The Art of Observation
APRIL, 2017
“Oh  My  God  – How did you see that?”  
This is one of the questions I get asked every single day.

You see, one of my superpowers is the power of observation.  Superpowers? Yup. Just like Superman’s X-Ray vision, I can see through anything.  Nothing escapes my eagle eye.  Just ask my clients.

Some think it’s magic or some freaky talent I was born with, but I’ll let you in on a secret.  It’s a skill. And the good news about a skill?  With practice, you can learn it too.

The Art of Observation
“To me, photography is an art of observation.  It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to so with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” – Elliott Erwitt
Photograph by Lee Miller via Unsplash
Observation is one of the most important tools we have as teachers.  
We can’t change what we can’t see.

The power of observation allows us to know where a client’s imbalance is. It can show us what muscles aren’t firing and help us make corrections with pinpoint accuracy. It even gives us an inkling into how our client is feeling that day.  

Ever take a client through their usual high energy workout only to have them burst into tears because they’re having an off day? The power of observation can help us see that coming as well.

You gain some of the most important information about your clients by observing them as they enter the studio.

Take a glance at your client as they’re walking in. Before they’re on Pilates alert. You know, before they’ve decided to pull in their center and stand up tall ‘cause they’re at Pilates. If your superpowers are on you can guess in an instant what kind of session you’ll be teaching. Because no matter how prepared we are for a lesson – life happens. 

I have this client. She’s amazing.  She’s totally upbeat, laughing all the time and ready for a great workout. Even with injuries, she’s up for the hard work of Pilates and always has FUN. She had been away for a few weeks on the vacation of a  lifetime – two weeks in Argentina with her husband.

It was her first day back and I looking forward to seeing her bounce into the studio with more than her usual cheer, filled with stories about her Argentinian adventure.  I caught glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye as she walked up the path.  She was looking at the ground, upper body rounded over, the rhythm of her walk was uneven and her whole energy was slow and heavy.

I didn’t know exactly what was wrong, but my powers of observation gave me enough information to know I needed to let her tell the story at her pace, we were going to have a slower session, there was a new injury and something was terribly wrong.

It turns out her mother fell and broke her hip the day before she and her husband were set to leave.  Instead of having a fabulous adventure they canceled the trip, flew out to the Midwest and spent the two weeks caring for her mother. With all the stress and strain injured her back.

Life happens.

And as Pilates instructors, we have to deal with the curves life throws at our clients, but if we can tune in a little better to what we observe, we can be prepared for whatever life throws our way.

So how do you improve your powers of observation? How do you know what to watch for? Practice.

I’ve had years of training as a fine artist and photographer to hone my observational skills. I’ve pulled a few, simple, exercises from my visual art training to help you see with more detail and accuracy. Practice them regularly and your powers of observation will soar.
The Spark
The Cafe
Photograph by Les Anderson via Unsplash
Exercise #1 – Be French

You’re sipping your coffee in an outdoor cafe in  Saint-Germain,  with your journal in hand watching the passing parade…Not able to make it to Paris? Your neighborhood Starbucks will do.  Anywhere you can sit and observe busy pedestrian traffic.

Watch the people walking by. When one catches your eye, really look to see what it was that you noticed.  Is there gait off?  Are they sitting into on one side or the other? Do they have the iPhone hunch? What’s their mood?  How much information can you get as they walk towards or away from you?  Write down your observations.  What did you see? Now, pretend they’re a new client, what would you do?


The Spark
The Escalators
Photograph by Mavis CW via Unsplash
Exercise #2 – Ride the Escalators

When I first started teaching I lived near a mall with tons of escalators.  While I was riding up the escalator I would stare at the shoes of the people a few steps up.  It was fascinating, and a little frightening to see how unevenly the heels were worn. I was amazed that some of the people could walk.  I made it a game. Could I see, in the length of an escalator ride, where the imbalance was? If they came to me what exercises would I give them?


The Spark
The Spark.
Photograph by Aiden Meyer via Unsplash
Exercise #3 – See like an Artist

This is an exercise I pulled from Betty Edward’s “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”.  It’s called a blind contour drawing and it will help you look at the details, without judgments or assumptions.

You’ll need two pieces of paper and a pen for this exercise.

Take the first piece of paper and crumple it up so it has tons of peaks and valleys. Place it on the table in front of you.

Take another piece of paper and pen and place it out of your line of vision.  This is the paper you’ll be drawing on and you don’t get to look at it.

Look at your crumple.  Follow the lines with your eyes and have the pen follow on the paper at the same rate.  Don’t worry about what your drawing looks like. This is about process not product. If your pen lifts up.  Put it back down on the paper without looking and continue. Draw for as long as you can.  Either you will lose focus or your eyes will get tired. Take a look at your drawing.  If you’ve trusted the process your drawing will be a bit of a mess and have a 3-dimensional quality.

Awesome! You’re on your way to having the superpower of observation!

With your new superpower, you’ll have all the information you need to see through everything. Yup, clothing, imbalances and cheating! What’s the next step? Using your powers for good to choose exactly the right exercises for your client.


Armed with these exercises, it’s time for you to step up and take action.

In the comments below, tell me…

How have you used your powers of observation this week?

Which exercises are you committed to trying in the coming weeks?

What are your outcomes?

I’d love to hear from you.

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