When Core Pilates approached me to participate in Pilates–a workout I have never done–and write about it, I enthusiastically yelled, “YES!” However, on the inside I was dying with trepidation and fear. You may recall my up and down relationship with physical fitness, ranging from possessing the physical prowess of a Division I collegiate swimmer to being unable to climb a flight of stairs without feeling breathless.
There is nothing like pregnancy and childbirth to truly test the depths of one’s mental and physical strength. To come back from a 40 pound weight gain, oodles of loose skin on one’s midsection, and the pain of sleep deprivation, is downright HARD. Throughout my pregnancy with Magnolia I felt steadfast in my physical exertion as I continued to workout as much as I could, which proved different than my pregnancy with Waverley. Plus, chasing around a then-two-year-old also served as exercise! I thought I was on the fast track to my pre-baby body yet did not account, as no one does, how much harder it is to get back into shape after each subsequent child. With working full-time and tending to a horrible sleeper, I rarely worked out. The guilt of time away from the girls overwhelmed me and I typically chose to come home early to see them rather than go to the gym.
I now appreciate the errors in this thinking but it took me a while to actually make time to exercise. When I did, I opted for my tried and true marathon cardio sessions where I could zone out to TV and the running commentary that constantly controls my mind. I’m sure you know it; it ranges from grocery lists to childhood memories to pondering “what is wrong with people?” when the latest news scrolls across the TV screens and the realization that we are inexplicably still dealing with racism in 2017. I was so in my head in every workout, my body never had a chance to heal or strengthen.
Anyway! I was terrified to try Pilates because I felt so out of shape and was ashamed about it, made worse by the ridiculously buff and thin women I hangout with who are pretty much a Pilates Momma Gang. (I mean, I love you girls, but you’re really intimidating!) I think that when someone is a former athlete, and a very competitive one at that, the feeling of “used to be” is difficult to shake. For me, I kept focusing on what I used to be which then perpetuated avoidance to try at all. As you can deduce, this reasoning is completely illogical.
Nonetheless, I am trying to make the most out of my time in Alaska and accept all interesting opportunities that test my limits and push me out of my comfort zone. (FYI this is essentially every minute of my life here.) I first met with Nicole, the owner of Core Pilates and the beauty assisting me in these pictures, for a few private sessions. These ended up being invaluable to set the foundation for my experiences in group classes. I highly recommend starting out this way! In these private lessons, I was able to learn the appropriate breathing techniques, terminology, and special accommodations due to the plethora of injuries riddling my body. When I first started, I wondered if I had been holding my breath for my entire life? How refreshing it was to finally breath in oxygen! I tasted my own bitter medicine as she constantly reminded me about things that I know, intellectually, as a therapist and former athlete yet clearly did not practice. Ugh. Nate even joined for a private lesson and was hooked on Pilates immediately. Then Nicole essentially had to boot me out of my private session bubble to participate in the group classes. I was so scared. And annoyed. I really despise group fitness.
I finally started group classes, which are so convenient because you can sign up online so there is never the question of “how crowded will it be?” or “will I have a spot if I am late?” I am not going to lie or sugarcoat it, though, because they were really hard at first and the only reason I went was because I made a commitment. If you know me, you know I take my commitments way too seriously. I felt like a literal blob of nothing with absolutely no abdominal strength or knowledge of these exercises. I felt uncoordinated–something I really hate to feel– and therefore embarrassed. I creepily spied on others in my class, envious of their strength and capabilities. There were a few times my eyes swelled with tears as I watched others perform amazing feats of strength while I had to adapt the same exercise due to a lack of my own. “You used to be awesome…” were the words that I constantly thought. Thankfully the circuit class switches every two minutes and before I could dwell too much on one thing, I was swept off into another contraption. This was like an emotional reboot; a new opportunity to think new thoughts, usually due to an exercise not centered on abs. Thank you, hamstrings! Fortunately each exercise can be tailored to one’s own skill level and adapted for previous injuries. Although I have quite a bit of knowledge regarding adaptation of activities (ummm OT), I rely heavily on the instructors to ensure I am completing exercises properly. Nicole always checks on me during shoulder work just to make sure I am achieving the just right challenge.
The more I attend class, the stronger I become and the less difficult exercises are. I also really like the reformer class, which contorts my body into positions I did not realize could feel so amazingly painful. This class works my tired, stretched, child-bearing hips so much I am actually embarrassed for my former workouts. I mean, have I just been letting my pelvis turn into mush? Yes, yes I think so. My abs and my pelvic floor have never felt so strong after two months of religiously going to 1-2 classes/week. I may not look completely different yet, but I feel it. This is definitely not a before/after success story of losing 30 pounds, but rather an emotional success story of finding joy through new experiences and seeking meaningful time for myself– or eating my words from a few years ago. I feel like the former sounds lovelier though, don’t you agree?
I am a firm believer in divine timing as well as requiring emotional readiness for new experiences. I really think it is no coincidence that events aligned in such a way making now the time to start something new, like Pilates. Right around the time I started my private lessons with Nicole, I had recently stood on the scale at my annual exam (which I mentioned here) that informed me I have literally lost zero baby weight in the past year. I knew something in my life had to change, that the old status quo was no longer sufficient to enrich my body and mind. I felt sluggish and uncomfortable. Enter: PhD classes for my mind, Pilates for my body.
Now, I feel stronger and more confident. I can sense myself standing up just a little bit taller, my pelvic floor feeling a little more capable at not peeing when I don’t want to, and my clothes feeling not quite as tight. More than anything though, participating in Pilates has gotten me out of my head and into my body for the first time in a decade. It’s time I get to focus on me each week: on my body, my strength, my breathing. There is no running commentary in my mind because I am too busy ensuring my pelvis isn’t rotated and I am engaging my abs (and also looking around to see if Nicole is watching to take a break during 100s). I am out of my head chatting with other people, too, because in reality group fitness isn’t all bad.
All of the instructors at Core Pilates are very kind and smart at what they do. The facilities are beautiful, serene, and conveniently located next to Steamdot. I can usually be found drinking coffee with my head in my laptop in the corner there after a class. My favorite routine! I also had the opportunity to experience rolfing at Core Pilates, which my OT self was excited to try. I went in with a fierce locked jaw and left with the ability to open my mouth wide enough for a sushi roll. Although the Reformer and Circuit classes are my favorites, other classes offered at Core Pilates include Barre, TRX, combinations of everything, and a free introduction workshop. For Cyber Monday you can try any of these classes, too, for a great deal: 20% off all 5 and 10 pack punchcards, group, and private/duet sessions. There are no expiration dates, no restrictions, and you can share a package with another client (Nate and I did this!). Go here to sign up and try it for yourself! It has been such a wonderful gift to myself to carve out this time each week. I look forward to my classes now and feel it is much easier to schedule in workouts. If you’ve never tried Pilates and are skeptical like I was, I definitely encourage you to give it a try! It may just be the small change you need to live a more fulfilling life. It was for me.
(Photography by Kristian Irey)