Your Professional Educational Development Fund: Why, How & Now!

August 21, 2009

By Rebecca Leone (aka the Suze Orman of Pilates)

The problem: Teachers often bemoan the challenges they face in order to afford continuing their Pilates education. And especially in this horrible economy, money is standing in the way of many teachers continuing to enrich their skills. Have you read in your local paper how college enrollments are way up? That’s true pretty much all over the U.S. because many of us are using this tough economic time as a catalyst to go back to school and get a whole lot smarter.

Although some educators are busier than ever, many have been struggling; the cancellation of the 2009 PMA conference is evidence of that, and I’ve been wondering why our industry isn’t experiencing the same shift toward education that the general population is. Why indeed—especially when it’s so easy to fundraise within your own schedule or within your own studio to subsidize or pay completely for the cost of continuing your education.

Kit's workshop last year in Grand Cayman

Kit's workshop last year in Grand Cayman

As an educator, I specialize in giving you what you need, so the following is a step-by-step plan to get you off the bench and back in action as the quarterback of your education game.

But first, in order for this to work, you’ve got to dismiss thoughts about how you’ve been unable to figure this out in the past. Hit the “erase” button on the voices looping in the soundtrack of your mind about how there’s no way you can spend money these days. Open your mind, soften your heart and unleash your soul to embrace a new possibility. After all, when what we’ve been doing hasn’t delivered the desired result, it’s time to try it another way. A better way. A way that works.

Okay? O-kay!

The solution: I’m going to lay out ideas about how to pay for attending two types of educational workshops. The first one is in the short term–it’s happening this year, it spans nine days and will teach you a revenue-generating ancillary skill. The second one is long term–it’s happening next year, it spans a weekend and focuses on the teaching of Pilates proper.

Now, I’m not implying that the financing strategies that follow will work exactly as written for everyone, but they will work similarly for many of you–you’ve got to start somewhere and do something so you’ll have more money to foster your own education. Teaching even one more session a week is putting you that much closer to being able to afford an inexpensive training like a single-day workshop or even some new books or DVDs. Rome truly wasn’t built in a day, but surely, someone had a plan and it all started with one simple act. It’s your turn, m’dear–it’s time to see your educational future and run toward it! Let’s go!

Part 1: Short-term, long-format, includes a vacation(!), ancillary: In this first example, I’m going to use the specifics of Kit Laughlin’s Stretch Teacher Training workshop because it’s an opportunity for you to learn from the world’s leading flexibility expert, and his work will revolutionize your ability to help tight clients; tight clients are the ones who grip in their quads on Spine Stretch Forward or Single Leg Circles, who struggle sitting for Stomach Massage or who find Front Splits agony instead of delight. In addition to that, I’m using Kit’s workshop because it’s a long one, it takes place over the two middle weekends in November (Saturday, Sunday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday the 14, 15, 20, 21, 22) and it takes place outside the U.S., on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean. Exotic! And how convenient that included in this format of consecutive weekends is a 4-day synthesis opportunity/vacation for you during the gap. Brilliant!

Pilates people, did you just experience a twinge of guilt imagining yourself in November, enjoying 80 degree weather on sugar sand beaches after having work-shopped all weekend? Well, stop it! Kit’s format is becoming more and more popular because it builds in time to synthesize new information you’ve learned and time to work all that good stuff into your own body, on your own time, in your own unique way. Learning in this format, you’ll return home with much more directly applicable, in-your-pocket material to put to immediate use. I promise.

Expenses. Kit’s full workshop spans nine days and it costs $1149 USD if you register before September 15th. Payment plans are available, and for our example I’ve got you traveling the day before the workshop begins and returning home the day after it ends. That means you’ll be gone a whopping ten days. Based on that length of stay, airfare from Chicago to Grand Cayman is $232, from Seattle (my home) airfare is $540, from New York’s JFK air fare is $375 and finally, from Los Angeles air fare is $505; for our purposes, we’re using an average of those which is $413. And just so you’ll know, I used Orbitz for my searches and on all stated routes except JFK, Delta was the cheapest fare and out of JFK American Airlines was the cheapest fare.

