Ep 39: Cognitive overload – A trap laid with best intentions.

Welcome to Episode 39…another wonderful exploration with James Crader. We’re just so damn excited to have him as a part of the team…the conversations we’ve had on and off recording have been incredibly rich, stirring up all kinds of edgy and fun topics we can’t wait to share with you.

In this episode James and I use one of his recent articles titled: “What They’re really saying is…”, which we’ve linked to in the show notes. In the article James shares a teaching experience, perhaps you’d even call it an epiphany, and it has everything to do with listening to what are students are NOT telling us, what they’re NOT saying.

We dive into some really cool stuff I’ve been exploring this past year including: how the brain learns, cognitive overload, and top-down vs. bottom-up processing. There are some really great ideas in this episode…AND of course, lots of laughs. We hope you enjoy listening. 

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us! We want to hear from you. All the ways in which you can reach us are below…



Our hero for this episode is Dr. Dan Siegel, author of the book “Mindsight.” Dr. Siegel is a is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. He is also the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute.

Among other topics, Dr. Siegel explores mindfulness, the mind and brain and interpersonal neurobiology. His work is relevant to us as teachers because it helps us understand another aspect of the human experience as well as the depth of how we form relationships with our bodies, ourselves, and the world.

Dr. Siegel’s work has made a significant impression on both James and I and we hope you enjoy exploring it for yourself.

Other books by Siegel that you might enjoy: Mind, Healing Trauma, The Mindful Brain.

Pro Tip


Our Pro Tip for this episode is to play with Open Questions. 

This may not seem like a very unique idea, but open questions, are a significant part of many coaching and therapeutic methods that not allows a practitioner to extrapolate information from a student’s own insights and internal experiences, but helps the teacher to shift from the perspective of needing to know, to being comfortable not knowing; shifting the priority to curiosity and listening rather than problem solving and fixing.

Open questions are a critical part of a method called Motivational Interviewing and used to help a person discover for themselves the truth of their situation; to become more aware of their current state, their motivations, and space between where they are and where they want to go.

Open questions, are just what they sound like: NOT yes or no questions. They’re questions that evoke a thoughtful response.

Scenario: When you’re student is struggling with achieving a movement, instead of cueing them to correct, try asking questions like:

  1. How could you do x differently?
  2. Can you tell me what x feels like right now as you push out/pull in/roll back et cetera.?
  3. Pause for a moment, and rest. Can you tell me where you’re feeling the strongest sensation? (You could direct their attention to an area of the body for more specific inquiry and insight.)
  4. How would you describe what it feels like to x (roll back, roll up, curl up, push down… ).
  5. If you could choose one word to describe how this movement feels, what would it be?

These open questions empower the student to feel their experience rather than think their experience. Feeling experience — felt sense — can be a much more powerful guide for a student when developing new strategies. It allows the strategies to arise out of the current state of the body rather than to be manufactured based on some string of things they have to DO.

This kind of questioning promotes bottom-up processing rather than top-down. Open questions can help us bypass cognitive overload (CO) AND shift out of CO. When a student is experiencing CO, they stop processing, they stop listening, they stop being able to feel and it often triggers other fears: “I’m not capable. I’m not good/smart/fit enough to do this.” And more.

Open questions allow us to reframe the movement experience and shift the “authoring” of the work from us to them. We’re not in charge. We’re just witnessing and nudging.

How can you nudge your students toward a more bottom-up experience using open questions?

Your mission, should you choose to accept it:

Next time you’re inclined to cue your student out of trouble, DON’T! Instead ask an open question. Keep it simple. See if you can get them to author their own experience; to notice what’s really happening within them and allow that to lead them.

Can’t wait to hear how this goes! Share with us via email or the comments below!



Evolved Body Blog by James Crader as referred to in this podcast:

“What They’re Really Saying Is…”

“Why I Don’t Teach Fitness”

And we want to bring you back around to Vanessa Rodriguez’ book “The Teaching Brain” as she dives pretty deeply into the topics we’ve broached in this podcast.


