The body is an unforgiving tool when you neglect it, as I did, over the summer. Too much T.V. I was a slave to the Olympics – weren’t we all? When I say neglected, I don’t mean that I abandoned exercise altogether; I kept up my runs, played the odd game of tennis. I even took part in a family cricket match during which I managed to redeem my appaling batting performance, by taking a match-changing catch. However, I’d done no pilates classes since the start of the holidays and it was evident from the moment I tried to raise a leg while keeping my hips parallel in a pelvic tilt, that there was a lot of lost ground.
For those of you who have never taken a Pilates class, or who perhaps feel that in sporting terms, it’s a little lightweight and can’t compete with the big boys of rugby, football, swimming, cycling etc, well there, my friend, you’d be wrong. Pilates is no pushover and demands concentration and physical strength. No, really. Take the plank position as an example. Hold it for 30 seconds and then lift an arm and opposite leg off the floor as if you were in a superman pose while keeping your body as close to parallel with the ground and without your bottom sticking up – yup – and keep breathing at the same time. Your entire body will shake from the strain of it all. Try it. You will fall over.
It’s all about core stability and mine’s rubbish – I blame childbirth. The idea is to strengthen muscles so that they can do their job more efficiently. Unfortunately my back muscles like to do the job for all my other muscles because I don’t know how to switch them off, so not only do my weak muscles not get much of a look in but my poor, overworked back muscles are left screaming blue bloody murder. This is what I mean about Pilates being hard work. It’s the mental battle; trying to isolate a specific muscle to work on its own.
Each week I always leave full of good intentions, determined to return to the next session having noticeably improved. The reality is I’ve usually forgotten the exercises I’ve earmarked to practise even before I’ve got my key in the car. That’s life for you; busy, distracting and hard to hang on to. So why do I keep going back? Because I’m a stubborn mare who believes in its long-term benefits; because my teacher makes me laugh and because while I’m never going to make the Olympic team (in anything – not even tiddlywinks), each time I leave I do so feeling happily clear-headed, a bit more graceful and my I’ve-done-my-exercises-for-the-day halo shining that little bit brighter.