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Exercising Self-Control

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? 

Bridging was no problem. Clapping my Drumbellz together from this position was because my bridge wasn't quite so high above the floor. (image from

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.

About Paprika Furstenburg

I was born with an overly developed sense of humor and poor coordination. The combination of these two character traits has taught me humility and given me the perspective to find the funny in everyday experiences.

33 responses »

  1. Hilarious

  2. Obviously, those exercise classes are nothing to take seriously any more….they are merely a bunch of “monkey business….”

  3. Ok Paprika…peaked my curiosity !…needing a workout, and being coordinationally challenged myself, i had to check Drumbellz out. so i donned my monkey suit,(wanted to blend so i didn’t draw attention to myself) and searched the internet. i found…! that the same Drumbellz?

    • Love the idea of a monkey suit. If I ever go to another class a monkey suit and mask might be a good idea for me. The video clip is very similar to the class I took – minus the tribal drum music and monkey sounds. The moves were the same though. Good luck to you if you give it a try. Let me know how it goes. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Hope you’ll be back again soon.

  4. My new favorite line: “I’m no longer here for the fitness. From this point on, I’m here for the comedy!” Thanks for the great post!

  5. LOL Your blog was well written and entertaining…remember it’s the laughter in our lives that makes the biggest difference. Next time don’t be concerned about how good you look doing something…challenge yourself and LAUGH!!!! Thank you for trying the class and please thank salt and pepper too.

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. I never worry about how good I will look doing something. I’m more concerned about how BAD I will look doing something. You are right, laughter does make a big difference in our lives. A sense of humor is crucial to survival and enjoyment of life.

  6. Hahaha! So funny! The drum beats reminds me yoga booty ballet! I attempted a few times in the privacy of my basement never have been that brave to do it in a class!

  7. Love it:) Ha ha monkey sounds (seriously??!)

  8. My sister is a Zumba instructor and my new job has me managing a church community center with various group fitness classes so I was thinking about drawing her in… but now that you’ve introduced me to a class with glow sticks & singing monkeys, I’m ALL OVER that!!! I may get fired before I even start now! 😉

    • I think the glowing sticks are standard, but the music with the singing monkeys was probably the instructor’s personal choice. Of course, you could always make that a requirement since you’re in charge of the fitness classes now.

  9. So funny. Wish there was video.

  10. “Articulate”? Does that mean you get to say what you think of the routine? Well, thanks for telling US about it.

    • I have no idea why that move was called articulate. She definitely wasn’t soliciting opinions.

    • “Articulate”- let me introduce you to your body, your spine articulates. If you routinely articulate your spine it will thank you…Try it!

      • Thanks for the info. If I had known that then, I might have had a better chance of executing the move. In my line of work, articulate means to discuss ideas and viewpoints so I had no idea what she was talking about.

      • Lol…I think you were in an exercise class???…Or perhaps a “jungle” in any case you might want to continue articulating your spine. It will help keep it supple… just in case you need to run away from the “monkeys”…Great article!

      • As it turns out, I do articulate my spine on a regular basis. I just had no idea that I was doing it. You learn something new everyday. Thanks for reading and educating me. Hope you’ll be back to read more soon.

  11. Vivian Landsburg

    I enjoy all your blogs. I’m 88 years old and live at Harbour’s Edge, a senior care facility. Can you believe they introduced ZUMBA here as an activity!? I tried it once. Of course my problem is I can’t get past ballroom dancing as an instruction without uncontrollable laughing and a mad dash to the bathroom. The pool exercises leave me baffled. I think there’s a strong current in the pool that propels me in the opposite direction from the rest of the group. I finally had an excuse to quit because I could no longer fit into my bathing suit. I’ve decided to join the “Knitters” and give them a reason to laugh. Love your blogs.

  12. Love this post! Just recently took my first zumba class. While I loved the Latin music and watching the instructor move, I was waiting for Dorothy and Toto to show up, because I felt like the tin man trying to move like that!! Too bad just watching people zumba doesn’t have the same effect as doing it yourself.

    • You are brave for taking Zumba. You are right, it’s a shame that watching other people exercise doesn’t offer the viewer any health benefits. I don’t expect to burn as many calories as the actual participants, but I think watching an exercise class or DVD should burn at least a few calories.

  13. This would have been perfect if the three of you had gone out for wine or margaritas afterward to help soothe the muscles. My friends are talking me into trying Zumba. Sounds like I may also end up exercising my laughing muscles.

  14. OMG…………..this was hysterical! Loved it! You were brave to take this class on! I would have been laughing too! Thanks for making me laugh!


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