Monday, 4 February 2013

Challenge Number Nine – To Do Pilates Every Day For A Month

Originally, this challenge was meant to be to do pilates every day full-stop. For a year. Forever. Whatever. Well, shame on me. When you have a small child who can’t share toys but loves sharing diseases, when you also have to fit in knee physiotherapy exercises, when you’re permanently knackered, when you go and stay in places with hard mucky floors and don't have room in a car full of travel cots and high chairs and toys and nappies to take a mat with you, you can’t do pilates every single day. And once you’ve missed out one day and you know you’ve therefore failed the challenge, you might as well miss another, and before you know it, you’re taking pride in being a drooling slob on the sofa staring at the television.

I love pilates. I’d wanted to try it for years, all too aware of my core muscle weakness after years of dislocating knees and not doing enough sport. But I only started taking a regular class once we moved to York. I’ve had back problems on and off since being a teenager, with three really bad bouts that have taken me out of action for a substantial period of time – one while living in Germany, one in London and one that finally tipped me over the edge in York. And pilates has done more to help me than any chiropractor, osteopath or physio, though one of each of these has helped me overcome a back crisis at different times in my life.

I have a wonderful pilates teacher who is funny, creative and knowledgeable about injuries, and weekly classes with her are a true joy. No matter how tired or achey I feel at the start of a class, by the end of the hour I feel like a new person. The ante-natal class I took with her did so much more to relieve the aches and strains and sciatica of pregnancy than the pregnancy yoga class I took. The teacher is an artist too, and her vivid imagination invents such strong visualisations that she makes it so easy to work out exactly where you need to be and what you need to do for each movement. (“You need a slight lean forwards, just like one of those cheap IKEA uplighters...”) We don't just do the same routines over and over again - the classes are different each week. Some weeks we do straightforward matwork, some weeks we use balls (large and small), and other weeks we use bands, rollers or barrels, and occasionally if the class size is diminished for some reason (snow, holiday season, flu...), we are allowed to a lesson on the equipment. Pilates equipment may look like some form of medieval torture machinery, but it in fact gives you real precision training on your core muscles and feel fabulous to use. The teacher is always going on courses to further her knowledge and always shares what she learns with us. In recent times, we have been particularly focusing on freeing the elusive psoas muscle and all the benefits that brings.

I love the fact that pilates is an exercise form that anyone can do, no matter how old or what size or how unfit you are. I love the fact that it involves a lot of lying down. I love the fact that it doesn’t come with any kind of life philosophy like yoga does, yet gives you a wonderful literal inner strength to help you face your life. And I love the fact that the more you do, the more you realise there is to learn, even in a beginner’s level class.
Finding those sit bones

Push up

Swimming on all fours

Cat stretch

So I was very annoyed with myself that I hadn’t managed to put the work into pilates in this challenge year that I had intended. To redeem myself a little, I changed the challenge to do pilates every day for just one month, which instantly seemed a bit more manageable, especially now that so many other challenges are complete. And from January 4th to February 4th, I have succeeded in doing pilates every day. Even though I was being nuzzled by an affection-starved cat every evening after Charlotte had gone to bed, even though I have had a horrible cold and sinusitis for the past fortnight (that caring, sharing toddler again) and for a couple of days had such a blocked nose that I couldn’t lie flat on my back without fearing suffocation, I still did pilates every single day. And not just a few stretches, but a proper 25-minute session. I feel much better for doing this. I feel much stronger in all the right places for doing this. I’m starting to locate more of those magical little muscles that you never knew you had before you did pilates. It’s good to know that a bit of effort can actually pay off.

Though it’s been at the expense of my knee exercises. Something had to give.

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