Connect With Us

Reach us Individually

  • Chantill – chantill@skillfulteaching.com
    • Phone – (707) 738-7951
  • Debora – dkolwey@gmail.com
  • James – evolvedbody@yahoo.com

Thinking Pilates Podcast - Connect with Us

3 replies
  1. Lynn Pringle
    Lynn Pringle says:

    Once again, another fascinating and relevant topic. I think we all tend to fall into cueing people way too much, myself included. We can’t help but be guilty. Why we do so is perhaps a topic for another time. I have definitely had clients say the same thing….so many things to think about. And then I realize, that I have gone and done it again. I don’t think all cueing is bad, but we really need to pick and choose just one or two things to say so we don’t overload the exercise. But what really got me thinking about too much cueing was after doing two of the training courses to work with people on Daniel Vledeta’s OOv. Working on the OOv means we take people that are 3D beings, and train them on a 3D prop, that makes you connect to your core via your fascial lines. By connecting the disconnects in any given fascial line, people find their three dimensional support. And what’s most interesting is that you cue the very basic movement and that’s it! You are forced into right brain and have to feel, experience and adjust in the very moment. So it becomes an objective rather than subjective experience. In essence the person with very little guidance, connects their facial lines to get there core support. The body will use what ever it needs at that moment in time. So there is no need for all the cues we use in Pilates on a two dimensional surface trying to teach three dimensional movement. This began my re-thinking how to try and find this same method when clients are not on the OOv. It’s been a very interesting challenge for me.

    • Chantill
      Chantill says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Lynn! And for being such an awesome supporter of the podcast 🙂 You’re definitely right, WHY we cue so much is definitely an entire conversation and I know Debora, James, and I are totally into having it.

      The way I talk about this particular issue is that we are driven to GIVE. We, as teachers, want to share everything we’ve got with our students and we want do to a good job. Of course!! Developmentally, our students need guidance and a framework, something — instruction — that gives them a container to learn in, to create context. They also need the breakdown…sometimes. And it’s developmental both for the student and the teacher. Cueing is important to an extent in the beginning to establish the learning context. Cueing is appropriate for the teacher in the beginning because WE are also establishing context. If we didn’t there wouldn’t be any place for us to go. I think what the OOv does is gives us the context, kinesthetically rather than cognitively. In this way the OOv informs where we typically use words. It really is fascinating.

      I’d love to break this topic wide open and see what others have to say about their potential over cueing. Do you think you do it? Why? Have you ever given it any thought? What are the common indicators of cognitive overload you see in your students? What’s your experience with the OOv and how does it fit into this puzzle?

      Awesome to hear from you Lynn! And thanks again for your fervor and dedication…

  2. Len Palombi
    Len Palombi says:

    Oh my gosh, I think I’m in cognitive overload just listening to this podcast. So many interesting ideas. Here are a few of my thoughts: On performing a movement right or wrong – I think some of this comes from Joe telling us to do the exercise correctly. Instead of right and wrong, I think Joe meant moving more efficiently. Joe was an inventor. He was all about efficient movement. All of his apparatus was designed to help train the body to move efficiently by using the optimal combination of muscles, uniform development through uniform usage. Movement efficiency also factored into Joe’s belief in doing a minimal number of reps. He felt that after 5 to 7 reps of an exercise the performance began to degrade and it was time to move on to the next. Regarding cuing, Brent Anderson, founder of Polestar Pilates teaches “no muscle cues”. His rationale is that for any given movement there are more muscles involved than we can articulate or that the student would even recognize let alone be able to activate by hearing the name. He prefers using bony landmarks, e.g., for a bicep curl, rather than contract your bicep, say bring your hand to your shoulder. Regarding the OOV, I agree with Lynn. Because the body always wants to be in balance and because the OOV creates an unstable surface, if forces the body to find the right combination of muscles to maintain balance. Hence the stabilizer muscles activate. Just like the learning to walk example in the podcast. Often you will see a client shaking when moving on the OOV. According to Daniel Vladeta, the inventor, this is the brain getting confused and trying to find the right combination of muscles to stabilize, reprogramming the neural network, like learning to walk. Once the client can sense those muscles working, they can access them going forward to move more efficiently without having to be cued. Can you imagine trying to verbally cue someone how to walk? These comments only scratch the surface but I hope they will fuel the conversation.


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