The host hotel for Kit’s workshop, Comfort Suites, is $156 USD per night, double occupancy, and that includes all taxes, high-speed internet and breakfast. There’s also a microwave, toaster oven and small fridge in every room. For an extra $15 a night, you can get a room with a full kitchen–I’ve already got mine reserved! If you’re going alone, you’ll still be able to share a room with another attendee because any good host – and Kit’s host in the Caymans is excellent–will offer to serve as a housing clearing house for all attendees and will be happy to hook you up with another attendee for you to share hotel expenses. The estimated hotel expense for the ten-night stay, double occupancy, is $780.

For food, or should I say food and (umbrella) drinks, will run you about $20 a day if you eat in and about double that if you eat out. We’ll plan on a little of both and estimate our food and beverage costs to be $350. A big straw hat, extra sun block, a souvenir coconut bra and surf board rental total another $250.

The total estimated cost for Kit’s training is:

Workshop: $1,149

Airfare: $413

Hotel: $780

Food & beverage: $350

Miscellaneous: $250

Total: $2,942

Financing plan. Assuming you don’t have the ability to pay for this up front and/or as you incur the expenses, be prepared to put it on a credit card.

Repayment plan. Open an additional three privates a week on your teaching schedule. I will assume you earn at least $30 an hour for a private so this will generate an additional $90 of income a week, after taxes we’ll figure this will generate an additional $320 of income a month.

Here’s the super important part of this plan: Earmark that increased income for repaying your credit card debt (and don’t you dare spend it on anything else). Be sure to make payments to your credit card with every paycheck so you develop discipline and increased motivation to pay off the sucker.

If you have time to open even more teaching hours, the payback accelerates. If you work in a larger studio with more teachers on staff where you can cover for vacations and illness, this is usually an easy way to generate increased revenue. If you work alone or in a small studio, it’s more challenging but totally possible. What was that? You said you don’t have time to teach more? How about this: cut out a couple hours of TV a week and there you go–more time, like a gift from the universe especially for you.

Now, to maximize our investment in education, we’ve got to blatantly exploit our revenue-expanding capabilities by capturing revenue that many of our clients are currently spending elsewhere: in yoga, in personal training sessions at the gym, etc. But in order to do that, you’ve got to start planning at least six weeks before attending an ancillary skills workshop to make sure you’re able to hit the ground running with the programming of your new classes immediately upon your return. Make sure all your clients are educated about and know what to expect from your new offerings– you’re doing this for them, after all!

Kit’s work does not rely on Pilates experience, so it’s a fantastic opportunity to bring folks from outside the studio into the studio–market stretch classes or any new ancillary skill widely within your community, not just to your current studio client base. If you work for someone else, in order to do this you may well have to tell them how it is.

Why? There’s no better time than the present to take charge of your teaching and compensation destiny. Why else? By expanding your education base you’re becoming a rain maker and rain makers ensure their own success. Be powerful! Take charge! Get stuff done! Tell them that in exchange for you having paid for yourself to go and get better educated without any help from them other than them graciously allowing you to take the time off, you expect to keep a certain amount of the revenue from your group stretch classes.

Reasonable people will think that’s fair enough, but even if you’ve got an unreasonable person on your hands, you still have options. In fact, you have even more options. Offer stretch classes at other studios, or, better yet, rent a room at a community center or church, have your stretch classes there and keep all the profit the class generates. As a zero-overhead option, if you live where the weather cooperates, embrace Joe and Kit’s philosophy of vibrant health and communing with nature and teach stretch classes outside in parks; there are only a few jurisdictions in the U.S. that prevent this, so check with your local parks department to make sure you’re on the right side of the legal line.

But back to staying within the studio lines. You can appropriately feature Kit’s work in any mat class, private or semi-private session you teach, but it’s also a real money-maker to put a straight-up stretch class on the schedule, so that’s what you’re going to do. Let’s say you offer two stretch classes a week and price them at $20 each or with a punch card that lowers the price to $15 per class. Your promotion of the classes and your clients’ desire to become more flexible should produce class attendance of between five and 12 clients. We’ll use an average attendance of eight at $15 per for total revenue of $120 per class, adjusted for taxes we’ll figure that leaves you with two classes a week at about $100 per class for an additional $800 a month toward paying off your Kit workshop.

