What the frick is Pilates? And why can’t you mention that you do it without sounding like a moron?
The answer to the first question is the best explanation I can find, from PilateswithSophie, ‘Pilates is a system of controlled exercises that engage the mind and condition the whole body with a particular emphasis on core strength. The blend of strength and flexibility training improves posture, reduces stress and creates long lean muscles without bulking up.’
In terms of sounding like a moron when you talk about it, I sadly don’t think it can be avoided. There’s something inherently uppity about the word that infers you’re dead chuffed with yourself and bragging.
But please don’t let that put you off – it gets better, it surpasses its unfortunate name.
Since I decided to check in out in January this year, it’s become a lot of things. Firstly it’s my time out, my off switch. Without getting too fifty shades about it, it’s when I submit. I lay down in a bright room with a group of strangers (bear with me, it’s not swinging either), tune into Enya’s voice filling the hall, place my hands on my rib cage and breathe.
At the start of every session I feel awkward and stressed. I live life akin to a Sim, with tasks forever lined up inside my head and an insatiable desire to multitask. Being still and silent is unnatural to me unless it’s bedtime. Then the lights go off and, slowly, so do my thoughts. Because my instructor starts talking; her assured voice and memorised script is hypnotically soothing.
She talks us through the merits of pilates and usually a very funny overshare from her life; consider me relaxed and amused. For the next forty-five minutes all I do is follow. I lift when told to lift. I stretch and hold on command. I hope I’m not corrected, but pay attention when I am. I bat away self-consciousness (eventually).
It’s an opportunity to check in. By the end of the session I have a better idea of my needs (stop making this sexual): how hungry or thirsty I am, how tired. I discover aches and pains I’ve not noticed before, a tight calf, a sore ankle, and make a note to be mindful. Sometimes I even accidentally solve problems, as I tend to do on a long run – my brain whirring in the background, offers up the answer seemingly out of nowhere. I feel more positive about the week ahead, calmer, more capable. By the time I’ve rolled up my mat and retrieved my trainers, I am soothed and less socially anxious.
I love the walk back to my house. Why? Because I’m taller. I’m leaner. It’s not that cardio smugness where you’re soaked in sweat, after punishing yourself to the limit and proud. It’s a lightness of step, a looseness of limb.
What isn’t Pilates for me?
It’s not where I make friends or have a great conversation. It’s not a quick solution to my over-weight body. It’s not justification to scoff down a cheesecake.
But it is medicine for my mind, and unexpectedly a problem in my leg that’s kept me company throughout my twenties – a trapped nerve (A good friend told me that by the time we hit 30, everyone has THAT injury, that regular flare up that we like to talk about to anyone who’ll listen).
A lot of people are referred to pilates through their GP due to a dodgy back or similar. But when I signed up, I didn’t give a thought to my leg; an issue so familiar and inescapable to me, that I hardly saw it as something which could be fixed. In the first few months of pilates (doing it once a week), I had the odd bout of pain, albeit shorter instances. Then I realised it’d been 6 months, and nothing. No early warning soreness or mid-walk grimacing.
Recently I raved to my instructor, overjoyed, officially converted and grateful. Of course I’ve got no proof. I don’t know for sure. And full disclosure, I swim regularly too. The cure could be something else, or the problem only momentarily halted. But I think back over the exercises that challenge my short thighs, at first causing cramp and protest but overtime unknotting. At my ability to push my body higher, further, my increased flexibility. And whatever’s going on, it’s working from me.
I’m going to stay right here and stretch it out.