Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 78 - Pilates

I have never done Pilates. Like my recent experiences with other exercise routines, the idea of doing Pilates for the first time emerged as a result of my intentions to try new forms of exercise during my “I have never...” journey. With underlying intentions to break through my loathing for organized forms of exercise, I figured making new exercises a part of my “I have never...” year might expose me to a routine that would stick. Additionally, I thought I could gain a lot from my experiences learning and trying new types of exercise.  As a result, I have been making a point to try one new physical fitness genre each month, which resulted in my previous experiences with Yoga and Tai Chi. In an effort to maintain this progress with my fitness goal, I made a point to carve out time this month to try the next form of exercise on my list, Pilates. In turn, I reserved a space in a class at Madison Pilates this evening and made my way to the studio this evening.  

The studio
I arrived at Madison Pilates just before 7:00 pm tonight, unaware of what to expect from my forthcoming Pilates experience. Unlike my previous experiences with Yoga and Tai Chi, I maintained no preconceptions about the origins and effectiveness of Pilates. In fact, I knew next to nothing about the practice and method of the exercise, which left me with an ample amount of uncertainty as I crossed through the threshold of the Pilates studio’s front door. Upon entering the building, I was greeted by three women in workout gear behind an L-shaped counter. I quickly introduced myself as I approached them, which led one of the women, Cassie, to introduce herself and guide me through some preliminary paperwork necessary to participate in the Pilates class. As I filled out the paperwork I met the remaining women behind the counter, Celia and Amy, and explained my “I have never...” objectives. Excited by the idea, Cassie, Celia, and Amy stated they would be happy to help me gain the full Pilates experience and snap some photos of my efforts following my hour long class.

Grateful for their openness, I thanked them before Cassie led me down a hallway and through a room full of strange pieces of equipment I would later learn were called Reformers. I briefly tried to make sense of the pulleys and platforms on the horizontal pieces of equipment as Cassie led me further into the building. We continued through the facility until we came to a small room with two other people lying along the length of large foam logs resting on yoga mats draped over the floor. Confused by their positions, I entered the room and looked around at the half inflated balls, rings, pads, and other apparatuses that lined the walls. I wondered what I was getting myself into as Cassie instructed me to take a position on a nearby Yoga mat, grab a foam log, and mirror the position of the other Pilates students. Despite my reservations, I followed her instructions and prepared for the class to begin.

Over the next hour Cassie guided us through a series of Pilates exercises that consistently tested my balance, dexterity, and physical strength. At first, she had us perform a series of stretching and balancing exercises while balanced on the foam log, which proved both challenging and exhausting. With concentration on working core muscles, the movements of our arms and legs required maintenance of perfect balance while lying horizontal to the ground. The feeling was altogether foreign and slightly confusing, but it was clear the exercises were waking muscles that had been dormant for some time.

Here we go!
Following our exercises on the foam log, Cassie directed us to take a position on the floor. We completed a few more stretching exercises before Cassie presented each of us with a half-deflated rubber ball which would serve as an enhancement to our forthcoming exercises. Initially, we placed the ball between our shoulder blades and completed lower body and abdominal exercises. I could feel my body starting retaliate with sore muscles and fatigue as we transitioned to another series of balancing and core exercises with the ball place between our knees. This pattern continued as we moved the ball to our ankles and completed a round of upper body movements while balanced on our tailbones. While Cassie demonstrated each of the exercises with grace, my weakened body caused me to struggle in my efforts to mirror her movements. Ultimately, I ended up looking more like a fish out of water than I did a grown man doing Pilates.

With another round of exercises complete, Cassie introduced a moderately sized plastic and foam ring for the next exercises in our Pilates class. The sight of the ring confused me at first, but Cassie was quick to explain its intended purpose in helping complete the upcoming exercises. With her instruction, we spent the next 15 minutes stretching the ring between our hands and feet to complete a regimen of exercises focusing on our upper body, our flexibility, and, of course, our core. As we progressed, my worked muscles began burning and showing signs of refusing commands from my brain. I was beginning to doubt my ability to continue as we pressed forward, using a battery of muscles to complete the complex and sophisticated movements as Cassie instructed. Just as doubt began to creep into my mind, Cassie signaled we were approaching the end of the routine, which strengthen my resolve to press on. Moments later, we completed a final round of leg exercises and brought our session to an end. As we wrapped up, Cassie led us through a series of stretches and a brief period of relaxation comparable to Yoga’s Shavasana. Relieved the session was over, I took time to recall the complicated movements and control required to get through the exercises that had occupied the previous hour. Exhausted from the experience, I could only conclude one thing; Pilates is no joke.

 My fellow classmates cleaned up and left the studio shortly after our last round of exercises. Cassie tidied up a bit before making good on her promise of taking a few photographs of me performing Pilates exercises. To my surprise, she offered to take me around the rest of the studio and introduce me to several pieces of equipment that had not been a part of our class. Interested in learning more about the increasingly complex exercise system, I happily accepted her offer, which soon led to Celia and Amy joining us to make recommendations for exercises. With all three instructors now collectively deciding my exercises, I knew I would likely be put to the test.  Based on the first few recommendations, that assumption proved correct.

Trapeze table!
Ladder barrel!

For nearly a quarter of an hour Cassie, Celia, and Amy guided me around the studio, directing me as I performed exercises that left me suspended over a trapeze table, doing sit-ups over a ladder barrel, and doing lunges on a modified, spring-loaded stool with handles. As I flexed and bent to achieve the objectives of each exercise, I compared my efforts to the earlier mat exercises Cassie led me through. With my muscles aching, I tried to find the best way to sum up the experience just as one of the instructor’s asked me about my first attempt at Pilates. “It’s like really difficult Yoga with children’s toys,” I responded, which inspired a round of laughter. Continuing, I explained the fatigue I felt in my muscles and the burning that persisted in my abdomen. “Just wait until tomorrow,” Cassie replied with a smile on her face. I knew what she meant, and I wasn’t looking forward to what tomorrow would bring.

After guiding me through a few more exercises, Cassie, Celia, and Amy walked with me to the front of the building as we prepared to call it a night. We talked briefly about my experience, which led the three of them to encourage me to continue with Pilates. I let them know them time may be limited for such a commitment as a result of my “I have never...” journey, but I thanked them for their enthusiasm and their willingness to help me gain a full Pilates experience. Understanding my time constraints, Cassie, Celia, and Amy reminded me the year will eventually be over and that I’m always welcome to join them for another class. Their hospitality and passion for their work was clear in their statements, which made me realize I was lucky to have had my first Pilates experience with such devoted instructors.

Today’s “I have never...” event was a unique experience with a surprisingly challenging and intricate form of exercise. In the coming days I know I will feel the effects of the routine Cassie guided me through during our class, and I know I will be better for it. If I choose to take on Pilates again, there is no doubt I will make the trip to Madison Pilates. With such capable and professional instructors, I would be doing myself a service by making the effort. After all, the exercise would be good for me, and being surrounded by such good people would make it easy to stick with the routine.

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