Here’s the summary of our debt & monthly repayment plan:

Total Workshop Debt: $2,942

Monthly repayment plan

Additional Privates: $320

Stretch Classes: $800

Monthly payment: $1,120

If you’re anywhere close to hitting these numbers, you’d have Kit’s workshop paid off, including interest in three to four months. Even if your revenue earning plan isn’t 100 percent realistic, you’ll still be making great strides to pay off the debt and will have it done, even under dire fiscal circumstances, within four to six months.

When you break it down, plan well and have fiscal discipline, anything is possible– even a winter-time Caribbean vacation with a revenue-building, skill-enhancing, transforming educational experience thrown in. Hey Cabana Boy…!

Part 2: Long-term, short-format, directly related to Pilates. The educational scenario we’re using as our second example is the 2010 PMA conference in Long Beach, California. It’s always the first weekend in November, so for 2010 that would be Friday, November 5th through Sunday, November 7th.

As you may know, within the confines of the three-day PMA educational conference, only historic Pilates-related education is presented and ancillary topics are covered in the pre- and post-conference workshops that happen on Thursday, November 4th and in the afternoon after the closing of the official conference on Sunday, November 7th. Previously, pre- and post-conference ancillary content (like Red Cord, Integrated Work, etc.) is not sufficient to qualify you to teach what you’ve learned there, so it can’t be compared to a workshop like Kit’s, which is multi-day and purposely designed to expand your skills by qualifying you to teach a new discipline. Put more simply, pre- and post-conference workshops at the PMA do not qualify you to teach anything you weren’t already qualified to teach. It’s a better you, it’s just not a brand-new you.

If you don’t do the pre-conference and post-conference workshops, you can arrive early Friday morning, stay Friday and Saturday nights, and the conference ends early enough on Sunday for outbound flights to get you all the way back home so you can spend Sunday night in your own bed and work your usual shift on Monday. However, I don’t think that’s very reasonable so for our planning purposes, so I’m adding in a third night stay. The host hotel normally runs about $170 a night, double occupancy, and the PMA does offer room-sharing clearinghouse services, so you’ll be able to find a roommate if you want one. Thus, we’re going to estimate your hotel costs at $255 for a three-night stay.

Early Bird registration has been running right around $500, and I bet they’ll offer payment plans next year like they did this past spring. There are some excellent pre- and post-cons–Irene Dowd is my favorite–and I’m budgeting for you to attend at least one of them so in addition to the $500 registration fee, we’ll add another $200 for a pre-mor post-conference workshop, so for our planning purposes, I’m figuring on a registration fee of $700. And even with a post-con, depending on where you live, you could still make it home Sunday night, which would cut your hotel costs by a third, but we’ll plan high just to be safe.

I’m definitely estimating airfares because trips can’t be booked that far in advance, so I’m unable to run some sample routings. For our purposes we’re going to assume the fares are similar to Kit’s Grand Cayman workshop and use $413–this will most certainly prove to be high. In past years the PMA has included in your registration fee a free breakfast and lunch so our food and beverage costs in Long Beach will be around $175 and that’s for dinner and drinks for three nights. I’m not sure I’ll be invited to the VIP party again, but if I am, I’ll RSVP that I’m bringing an additional 100 guests and we’ll see if we can’t all eat together for free one of those nights! (Note to self: it’s precisely this type of behavior that may well result in me not being invited!)

We’re going to plan for a generous spending budget for PMA that’s much larger than for other workshops you might attend because the PMA conference is the Big Show in our industry. Past years have pulled about 1,000 people from 30 countries, and everyone who’s anyone in our industry is there. That means the Expo Hall is packed full of vendors selling all sorts of must-haves (Come see Heidi and me at our booth!) and it’s Mecca for us Pilates people. We’ll budget so that you can take advantage of the PMA conference deals that most of the vendors offer and stock up on clothes, software, props, springs, and anything else that strikes your fancy. We’re allowing a whopping $500 spending money in the Expo hall.

So, here’s our 2010 PMA cost recap:

2010 PMA Conference Registration: $700

Airfare: $413

Hotel: $255

Food & Beverage: $175

Expo Hall Retail Therapy: $500

Total: $2,043

Financing plan. If we assume the same schedule expansion of adding three privates a week to your current teaching book, you’ll earn an additional $320 monthly that you can put toward your 2010 PMA educational fund. If you’re anywhere close to hitting these numbers, you’ll have your PMA fund full in less than seven months and you’ll be all set to pay for your PMA conference expenses at the time you incur the charges–no credit card debt!

