Pilates for dummies

Here is a dirty little secret no one ever mentions in time: if you don’t start doing something about it early, say when you’re ten, at age sixty-six your joints replace that nice soft cartilage with cement. Or concrete. I keep getting those two mixed up. In any event, one day you are springing out of bed ready to face the world and every task it holds and the next day you are bent over like that creepy pale thing in Lord of the Rings and you start whining just like him, too. This is the sort of thing that ought to be in books with snappy titles like “How to Age Gracefully in Just Eighty Years.” Those sorts of books are instead filled with helpful hints such as “Stay positive” and “Think happy thoughts” when what we really want to know is how do we get our knees unlocked.

In an admittedly belated effort to regain some semblance of flexibility and by some semblance of flexibility I mean being able to dress myself at least three days a week, I signed up for a yoga/Pilates class. Unfortunately, just signing up for the class does not, in and of itself, make you more flexible. You actually (oh, the humanity) have to go to the class and (gasp) participate. This is how I found myself on a slightly used yoga mat that emanated the faint but very real odor of despair in a room full of people who were either contortionists or extremely loosely jointed. Just like in seventh grade health class, I headed for the far reaches of the room, the better to hide my lack of flexibility/balance/ability to follow simple commands (more on that later). The instructor was nice and quite toned. You could have played “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” on her quadriceps tendons. Down we went to our mats (thank you, gravity) and the class began. We did all sorts of warm-up stretches with the class regulars flowing from one exercise to the next. I, the newbie, didn’t flow so much as I stumbled. I struggled to flex when the instructor said flex and extend when the instructor said extend. In addition to this madness, I was expected to inhale or exhale on demand, often in short panting breaths. It was like the Lamaze class from hell except I wasn’t pregnant, had no support partner, and ended up with hyperventilation instead of a baby. Most of the class looked like floating lotuses or lilies on the pond or some other serene visage. I was kicking around like I was drowning in the pond. We did this bicycle pedaling thing lying on our sides. During the summer, I ride about 200 miles a week on my bike. If there was one thing I felt fairly secure about, it was making a bike pedaling motion. What an idiot. I’m used to pedaling with my feet, you know, on the pedals. Hanging down. Aided by that great gravity stuff.

The class was scheduled to last 60 minutes. After an interminable span of asking my body to perform tasks for which it is obviously unsuited, I looked at the clock to see seven minutes had elapsed. Once we were past the warm-up phase the intensity ratcheted up exponentially. I don’t mean to be indelicate here but I spent the better part of the next half hour bent over, rolled up, downward dogging, and trying all the while not to have a major gastro-intestinal event on my mat. Five minutes in, I felt pretty secure about containment. Ten minutes in, I started bargaining with my higher power to let it be only a minor event. Twenty minutes in, I thought about putting my mask back on, skulking out of class, and entering a witness protection program. But I was way in the back, remember, and surrounded by men. Men are infamous for minor gastro-intestinal events. My higher power and I finally agreed to settle for a minor event I could plausibly blame on one of the guys. I began to re-think the possibilities of the origin of my mat’s odor, not that I’m judging. The plank giveth and the plank taketh away.

In retrospect, worrying about a GI episode was foolish. What I really should have been focused on was getting back up off that mat at the end. Muscles I didn’t know I had were tied into knots. I had a stable full of charley horses that weren’t so much on the back stretch as they were on the stretched back. It took some stern talking to get my muscles to cooperate enough to get out of there. (“There is chocolate in the car! Walk to the car and get chocolate.”) (“No one knows you’re here. If you don’t get up, they’re going to cover you with another smelly mat and leave you here.”)

I’m sure the class will get easier as we go along. We’ll get stronger. More flexible. Fitter. That’s what we’re told anyway. I’ll consider it a success if I can dress myself tomorrow.