I spent the middle part of my childbearing years feeling like I was old and decrepit. It kind of snuck up on me. There came a point at which raising a raft of kids and keeping a home just didn't cut it for physical activity. I stalked into Wal-Mart, to the fitness aisle, with all the mats and exercise equipment, the weights and exercise balls, with one thing in mind. A pilates DVD. I was on a mission.
About ten years ago, when we lived in Madison, WI, I generally spent Saturday mornings with my friend, Beth; during spring, summer and fall months, we walked around the Capitol Square for the Dane County Farmer's Market. (See my post here.)
During these walks, Beth and I spoke of many things, only one of which was her wish to take another pilates class. I had never heard of pilates at that time. Beth explained to me that it is mostly mat exercises that focus on strengthening the core muscles, those muscles that form a band from about the armpits to the mid-thigh and all around the body. She talked about concentration and thinking about which muscles were being used. And that form was more important than speed or strength or repetition. I was intrigued enough to want to give it a try.
At that time, however, I had no opportunity. We were living on a very fixed income, my husband was going to school full time and working half time. We had five small children and owned a home. An exercise class would have been an unimaginable luxury.
Fast forward about four years and two more babies. It was a little before my fortieth birthday, but probably not much. I had carried and delivered seven babies. Even though I still had plenty of housework to keep me active and I still had little ones to chase around, I had reached a point at which the older kids did a good share of the household chores. I was also homeschooling them, so I spent a fairly large number of hours each day sitting. I was definitely feeling the effects of it all. I was stiff and achy and feeling old.
That's what brought me to the fitness aisle of Wal-Mart. That and a gift card that came with explicit instructions to spend it on something for myself. (As any mothers out there know, it's hard to do that when money is tight. It takes a direct order. And even with a direct order, the gift money sometimes disappears into the pit of the family budget.)
I came home with Ana Caban's Beginning Mat Workout DVD. This DVD includes an introduction to the Pilates Method, the featured 25 minute Beginning Mat workout, A 12 minute Pilates Power Boost workout, and an interview with Ms Caban wherein she explains how she got involved with pilates, trained to be an instructor, and a bit of her experience as an instructor.
The exercises in this mat workout include modified versions so that those of us who are, shall we say, pre-beginners, can still participate. It is a very gentle beginning. In the opening explanation, Ms Caban quotes Joseph Pilates, "You will feel better in ten sessions, look batter in twenty sessions, and have a whole new body in thirty sessions."
I'm not sure about the whole new body thing, but I certainly felt better and looked better. My posture was better and I was more flexible. I had fewer aches and pains and more energy. I appreciate that Ms Caban explains each exercise fully. She reminds the user to relax tense areas and to concentrate on breathing. She encourages them to concentrate on the particular area the exercise is intended to work. The phrase mind-body workout is often used with pilates, because it involves so much thinking and mental awareness of the body's state.
About a year ago, I progressed to the Intermediate Mat Workout. I figured, after about three years, I was ready. (There had been another two kids during that time, so I wasn't using the workout continually during those years.) In this workout, Ms Caban builds on the routine she introduced in the first DVD. The workout is the same number of minutes, all the exercises in the first are included, but there are also additional more difficult exercises. She spends less time explaining and reminding. Whereas the first DVD is somewhat relaxing, once a person learns the exercises, the second DVD is truly an intense workout. It keeps moving. Also a user will notice that even some of the "regular" exercises included in the first DVD (regular as opposed to modified) were themselves actually modified. So that in the second DVD, the familiar move may be one step more difficult.
That was hard enough. It took me probably most of the three years to be able to do it. Finally, in order to work up to it, I had to put my feet up on the couch and pull into position from there. Then I used a short stool. Then finally I could do it from the floor. But in the Intermediate Mat Workout, there was the extra complication of keeping ones legs in the air at the correct angle while raising and lowering the upper body. And then there was some funky arm thing to add once the user mastered that. Well, I knew right away I was not up for the new and improved Teaser.
At this point in my life, because I'm busy with the Couch to 5K thing, I've not done pilates very faithfully. And I can tell. I'm achier, less flexible, and my posture is not as good. I slouch more. I have more headaches. So I've been trying to keep up with the Beginner Mat Workout now and then. It's not hard work for me at this point. But it's 25 minutes out of my day. I need to do it though. It's maintenance on my abs. It's concentrating on breathing and relaxing my shoulders and neck. I'd like to do it at least a couple of times a week. But right now, it's probably not more than once every couple of weeks.
I did do pilates yesterday and by the time I was done, I could say with Eoin Colfer's, Butler, "I'm feeling a bit more limber lately."