Keep it rolling. If you keep your fund refreshing whether or not you have a plan for how to spend it, you’ll always have money to draw from to use for your own educational advancement and you’ll be able, as the whim strikes you, to say yes to a workshop that you not have otherwise considered attending. Isn’t that great? See how easy it would be to do both of these workshops, or even both in the same year? Speaking of which, when I pull out of Long Beach in 2010, I’m heading straight for Kit and his annual workshop in the Caymans . . . come on and go with me!

If you have any questions or need to brainstorm ideas on how to accomplish any of this, comment and I will answer. We’ll work together to make your own individual plan and the rest, dear Pilates person, is up to you. Isn’t that exciting?!

Click here to view a full gallery from Kit’s workshop last year.


Flexibility Training: Pilates, Yoga, PNF and a man named Kit

July 17, 2009

By Rebecca Leone

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about flexibility and how brilliant Joe was to install right into the historic Pilates method the very same type of flexibility training that has come to be a staple in athletic training: stretch through strength.

Knowing Joe as most of us do—through his books, films, photographs, marketing materials (his, not ours) and through newspaper, magazine and periodical articles in which he was interviewed and quoted extensively —it’s hard to imagine him sitting still through a long dinner with friends, let alone a yoga class. Fortunately for us, historic Pilates is chock full of exercises that will stretch the heck out of you—if you’re strong enough to do it to yourself.I’m reminded of Aretha Franklin’s riff at the end of one of her more spirited recordings of “Respect,” where she says, “No thank you, I’ll get it myself!”

In Pilates, the Up Stretch on push-through bar is identical to Downward Dog in yoga, only in Pilates, if your back and hamstrings are going to stretch, they’re going to stretch because you are so awesomely strong that you can pull yourself up, up, up in spite of our needy friend, Mr. Gravity, pulling down, down, down on us. Other than a few extras like Fluffy Stretches, Ballet Stretches on the Ladder Barrel, Hip Stretch on Cadillac and the like, there’s really not much in historic Pilates that puts you in a position and leaves you there for time, gravity and your body weight to do the work.

Unlike yoga, Joe’s method is all about stretch through strength. Back in January 2005, when I attended the Sports Medicine Congress at the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships and heard the keynote speaker, Dr. Sands, MD, Ph.D, answer questions about flexibility, he said the athletic training programs he’s in charge of (at that time, 27 of them at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs) used the stretch through strength method of training. At the same time, I was eyeball-deep in my University of Washington Sports Medicine and Human Performance program, and I was learning the same thing about flexibility there, too.

Dr. Sands’ speech helped me understand, in a “oh God, he’s talking directly to me” kind of way that if we’re going to release our own bodies and have pathways for our strength instead of being bound by it, we have to be able to do it ourselves. We can’t rely on trainers, massage therapists, yoga or Pilates teachers to give us what we need every single day for ourselves. Ideally, we have to do it ourselves, on our own, without contraptions, equipment, props, etc.

So what do most folks do when they’re tight? They go to yoga class in the same seeking way that when people have a bad back, they go to Pilates class. Yoga, like Pilates, is an unregulated field so the unsuspecting public, whether in search of a good stretch or a strong back, has no way of knowing if their yoga or Pilates teachers have completed appropriate education. That’s a bit scary, and both industries have the lawsuits to prove it.

My own lack of flexibility had red-lined toward the end of last year, so at my first opportunity, I carved out some time to try to do something about flexibility code red . I was actually thinking about going to yoga school when I discovered a better solution, for me anyway. I discovered Kit Laughlin.

Kit Laughlin is a stretching guru, the master of the contract-release stretching discipline, and not only is his method easy to do on your own, he’s come up with ways to get at every single set of muscles in the body. It’s perfectly consistent with safe spinal mechanics, and it’s a gorgeous complement to well-taught Pilates. And I want to make sure you realize one more thing about Kit’s work that clearly separates it from the type of flexibility built by a yoga practice: Because of the muscle contraction, you’re building strength in your Brand-new ranges of motion. How great is that? Strong built into flexible, just like in Joe’s work.

