We’re lying on our backs, the four of us, each on a black padded platform carriage called a reformer, our legs extended at 45 degrees, our heads and shoulders curved forward, straight arms pumping alongside our torsos, hands in straps that pull against a combination of springs and our own body weight, doing The Hundred.
Welcome to Monday night Pilates. Our instructor calls out the count. We pump and breathe in unison, shew-shew-shew-shew-shew, trying to keep our backs imprinted flat against the platform, trying to move our arms without moving the carriage, trying to suck in our guts and keep our legs up and not strain our necks.
I’ve been taking Stott Pilates for about four years now, ever since I decided I was losing range of motion and hunching my shoulders so much to keep warm that I was beginning to look like a little old lady. I’ve worked my way up from introductory mat classes to the reformer, which looks a bit like a medieval torture contraption. But I actually like the workout—especially once our hour is done.
My classmates range from forties to seventies, all moderately fit, and we enjoy kvetching and an easy camaraderie as we sweat and strain. Our instructor, a former Air Force Academy gymnast and competitive ice skater, is just the right combination of tough, precise and caring. She pushes us to the point of exhaustion, but also offers me creative modifications for any move that my joints won’t allow me to do.
Halfway. Around this point my head feels like it weighs a ton and I struggle to keep it raised. But I keep pumping. And wondering, why am I doing this to myself? I used to hate gym.
But the workout is essential. If I miss a week, I feel it the next. And if I miss two weeks, I start feeling crummy. Keeping my joints moving and my muscles strong and my posture aligned make a huge difference in my ability to get through the day, sleep well at night and stay positive about my health and whatever other stress I’m managing.
Plus, it makes me feel mighty. I never exercised seriously growing up. Here I am, 57 years old, with all sorts of crazy ailments, and I can kick butt. Sort of.
I stare at my thighs and wonder why, with all this exercise, I can’t get rid of the cellulite. Pump-pump-pump-pump-pump. My neck feels like it’s going to snap. Our instructor always says we can put our heads down if we need to, but I don’t want to cave.
Almost there. Keep going. Sometimes she forgets the count and skips a set of ten. No such luck tonight.
We bend our legs to a table-top position and squeeze our bodies like a fist, then, relief, roll our heads down and lower our feet to the platform.
I adjust the platform tension and check the clock on the wall. Half-an-hour to go. Next, front rowing, bicep curls, tricep presses, I’m getting stronger, my muscles are shaking, shew-shew-shew-shew-shew.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.