How I came to teach Pilates as a partially sighted person

Instructor Emma Hillyard on why you can overcome any fears or barriers to get the career you want

An open leg rocker in Pilates. Photo: Wikihow
‘I wanted to set up small group classes so that I was able constantly to monitor every client’s body movement.’ Photo: Wikihow
I trained initially to become a dancer and performer. But towards the end of college, I was noticing huge changes with my eyes, and so following movement visually and performing with bright lights in theatres became very difficult. In fact, it was making my vision worse.

I should say here that I was born with a rare eye condition called cone-rod dystrophy, which gradually can lead to blindness. Of course it varies from each person and, touch wood, mine so far has only been a gradual deterioration. I am now at the stage of being partially sighted (with glasses on).

This means life can be tough, with simple tasks very difficult. I really struggle even just walking around the corner to catch a bus, as I can no longer even see the bus let alone its number until it’s stopped right in front of me. I often trip over objects when out, or up and down steps if I’m on my own.

After finishing college, I was at the point of having little hope for finding work; I thought I would be stuck doing nothing forever.


Emma Hillyard: ‘Never let any condition stop you following your dreams.’
I decided in my massive amounts of free time to join an exercise class to keep up my fitness. The class was Pilates – and this is where the chapter in my life changed.

For the uninitiated, Pilates is a form of controlled exercises which improve strength, flexibility, posture and mental awareness. I was able to keep up with the class as it was at a slower pace than some others, and included a lot of imagery.

From this point, I told myself that this was what I wanted to teach. With my family’s support, I was able to find a course and do all my written work at home with a programme that spoke to me.

I wanted to set up small group classes to monitor every client’s body movement so that each could achieve perfection. I wanted to have a class that worked on helping people focus on connecting their mind with body; speaking and teaching my classes in a way that they could follow, even if they were to close their eyes.

Most importantly, I wanted to show people that they should have no barriers. I would find a way around any injury, problem, or fear they had with doing exercise. I wanted to prove that nothing should stop you doing anything.

I ended up passing my course with flying colours and setting up what I had dreamed of teaching. So now I have two mat-based and two senior chair Pilates classes a week.

I teach in a lovely studio in Kentish Town, where I was born and raised, with lighting at just the right level for my eyes. It’s also spacious enough so that my clients can be comfortably apart from each other, and I can move around safely.

The feedback has been amazing and people seem to love my attention to detail, which they say they don’t get from other classes.

What I’ve learnt through all this is that no one should ever let any condition or situation stop them following your dreams. You may have to work harder, find other ways around doing things and ask people for more help than you would like, but it’s all worth it.

And just think: you could inspire others to go and follow their dreams too.

This is box title
The details for Emma’s Just Unique Pilates classes are: Mat Pilates, Weds 6-7pm and Fri 10-11am at Kentish Town Community Centre (17 Busby Place NW5). Senior Chair Pilates are on Fridays 12.15-1pm at Denton Sheltered housing/2.30-3.15pm at Cressfield. Please email or find more info here

  • Show Comments