Years ago, I was a Pilates devotee. Developed over one hundred years ago by Joseph Pilates, the exercises, done either on a mat or on spring-loaded machines, focus on increasing the flexibility and strength of the powerhouse- hip flexors, abdominals, the lower back, and the pelvic floor. But after becoming a new mom, Pilates fell by the wayside. Now, with life more manageable, I wanted to resume Pilates. Yet, this time, I knew I couldn’t afford private lessons on the spring-loaded equipment. Instead, I opted to try mat classes at the Lake Norman YMCA and Pilates DVDs. Inspired by Joseph Pilates’ famous promise that practitioners would feel better in 10 days, look better in 20 days, and have a whole new body in 30 days, I kept a journal of my first 30 days back in the practice.
Day 1: I’m definitely starting from scratch. We begin with the Hundred, a move where, after lying on your back on a mat, you lift your head and shoulders off the ground, as well as your legs and pump your arms by your sides one hundred times. After that, I could be done. But we’re not. Soon, we tackle the expansion series. While lying on our stomachs, we do moves like swimming. With arms and legs extended and lifted, you raise your head then lower your right arm and left leg and then alternate back and forth for several counts. Usually, I feel a hard workout the next day. Today, I feel it as I walk out.
Day 5: The instructor hands out the Bender ball, a squishy, playground-sized rubber ball. It can add an extra balance challenge to some moves or support our necks if we get tired during the ab series. What’s the ab series? A series that often starts with the Hundred and then moves through a number of moves done while you continue to lift your head, shoulders, and legs above the mat to better isolate and, thus strengthen, those muscles. I love using the ball under the small of my back during a series of leg lifts, splits, and rotations in the air because my core works especially hard to stay balanced.
Day 10: Joseph Pilates said you’d feel better in ten days. I do feel better on the days I take a class, but that’s partially related to working out in general and doing something I enjoy. But I’ve also noticed I’ve had less back pain in recent weeks. Could it be my stronger core from Pilates? I think so.
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Day 13: Today’s class incorporates the Pilates circle, a flexible tool used to create resistance when squeezing it between hands or ankles, into almost every exercise. During the ab series, we place the circle between our ankles and pulse. That movement fires my inner thighs and leaves me wobbly after class. I’ve become partial to the side-lying series where you lie on your side and do a variety of leg kicks, circles, and pulses to isolate the hips, glutes, and inner-thighs. When I started, I could do about 40 percent of the class without modification. Today, I could do about 70 percent of the exercises without modification. It’s not pretty, but it’s progress. Day 15: I try a Pilates DVD. There’s no equipment required, making it easily accessible, and one model modifies every exercise, helping me see alternatives. I notice some nuances I haven’t been aware of before in moves that are regularly done in mat classes and take mental note.
Day 20: Today’s instructor never uses the Pilates circle, and, yet, I feel taxed from using my own body weight and the Bender Ball as resistance. In front of the mirror, she has us assess and adjust our posture until we’re standing the way we should at all times. Leave this way, she tells us, and keep this posture all day. I notice I feel taller. Have I grown? I doubt it. But I am carrying myself with more strength and, hence, better posture. Day 24: A class with a different instructor reminds me of the variety of exercises Pilates offers. No two workouts have been alike, and I am constantly challenged. Today we just use a mat and a yoga ball. It is so intense, it leaves me sweating. Between multiple bridge and plank exercises with the ball, my entire body, even my arms, has felt the workout.
Day 28: It’s a beautiful spring night, and it’s hard to get myself to class. I’m rewarded, though, with the sight of dappling, descending sunlight on Lake Davidson through the studio windows. In class, we do exercises that feel like back massage while working our cores: roll-ups and rolling a ball. In each exercise, I peel my spine off the mat before rolling back down, either in controlled, calculated motion in the roll-ups or more playfully and quickly as I roll like a ball.
Day 30: In thirty days, I’ve gained a stronger core, a reconnection with a workout I love (it is just the right blend of power, finesse, and stretch for me), and a reminder that carving personal time out isn’t just a good idea but a necessity. Not only did the quality of all my workouts improve when I returned to Pilates, the quality of my life did, too.
Want to try Pilates?
Check out your YMCA’s group exercise schedule for their Pilates classes. You’ll need close-fitting workout clothes for the class. The workout is done barefoot on a yoga mat. Don’t have one? The YMCA has plenty available. If you’re nervous, just let the instructor know you are a beginner before class starts, look for an Introduction to Pilates class on the schedule, or try a private Pilates mat lesson. The Lake Norman YMCA offers private and small group Pilates training. Call 704-716-4459.
Interested in trying a local studio for a combination of mat and equipment work? Some area options include Pilates Studio at the Lake with locations in Davidson and Mooresville (www.pilatesstudioatthelake.com) and Progressive Pilates in Cornelius (http://progressive-pilates.com/).
DVD options include Mari Windsor’s Pilates DVD series and the Pilates Beginning Mat Workout by Gaiam.