Setting Out on an Exercise Odyssey – Pilates

“By hook or by crook this peril too shall be something that we remember.”

– Homer, The Odyssey

My friend Angel hasn’t lived the life of a reluctant athlete as yours truly has. In junior high and high school, Angel “played just about every sport available,” she said, and ticked off a list that included baseball, basketball, volleyball, track and cheerleading.

She liked working with her teammates for a common goal, “celebrating successes and sharing in failures.” She also liked feeling athletic, remembering how her muscles felt after pushing herself to get stronger, to run faster, to go farther and to win.

But without that team experience in her adulthood, Angel hasn’t found it as easy to motivate herself. “It didn’t used to feel like ‘exercise,’ at all,” Angel said of the workouts she got in her high school athletic pursuits. She recited a new list of the things she’s tried to keep herself fit: gym memberships, classes and home-based routines.

None of these efforts has “taken,” though she has learned what she doesn’t like: running laps outside, treadmill time and “appearing in public without makeup.”

But health is important to Angel, who turned 40 in 2012. This year she is trying all kinds of physical activities to find something “that might stick.” This Reluctant Athlete can relate. I told her I’d go with her on some of these “try-outs” until she finds her fitness fit.

She’s not kidding around: She said she’s even willing to go to early classes without makeup.

Stacey Margaret and Angel on a Pilates OdysseyWith our mission before us, we met for a semi-private Pilates class at The Pilates Studio of Little Rock in Hillcrest one morning in January. I’ve always wanted to try the classes after working out sporadically to a Jennifer Kries Pilates-based exercise tape for years. Angel had found these semi-private sessions online and signed us up for one.

My first surprise came when I asked her if I could shower and change at her house after the class because I had a meeting later that morning. She explained to me that sweat doesn’t usually ensue during Pilates. Our friend Brooke, who has also tried the classes, said she doesn’t even have to touch up her makeup afterwards.

“How much of a workout could this be?” I thought, thinking of how after running or Jazzercise I’m a messy sweatball.

During the hour of our lesson, my question was answered as our teacher put us through the paces, though “paces” may be too grandiose of a word in terms of discernable movement. There’s no flailing about. There’s no impact. This isn’t cardio. This is about control.

For example, just standing up against the wall, Pilates-correctly, is a precision, focused, taxing exercise, in which small changes in posture, hip position, and breathing technique make it even more strenuous.

Throughout the 60 minutes of our class, we focused on specific breathing techniques and tiny movements around a focal point of our cores. Standing, sitting, lying down – it was arduous and all-thought consuming.

After the class, I got into my meeting clothes and went on my way, not sure what I thought of what the benefits might be, but feeling I certainly had a lot to learn about this discipline.

Of course, when I got up the next day, I realized exactly how great a workout it had been, when muscles I didn’t know I had in my core were squawking as I started to move around. I’m a marathoner and chronic Jazzerciser, and this 60-minute session had wrung me out. I knew what Angel was talking about when she said she missed that feeling in her muscles “after pushing them to their limit.”

I would love to try Pilates again, to incorporate into my routine this strength-building workout that also stretches and lengthens the body, improves posture, breathing and all-around health. In the future, Angel and I think we’ll join an existing class, as the semi-private lesson was on the expensive side ($45 per person for an hour). I’m glad I started out that way; getting that kind of personal attention for something so new to me was incredibly helpful.

And though Angel likes Pilates, she’s still auditioning workouts. Throughout 2013, I’ll be trying other activities with her in her effort to find for herself what running has been for me – that activity that keeps me strong in mind and body and keeps me feeling like my best self.

Do you have any suggestions for workouts we should try? Leave them in the comments and we’ll see if we can’t incorporate them in our fitness Odyssey.

Stacey Margaret Jones, M.S., APR, (@sharkushka) is a market research consultant and a member of the inaugural class of the Arkansas Writers MFA program at the University of Central Arkansas. She lives in Conway with her Chaucerian husband. Jones, a South Dakota native, does not play team sports, unless you consider cocktailing a competitive event.

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