It was 2002 when I took my first Pilates class. Just out of college, I decided that part of being an adult meant getting a gym membership. The gym was a lovely, women-only place not very far from my apartment. Located in a strip mall, it offered very little room for expansion and limited views of the parking lot, but it had the necessities like classes, weight equipment, cardio equipment, and a pool and spa.
I remember when I showed up for that first class, I was kind of nervous and insecure. I was worried about who would be there, what they look like, and would they laugh at me and my out of shape self. As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry about that at all.
I walked in to the gym and went up to the front desk. Classes? In all the times I went there, I had never seen the room where they held classes. “Oh, just go over there,” she said, pointing at a pool of people standing in a corner.
I went and joined the pool. Smile, nod, “hi.” These people were okay. We were all in the same boat. This class would be fine.
Then out walked a girl in a sports bra and spandex, looking like a model for what female abs would look like if you didn’t have body fat. Perky and peppy, I was sure she had cheered enthusiastically for something in her life, and that was the first time I thought, You know, this might not be for me.
With a loud voice and a big smile, she encouraged us to find a spot on the floor. Right there. On the gym floor. With tvs going, and people lifting weights, and women weaving around us to try to get to the drinking fountain, we all tried to space ourselves and take a seat on the floor. In fact, there were so many of us that some people were now in the aisle (which also served as a cardio track course for those opposed to treadmills). Yours truly was one of those lucky enough to be in the aisle. T
We started her workout, which she called Pilates, but it felt like an intense 60-minute ab workout from hell. We were about 10 minutes in (and I was dying), when she said, “Oh! Sometimes people throw up. You know, because we’re doing so much ab work. But there’s a trash can over here by the water fountain. If you could get over here in time, that would be great!” You know, this might not be for me.
I knew it would be incredibly noticeable if I stood up and left, so I hung in there. I decided to temper myself by reducing the intensity and number of repetitions. The instructor never told me to do more or work harder. Instead, she smiled and barked orders in her loud cheerleader voice, and I did my best to obey and strain to hear her.
By the end of the class, I had not thrown up (a bonus), and I did feel like I had had a killer ab workout. When I got home, I noticed how loose and limber I felt. I had a thought, an odd thought, a foreign thought. I thought, I think I can do the spits. After 18 years of dancing, only once in my life can I remember being able to do the spits, and that was when I slipped on a lettuce leaf while grocery shopping with my mom when I was 7. But sure enough, I reached my left leg out and slid down into the splits. And it felt good.
Then, I stood up (Yes! I was able to stand up again!) and noticed that my waist was noticeably smaller. I knew I had not lost weight, yet I looked at least five pounds thinner in my mid-section. Incredible! So this is Pilates?, I thought.
As an internet search would show the following day, no, that was not Pilates. It was, in fact, an intense 60-minute ab exercise class, but it opened the door for me to start learning about Pilates. I started reading magazine articles and books, trying to self-practice the real Pilates.
That class opened the door and began a new journey for me. Although, I would never have guessed that anything so significant or profound would be happening when I showed up that night, it has impacted my life ever since.
If you’re wondering about how Pilates began, here’s a quick biography of Joseph Pilates.
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Can you remember your first Pilates class? What was it like for you? Tell us about it in the comments below.