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Today was my second day of Pilates, and it was more humiliating than the first. At least during the first session I had the good sense to hide in the middle of the group, plus we used small basketball-size balls to squeeze between our legs and roll around on (well, I used mine to fall off of, tiny suicides). This time—interested in excelling as usual, being the best and following directions too—I plunked my mat right in front, just feet away from the instructor Linda. My goal was to mirror every move she made.
“Everybody grab a BIG ball!” she called out. The twenty or so people in the room—again of all ages and shapes—quickly moved to the wall where the big bouncy balls were kept. They reminded me of the hippity-hop horsey ball I used to have when I was five, but without the handles. I imagined we’d be sitting on these large balls and bouncing up and down for some good exercise reason, or maybe thrusting and swiveling our hips like the guy I saw at physical therapy last month.
As class began, I sat on my mat and stretched like Linda stretched, twisted like Linda twisted, and kind of down-dogged like Linda down-dogged. Mine was more of a playful puppy, but so be it. I’m a beginner.
All was going well until the big balls came into the picture. Linda instructed us to lie on them with our tummies against the rubber and our arms stretched out like we were flying. This was fine until she told us to pick up our feet and balance on the ball like we were “Superpeople!” I tentatively raised one foot and rolled off my ball onto the floor. Thud.
“That’s okay!” called Linda, still balanced perfectly on her ball like the rest of the students in the class. “Get back up there!”
I climbed back onto my ball and centered my stomach again, but by the time I had gotten into position, my ball had rolled about ten feet and I was eye to eye with the balancing act of Elgin, the only male in the room. Elgin hikes the Grand Canyon and does all of his gym workouts wearing a hundred-pound backpack.
“Hi,” I grunted, untangling our nose hairs. “Sorry.”
I carried my ball back to my mat and then heard Linda sing out new directions: “Lie on your mats, face up, and hold your ball behind your head, resting it on the floor.” This I could do, I was sure; I stretched out with my horsey ball squeezed between my hands, towering behind my head. I briefly thought that this would be a good time to get stabbed.
“Now,” called Linda, “sit up!”
What? She wanted me to sit up from this prone position? Without using my hands, holding a giant ball behind my head? Yes she did, as evidenced by the sitting-up of everyone else in the class. Elgin—holding his own personal super-ball the size of a small planet—was the first to rise. While everyone sat on their mats holding their balls high above their heads, I continued to lie on my back, struggling to get even my shoulder blades off the floor.
“I can’t get up!” I shouted over the flute music. “Why can’t I get up?”
“Your abdominals aren’t strong enough yet,” said Linda as she and the rest of the class repeatedly sat up and then slowly leaned backward, all while holding their balls over their heads. I continued to lie on my mat, still trying to sit up just once, my entire body shaking as if I was being electrocuted.
At the end of class—my long hair having escaped its neat ponytail and now covering my face like Cousin Itt—I approached Linda to tell her how much I admired her fitness, and how much I wanted to be strong like her.
“Keep practicing,” she said, “and pretty soon you’ll get there. Just keep coming to class.”
It was good for a teacher like me to hear those words. Humbling. For a moment, I thought what it must be like to be on the receiving end of my own instruction, and I knew I could do better—at teaching and Pilates.