There is a wealth of research indicating that a person’s peer group influences their behavior. People who spend time with friends who make questionable choices often find themselves in compromising positions. People who spend time with friends who make healthy choices often find themselves living a healthier lifestyle. Then there is me, I have friends who make healthy choices, but I wind up in compromising positions.
Two of my friends, Salt and Pepper, are Pilates instructors. In an effort to spice up the fitness class line up at the Wellness Center, they were piloting a new type of Pilates class. Each of them had participated in this class, but they wanted members’ opinions, so they asked me to join them on Friday night.
“Wait a minute,” I said to Salt. “Isn’t this the class you took last week where you had to hold weights the whole time? The one you said left your arms so sore you couldn’t lift them up the next morning.”
“That was just the first week. I wasn’t used to holding the weights while doing the exercises,” said Salt trying to convince me.
“I haven’t been to a Pilates class in six years. If you weren’t used to it and your arms were sore, what hope do I have of making it through this class? Who’s going to come to my house and brush my teeth on Saturday morning when I can’t lift my arms?” I asked.
“You’ll be fine. It’s just going to be us in class. It will be fun,” Salt and Pepper both said with overly eager smiles on their faces.
Fun and exercise don’t usually go together for me. I had a sneaking suspicion that their idea of fun and mine varied wildly, but I said I would consider it.
I needed to make an informed decision before subjecting myself to a potential torture session, so I e-mailed Pepper to ask her exactly what this class was going to entail. She explained that the weights are called Drumbellz. They are ¾ of a pound each and resemble drumsticks with tennis balls stuck to the ends. I had images of standing with my hands extended over my head for an hour holding these sticks, but Pepper told me that the Drumbellz were used as an extension of our arms as we perform flowing movements rounding our backs and opening our chests. That sounded like Pilates speak for “you’re going to be waving these sticks around while you’re moving.” I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up with the class and was worried that I’d make a fool of myself, but Pepper said the class wasn’t too intense. She was encouraging and told me to come and try to have fun.
I exercise several days a week and have for many years, but I prefer to exercise alone. Nothing about the group exercise experience is appealing to me. I don’t like watching myself moving in floor to ceiling mirrors. Well-intentioned instructors trying to “motivate” me by yelling at me to move faster irritate me. Synchronizing my body movements with a group of other humans is not something that comes naturally to me. Frankly, I can barely coordinate my own body movements to walk without tripping. There are other things at which I excel, but rhythm and coordination don’t make the list. After 41 years, I accept this. Despite this self-awareness, I agreed to attend the Drumbellz class with an open mind and a positive attitude.
Aside from being goaded into a Pilates class on a Friday night, having friends who are fitness instructors does have its advantages. When we entered the studio, they told me exactly where to stand so that I would be in the instructor’s blindspot. That was excellent insider information. When the instructor entered the room, she turned off most of the lights. Dim lighting and blindspots… this was a promising beginning! True to their word, Salt and Pepper stood on either side of me so that they could coach me if need be.
The minute the music started I knew I was in trouble. Sounds of tribal drum beats filled the studio. I shot Pepper a “you have got to be kidding me” look and she just smiled sheepishly at me. Drumbellz in hands, we started doing some simple movements. When the instructor’s Drumbellz began to glow and flash in the semi-darkness like a short version of light sabers from Star Wars, it was all I could do to stifle a laugh. I was fixated on the lights. What made them blink? Did they flash in time to the music? I was so entranced by the lights that I didn’t notice how the instructor’s arms and legs were moving. It was completely distracting. In a class of this type, where I am supposed to be using my core muscles to support body movements, there are only so many muscles I can control at once. It was becoming very clear to me that if I was going to be able to exercise properly, I was not going to be able to stop myself from laughing uncontrollably. If I was going to control my inappropriate laugh reflex, I was going to struggle to maintain an upright posture. I mustered every ounce of self-control I had and attempted to restrain my urge to laugh. That, in itself, was quite a workout.
We were moving from side to side, jungle drum beat throbbing, Drumbellz flashing when all of a sudden the instructor yelled, “ARTICULATE!” and bent over moving her arms and legs while alternating sides. I had to stop moving to analyze her body movements to figure out how to make my body move like that. By the time I determined what limb to move and where to put it, she had called out the name of another exercise. For every 4 repetitions she did, it took me 3 to figure out how to move my body. At least I was so confused that laughing didn’t enter my mind. I was out of synch with the class. I was nose to nose with Salt when I should have been facing the wall and nose to nose to Pepper when I should have been facing forward. Behind me, I could hear Pepper saying, “Just keep moving. Who cares if you are doing the right movements?”
My uncoordinated plodding continued until I heard something that made it impossible for me to control my laugh reflex. Behind the sound of the tribal drum music I heard the occasional sound of monkeys. It was at that point that I knew all hope was lost for me. I did not possess enough self -control to stave off laughter brought on by tribal drum music with monkey back-up singers.
I turned to Pepper and whispered, “Am I hallucinating or did you just hear a monkey?” Pepper smiled back at me and nodded her head while keeping up with the exercise. It was all too much for me; the weird music, blinking sticks and now monkey sounds. I turned back towards Pepper and said, “I’m no longer here for fitness. From this point on, I’m here for the comedy.”
The minute I let go of the idea that I was there for exercise, I began to enjoy the class. I didn’t care if I was out of step. I was dying to know what was going to happen next. When the tribal drum music turned to music you’d be more likely to hear in a Middle Eastern night club headlined by a belly dancer, we took out mats and got down on the floor. As I laid there waiting for the next instruction, I could hear Pepper giggling. I titled my head back and asked what she was laughing about. “I know you are going to blog about this and I am imagining what you are going to write,” she said.
We began our floor exercises by bridging; an exercise where your shoulders and feet stay on the floor, but you lift your pelvis up and hold it there. No coordination needed for this exercise so I thought I was in the clear. The instructor told us to move the Drumbellz under our rear ends; still not a problem for me. When she told us to clap the sticks together, that was a problem. I had lifted myself up with enough clearance to get the sticks under my butt, but there was definitely not enough space for me to clap them together. Not to mention that it was risky business for me to move my arms while balancing myself in this position. There was a strong probability that I would fall over onto my side taking Salt out in the process. After quickly weighing the pros and cons of my situation, I chose to keep my sticks still. When I looked over at the instructor, she was bridging up while her sticks blinked and flashed beneath her butt as she clapped them together. Do you have any idea of the strength and balance required to control the muscles holding yourself in that position while trying not to laugh?
When we lowered our bridges, the instructor announced that we’d be doing hundreds. I hate math, but for the first time in my life I was sincerely hoping I’d be working with fractions and decimals and not doing hundreds of abdominal exercises. No luck, it wasn’t math. This new brand of abdominal torture required me to lay on my back and move my suspended legs and arms in opposite directions, independent of each other. That, dear readers, is not something I am capable of doing. The instructor saw me flopping around like a fish on the deck of a ship and came over. She grabbed hold of the arm and leg on my right side and started moving them for me. That’s right. I required remedial assistance in a Pilates class. I’m just glad the rest of the class was on their backs unable to see me.
We left the Middle East and returned to the jungle to complete our cool down. My abdominal muscles hurt, but it wasn’t from strengthening my core. They hurt from exercising the self-control necessary to prevent me from laughing out loud for an hour. After we left the studio and were out of earshot of the instructor, Salt and Pepper turned to me and asked, “So, what did you think?”
“I think I won’t be back,” I replied.