Move Over Martin Luther. My Reformation Will Come from the Pilates Reformer.
Six months ago, I made a public vow to get myself back in shape down to the cellular level. How am I doing? Honestly, I am not where I wanted to be. I did make some behavior changes. I started working out 4 days a week doing mostly power yoga with instruction from my favorite yoga gurus, Bryan Kest and Shiva Rhea. It has helped to increase my strength and flexibility, and the stress reducing benefits are unbelievable. I also tried Zumba which is a blast, but (honestly) is just too hard on my knees. If your knees are solid, it’s an amazing and fun cardio workout.
Knowing that I needed more cardio/strength training and some outside accountability that comes with having to show up for regular, pre-paid classes, I decided to try Pilates.
At the heart of Pilates is the infamous torture device known as “the reformer.” It’s similar to the Total Gym contraption that Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley advertise on TV. I happen to have one of those, and it is a fabulous piece of exercise equipment, although it was damaged during a recent move. But the reformer, quite frankly is in a class of its own.
Pilates is a collection of structured exercises developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900’s to help achieve ideal health. The practice loosely incorporates moves from yoga, gymnastics and strength training using equipment developed and patented by Pilates himself. Some of the exercises are done on a matt. More advanced Pilates involves a chair and/or the infamous reformer.
Because it works to strengthen and elongate structural and supporting muscles, it eventually came into favor with the elite dance world. George Balanchine and Martha Graham worked with Joseph, adopting his Pilates method as a form of “cross training” that would complement their dance training. The techniques and teachings of Pilates were passed down from Joseph Pilates through his disciples also known as the “the Elders.” The Elders studied directly under him and when they reached his standards for excellence, were allowed to open their own teaching studios.
Like the legendary George Balanchine, who passed his choreography on through his inner circle of Balanchine dancers, the Elders are an aging and (sadly) quickly disappearing generation of Pilates instructors. If you are going to take up Pilates, some experts suggest that for the best results, you find a teacher who can trace their training back to one of the Elders.
When I entered my local Pilates studio to inquire about classes, I was told I had to take a series of three private lessons before I could join the group reformer classes. I quickly dropped “my past dance training” in hopes of bypassing that requirement. I am not much on patience or protocol when I really want to get going on something. And, I figured my dance training and muscle memory should count for something, even though it was 20+ years ago.
I persisted. The owner resisted. We reached a compromise. She would “assess me” after two of the three required sessions and decide whether I could jump in to regular classes. The first session kicked me in the booty. Clearly my muscle memory was suffering from Alzheimer’s. I slept for two hours when I got home. But for the rest of the day, I felt stronger and stood a little taller.
The next morning, I could hardly move. Advil is a suffering girl’s best friend. But, I went back for round two, with a second, even more intense instructor. I think they were given order to “break me.” The beating continued. I squeezed a little ball between my legs while bouncing for two minutes non-stop with my abs engaged. After four, two minute sets of bouncing squeezing madness, every sleeping muscle in my body was jolted back to life. My legs were shaking. I was feeling the burn and the endorphins were flowing abundantly. It was so incredibly awesome!
Conclusion… Any woman who has given birth or had an exam by a gynecologist is perfectly qualified for Pilates. There are a lot of funky positions. Compromising positions aside, it’s the best workout I ever had. The reformer will definitely reform me. I prepaid for 24 sessions, non-refundable. How’s that for incentive (and commitment)? I join my first group class Monday morning at 8:00 a.m. I am nervous about being able to keep up with the class, but can’t wait to be on a regular schedule. And I am going to go back for that third private eventually just because I want to be punished by yet another instructor. It was worth the money. The owner will be happy.
If you want to see what it’s all about, here’s a video that gives a great overview. These are mostly advanced moves so don’t get discouraged. I find it both crazy and inspiring and hope to be doing these moves very soon! (Yeah, right!)