More about my man Kit.

Kit unloads the spine to stretch it; he doesn’t work a muscle in the contracted position in order to stretch the opposing muscles (the Pilates corollary there is Pull Straps stretching the chest), and after a five-day workshop with him, plus a half-day class added in on top, I’m hooked.

And as a surprising and delightful bonus for me personally as an educator in working with Kit, he not only uses many of the same educational slides that I do, he explains safe spinal mechanics the same way I do, and he also shares my opinions on chiropractic and yoga. And talk about uptake! I was able to use every single bit of what he taught me right away and ever since. Simpatico!

I love Kit Laughlin and I think you will, too.

But wait, there’s more!

Check out the photos on his website, and you’ll see that this is way more results-oriented than any other mainstream form of flexibility training. Those nine-week results are positively thrilling!

But before I go any more Kit-crazy, let’s learn a bit about the contract-release method of flexibility training upon which he built his method. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching came out of the PT world in the middle of the 20th century, and it’s a form of flexibility training that involves a contraction held for some number of seconds, then a full release of the muscle being stretched, then the gentle migration to a greater range of motion. It’s well documented that PNF interrupts the stretch reflex, the nasty grip that makes our muscles even shorter when we stretch too aggressively or with improper technique. The great thing about PNF stretching is that the results are dramatic and rapid.

If you’re a hoops fan, this is the type of stretching you’ll see many trainers performing on the players before the game during warm-ups. It’s commonly used in virtually all athletic training, and because so many of us are doing more strength training without adding the requisite flexibility training to offset the binding results, it’s made its way into the mainstream fitness world.

Note to teachers: PNF stretching is not in the professional scope of practice for Pilates teachers unless you have separate training that puts it there. I happen to, but if you don’t, it’s easy to put it in. Look around the web for stretch teacher-training workshops in your area, and you’ll be able to do a 2–7 day course to get stretch legally in your scope.

If you haven’t taken some stretch training and don’t want to, you’ll be delighted to know that OPTP makes a Stretch Out Strap ™ (SOS™) that puts PNF stretching safely in the hands of your own clients—you don’t have to touch them, and, thus, you’ll stay technically within your professional scope—and there are books and videos that help clients understand how to do PNF stretching for themselves. The only problem I was having with PNF stretching as a solution to my own tightness dilemma is that the SOS™ didn’t get at enough of my muscle groups. (And then there’s my seemingly petty complaint that when you’re doing PNF on yourself using the SOS™, you’re really ending in a net zero—you use the strength of your upper body to stretch your lower body when, really, I just want to be stretchy all over, all at the same time.)

As much as I love the good folks at OPTP and the SOS™, it wasn’t the fix for me. Kit was the fix for me, and here’s why.

In Kit’s 5-day workshop back in May, not only did I shatter the buildup of tightness I’ll been amassing for decades of hard use of my strong muscles, but I’ve maintained the ranges of motion I established in those 5 days with him in May, as he promised I would by repeating his protocol only twice a week.

And get this. While Kit was taking my tight hip flexors very personally and helping me release them with his strong and authoritative touch, he kept asking, “What do you feel, what do you feel?” and I surprised myself by actually being able to speak. While he was “assisting” me, I was sweating 40 weight, I was working harder in stillness than I ever have in movement and I was completely unaware of my brain formulating a response. I said that I felt like glass was shattering inside me; big panes of glass, shattering and falling; inside me. That’s what it felt like.

Kit said it was not uncommon for strong, tight people to feel that exact way, as if glass is shattering. He said the sensation is caused by (have you guessed?) the fascial plane breaking up and that as long as I’m maintaining my new expansive ranges of motion, it will never build up again.

To give you a specific, before going to Kit’s workshop I could sit Cross-legged for less than 10 seconds, and even then, my knees were practically under my arms and my hips were so tight they were barking at me just trying to grab my legs and fold them under me to get into the position in the first place. I used that position and time as a “before” to help me measure the results of Kit’s work in my body. Guess what? When I left his course, I could sit cross-legged for 7 minutes. Comfortably. Get a load of me!

I’ll be with Kit again in November down on Grand Cayman, where he’s teaching a workshop on how to teach his contract-release method of stretching to groups in a class setting . . . why don’t you meet me there? For more info, visit