Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Elephant in the Ballet

I actually went to a Pilates class. Yep. Someone told me how great it was and I just had to try it out. I expected it to be simlar to my Yoga class three years ago. I still have vivid memories of that experience...

Dark room. Soothing music. Incredibly flexible classmates. Strong urge to bolt from the classroom. Sweating profusely three minutes into the warm up. Up dog. Down boy (or dog). Child's pose. Sitting, kneeling, stretching, grunting in a puddle of perspiration. By the end of the grueling hour, I looked like I just stepped out of the shower. Why was I the only one who felt (and looked) like we were exercising in a sauna? The worst part was the relaxation period at the end. It caused me great anxiety. The little instructor lady, the one who made every pose seem way easier than it was, began to go from participant to participant--kindly providing a cranial-facial massage to aid the relaxation.

Skip me....Skip me....SKIP ME. My head is a soaken wet mess. SKIP ME. Please. Trust me, you won't want to touch this scalp. My silent prayers went unanswered. She didn't skip me. It couldn't have been any more unpleasant for her than it was for me. I wanted to offer her the little towel I brought to class--but it had been drenched since the second child's pose.
My calfs and hamstrings were sore for five days.

So why on earth would I try Pilates? I'm still not sure.

When I arrived at the gym Monday night, I was five minutes late. Thanks to the invisible train that I never saw go by, me and dozens of other travelers were at least five minutes late to our destinations (sometimes its tough living on the wrong side of the tracks). However, it appeared there was no class. I must have made some mistake. The room was dark. 'Must have read the schedule wrong', I supposed. I was just about to turn around and hit a treadmill when I saw movement through the window. Apparently class was in session. In the dark.
Uh-oh. Yoga flashback.

Dark room? Check.
Soothing music? Check.
Incredibly flexible classmates? Check.
Strong urge to bolt from the classroom. Check.
I could already feel little beads of sweat beginning to form on my brow.

I quickly scanned the room to see what equipment I needed to gather. Exercise ball. Mat. Square base from a step aerobics step (still not sure what that was for). Mental note: Nobody is wearing shoes or socks.
After emerging from the equipment room, I quickly scanned the room for an empty spot.
Back right corner--taken by a guy.
Back left corner--occupied by a guy.
Front right corner--another guy.
Front left corner--yep. Taken by a guy.
Pilates guys are smart. Get as far out of the way as possible so nobody notices how poorly you do pilates.

Lucky me. An open spot right in the middle. Good thing I'm so small. Nobody will even notice me.

I joined the group during the middle of the ball exercises. Everyone was balancing so nicely with their head and shoulders on the ball and their feet out in front of them braced on the floor. Arms extended to assist in balancing (I didn't notice people's arms until I almost fell off my ball). "Raise your hips as high as you can, clench your glutes." I think we repeated that movement about 150 times. Good thing I came when I did. I bet they did already did 200 before I got there. "Now switch to single. Rest one leg on the other". Oops. Almost fell off the ball again. I think I like double better.

My rear end was on fire.

The next fifty minutes were more or less a blur. I remained focussed on my commitment to make it through without bolting from class. I did notice most others in the class (well, at least the people on either side of me) were so graceful, strong, and precise in their movements. It made me feel like an elephant in the middle of a ballet class. My legs were shaking. So were my abs. By the end, my arms were too.

Here were a few of the lowlights.

The V thing (I don't know the real name for this exercise). You lay on your back and lift your torso off the floor and your legs off the floor--at the same time! Yikes! Amazingly I did it. Sort of. I couldn't hold the "V" like the lady on my right. But hey, at least I got there. Sort of. "If you can't hold yourself in position, that's OK, we'll work up to it". Good ida. Let's work up to it. I like this instructor. I think someone called her Michelle.

Legs over head, butt in air (don't know the real name of this one either). It seemed so easy for most of the class. They just lifted their straight legs up and all the way over their heads so just their shoulders and head were touching the floor. I wasn't even close. Probably just for me Pilates Instructor Michelle created a "level one" version of this exercise. From that point on, I think I fell in love with the "level one" versions of everything.

Child's pose (oh, I do know that one) Piece of cake for a yoga veteran like myself.

Inner thigh leg lifts--The problem with this exercise is that the leg I was lifting wasn't as sore as the leg bent over the front that was supposed to be doing nothing. That leg (hip actually) hurt like mad. Pilates Instructor Michelle seemed to sense my agony. "If your hip feels sore on the stationary leg, move it to the back and it will take the strain off." Good call Pilates Instructor Michelle. It feels way better in back.

When it was all over, I actually felt invigorated rather than exhausted. No pool of perspiration (although my hair was wet) and only mild muscular aching. I think I actually might try pilates again. Especially if Pilates Instructor Michelle remains committed to allowing the large, uncoordinated participants to "work up to it".

The best part of Pilates class was what didn't happen at the end. No cranial-facial massage.

Pilates Instructor Michelle's most oft' used line of the night: "Great job. You all look so strong" (I pretended she was also talking to me).

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