For the past many years, I’ve been a total Pilates-phobe. First, it seemed like something for ballerinas and movie stars, expensive and exclusive. If anyone mentioned the word, I’d flash back to a class that I took several years ago. I decided to give it a go back in 2012, but instead of going to an individual person, I signed up for a big group class on a hard wooden floor with some yoga mats. All I remember was discomfort and a huge sense of failure. I couldn’t do ANYthing that the instructor was asking. I couldn’t achieve any of the positions or movements. It didn’t feel good, during or after. I walked out, cursing under my breath and swearing that I’d never set foot into anything labeled “Pilates” ever again.
Fast-forward to this summer. I was in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for a 10-day writing retreat. On my first night, I fretted to my friend Laura Fraser who is a San Miguel local, that various body parts were really bugging me, and that I felt apprehensive about walking around on the town’s steep hills and cobblestone streets. She said, “You HAVE to go see my Pilates person! She’s amazing! She’ll fix you!”
I shook my head and restated my anti-Pilates stance.
“No, really,” she said. “You must go.”
Her enthusiasm played ping-pong with my skepticism back and forth, until finally I relented and took down the woman’s contact information. “She’s so fantastic!” said Laura. “She screams at you. She’s a total drill sergeant. But she will FIX YOU.”
Oh boy. That didn’t sound like fun at all. Except for the fixing part. I decided to go for it and emailed the Pilates lady, who went by the name Lovey. Or Myrtle. Or both.
I hobbled across town and up several steep hills to get to her studio. Lovey-Myrtle greeted me, listened to my bodily woes (painful hip, mostly) and showed me her own spectacular body. Her abs were impressive, and her energy was off the chart. She got me onto the reformer, or the official Pilates table of torture, and commenced with the screaming almost immediately. I was terrified but hopeful.
“Knees together! Make a Barbie foot! Lower back down! Squeeze! Squeeze!” She was throwing more instructions at me than I could even keep track of. My head was spinning, and I was frantically trying to keep it together. After putting me through a number of contortions, she set into me with some serious bodywork. She massaged/pummeled/ground my feet within an inch of their little lives. What I came to understand, though, was that she wasn’t mean. She really, truly cared about the state of my body. She poured so much attention and energy into it. And at the end of the session, I was so limp I could barely stand up.
But stand up I did, and voila! I felt amazing. I flew across town with nary a twinge of discomfort. It felt like a miracle.
I emailed and reserved sessions for every single day that I remained in Mexico. Some days I was so sore I could barely walk, and other days I felt fantastic. When it was time to come home, I felt like I had only just begun rehabbing myself. I was heartbroken to leave Lovey! I knew I had to find another Pilates person in the States.
I asked my Facebook people for recommendations. I scoured Yelp. Then I got the BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER when Carla gifted me an initial session with Holly of Reactive Movement, just minutes from my home.
The beautiful, carpeted, sleek space was completely different from Lovey’s open-air, Mexican studio in a rooftop garden. And to my complete surprise, there was no yelling involved. Holly turned out to be a gentle, soft-spoken Canadian with a kick-ass knowledge of kinesiology and anatomy. At first I was worried that a lack of vocal energy would mean a lack of results. But, amazingly, I left my session at Reactive Movement feeling just as good as when I’d walked out of the studio in San Miguel.
It goes without saying that I’m a complete Pilates convert. Yeah, it’s super pricey. (unless you happen to throw in a trip to Mexico to get the special affordable rates!) But combined with some recommended bodywork with an astounding sports massage therapist, I feel HOPE for the first time in, like, forever. I feel like I’m going to get better.
I’m dealing with a couple of painful parts right now: my shoulder and my hip. My first goals are to be able to perform simple, everyday activities without pain. Putting on or removing my bra. Getting dressed. Toweling myself off after a shower. Tying my shoes. Getting in and out of my car. Drying my hair. Turning over in bed. Right now I can’t do any of these things without wincing or crying out. Sometimes the pain is so severe I can’t catch my breath. My second goal is to be able to do any kind of regular exercise without paying a big price in pain. Since both my upper and lower extremities are involved, it rules out almost everything from swimming to jogging or even walking hills. But I have hope. Thanks to these completely different Pilates stars, I feel like I’m finally moving (no pun) in a good direction.