I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m the worst Pilates student ever but I reckon I’d come a close second (behind the black knight from Monty Python who had his arms and legs chopped off).
I decided to try Pilates after a previous failed attempt at yoga. All was good until I was overcome with … Emotion? Zen? A bottle of wine from the night before? I’ll never know what exactly happened but the result was me throwing up over myself in the middle of a class. Awful. Just awful. And to make the whole situation worse the teacher wouldn’t let me leave, so worried was she that I might throw up at the wheel of my car. So she insisted I stay. So there I was, reeking of sick, wrapped in a blanket, sitting on a mat while all around me people up dogged and down dogged without any involuntary digestive episodes.
So it was with a certain degree of trepidation I signed up for Pilates. My knee had given way in my first half marathon and my sports therapist thought it a good idea to work on my core strength which was clearly around the same level as a new born baby.
I put the vomit episode behind me and signed up for a six week course. It took roughly two minutes before I realised this was going to be another ugly episode in my already comical running career.
It all started with those magic words ‘engage your pelvic floor’. I think I may have snorted at the absurdity of such a statement and I was about to say ‘You what?’ like an uncultured buffoon when I realised everyone else had a deep look of concentration on their faces as they were clearly ‘engaging’. At this point the screaming voice that so often accompanies me around a cross country course started piping up. Calm down, I thought, just pretend you’re engaging. She’ll never know.
And it was at this point the teacher said ‘I’m going to come round to make sure you’re all engaging properly’. Shit. Finally she got to me. I tried to make a joke. She didn’t laugh. Instead she lay her hand on my stomach and told me to engage. ‘I am engaging,’ I said in a kind of squeak you might only hear while watching a particularly intense episode of The Muppets.
What followed was five minutes of excruciating conversation in an otherwise silent room filled with people engaging and trying not laugh out loud.
‘You’re not engaging.’
‘No you’re not. Pretend you need the loo and you’re trying to stop yourself.’
‘I don’t know how to.’
Long exhale of breath from her. ‘Okay, let’s try something else. Suck your thumb.’
‘Put your thumb in your mouth and suck.’
Nervous laughter from me.
‘It’ll help you to feel your stomach contract when you try to engage.’
So there I was, once again the lunatic in the class, laying on my mat sucking my thumb whilst wondering if this lack of control over my pelvic floor means I’m going to start wetting myself in the near future.
The six week course was hardly a glowing success as I haphazardly negotiated Pilates movements with the gracefulness of a rabid dog. So it wasn’t a great shock at the end of the six weeks when out of a 15 people course 14 people progressed to the intermediate class and one, it was agreed, would stay behind and do the beginners course again.
Surely second time round I would get it? Perhaps I’d be the star pupil? My optimism was misguided. I was still the worst pupil, although there were signs of a slight movement in my pelvic floor which had me and my teacher high fiving like I’d just scored a penalty at Wembley.
Around week eleven I started to panic that I might be asked to join the beginners class again. Rather than become a veteran beginner I had a plan of action: tell her I’m moving out of the area and never shop locally again. But alas, as the last class finished and whilst everyone else progressed, she looked at me said simply ‘Helen, I think you’ll be okay with a DVD’.
I should say at this point that she was a great teacher, every time she came over to my mat to correct yet another dodgy position she was always kind and forgiving. And I did actually take away from the class a routine for my legs and hips which I do every morning and which I can genuinely say has helped my running. I’d love to go back and tell her this but I fear there may be some sort of restraining order issued to prevent me ever joining her class again.