Pilates

Some goals languish; some taunt us, always far in the distance; some, we abandon; others, we meet. Whatever else I can and cannot say about this research leave, I have met my goal of exercising 4 or 5 times a week. 
As surprising as that is, my new obsession with Pilates surprises me more. Perhaps it shouldn’t. I flinch when a ball comes my way, so ball sports are out for exercise. I have an intense love-hate relationship with running. My body is not built for the jumping around of aerobics. Having grown up in Seattle in the 70s, I had my share of yoga-like experiences as a kid, lying on the floor in a gym, listening to the sounds of the Orca, suppressing giggles; leaning forward practicing my deep breaths while the young undergrad grazed my newly sprouting breasts under the guise of improving my technique. I like yoga a lot, but I often smell ulterior motives.

I’m sure there is lousy Pilates, too, but I’ve been lucky so far. I love the story of its founding as a method for rehabilitating WWI veterans. From the outset it welcomes broken and bruised bodies, promising some therapy, some relief. Plus, it attracts retired dancers, and I used to adore the modern dance classes I took as a child. All that technique, all the specialized vocabulary, all the concentration: I have found it again in Pilates.

So, I go once a week to the PilatesHaus and take a mat class. I do a video at least one other day. Even without the equipment—which is really fun but too expensive for anything but a treat—every exercise depends on five or six isolated muscle contractions at once. The more you do it, the more challenging the exercises become. At first, you’re just doing a fancy sit up; only later can you make that c-curve with your spine, press your inner thighs together, lower down one vertebrae at a time, keep your ankles together and toes apart, all while pulling down on your lats and pushing your belly button in to the base of your spine. All these instructions, spoken as gentle reminders, “Shoulders in their sockets, Anne,” are immensely reassuring to me. I can’t think about anything other than Pilates when I do Pilates, and, an hour later, I’m taller and happier.

My mom reminds me that I struggled and struggled to learn to skip when I was 5 or 6. Finally, she asked my dance teacher, the amazing Martha Nishitani, to help me. “One knee up; the other knee up,” she explained, and I was skipping in no time. I am indeed a verbal learner. Strangely enough—though perhaps, not so strange, as my teacher needs me to keep coming back—two of my three teachers so far have told me that I’m actually pretty good at it. I’m embarrassed at how I cling to these compliments, and yet I’m beginning to think that it may not only be flattery or the desire to keep a paying client. Maybe I am kind of good at this. Who knew?

The videos of Joseph Pilates training people are wonderful curiosities, but you can see Brett, the co-owner of the studio I go to, here, and you can see how cool it would be to get that good.