someone else’s experience is perhaps the most powerful tool that we have as movement teachers.  The more you remember this, the easier it is to help your client’s navigate through their sessions as well as their “feels.”

I look forward to reading your comments and questions!



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