I have always prided myself on being reasonably fit for my age.  I go for a brisk 30 minute walk every morning before breakfast.  I go for a swim after breakfast – 20 lengths – and, after a shower, walk up eight floors worth of stairs (19 x 8 = 152 stairs).  Sometimes I get my bicycle out and go for a ride.  In addition, for the past 10 years I have done gentle Pilates with Jacky – a fully qualified physiotherapist and Pilates’ teacher.

Even though Pilates isn’t meant to be especially strenuous, if I had written the previous paragraph a week ago I wouldn’t have described the Pilates I have been doing with Jacky as ‘gentle’.  I’ll borrow a quote from Wikipedia:  ‘Pilates is a body conditioning routine that helps build flexibility, muscle strength, and endurance in the legs, abdominals, arms, hips and back.  It puts emphasis on spinal and pelvic alignment, breathing, and developing a strong core, and improving coordination and balance.’  The latter – improved balance – is very helpful for old people, like me, who are increasingly prone to falling and breaking hips etc.

Anyway, over the years I have become a fan of Pilates and always looked forward to my weekly sessions with Jacky.  But Jacky is off to live in America and we have moved house (those two events happen to have coincided but are not connected) so my weekly routine has been broken.  I therefore enrolled to join a local Pilates’ class, paid my money and turned up for my first class last Thursday – the hottest day of the year (more than 32 degrees in Central London).

Now I should explain that even though I have done Pilates for ten years, I have never been to a Pilates’ class before where you are exposed to the public gaze.  My Pilates has always been a clandestine affair with only my wife and Jacky present to witness (and giggle) at my inadequacies. This means that I have never been able to compare and contrast my Pilates with anyone else’s. I have been cocooned, totally dependent on feedback from Jacky.  I am not for one moment suggesting that she has been misleading me, but, in the light of what I’m about to relate, I suspect she been a touch kind.

Never having been to a class before, and therefore a victim of ‘no perception without contrast’, I had no way of judging whether I should join the beginners or the intermediates.  Arrogantly I opted for the intermediate class.  After all, I reasoned, that must lie somewhere between a complete novice, which I was not, and being advanced, which even I knew I certainly was not.

So, imagine the scene as I braced myself for my first public appearance, clutching my mat, on the hottest day for decades. I arrive at the tail end of the beginner’s class.  This is an unnerving experience.  Surreptitious glances through the open door at the women (no men) lying on their mats being put through their paces plant the first seeds of doubt. They are doing exercises the like of which I have never seen, with the possible exception of videos I have watched of the late Joseph Pilates himself showing off.  The class ends and 20 or so young women, some clad in skin tight leotards, gather up their mats and vacate the hall.  Sheepishly, I make myself known to the teacher while six other young women arrive looking, not only fit, but horribly keen.  They are kind enough not to express any astonishment that I have come amongst them.

The class begins.  An echo in the hall makes it hard for me to hear what the teacher is saying but I look sideways at the young woman lying on the mat next to mine and attempt to replicate what she does.  Madness!  She can do things, with grace and ease, which I have only ever seen done in circuses!  For example, she can lie on the floor, put her legs up at a perfect 90 degree angle, and, apparently effortlessly, sit up and balance on her bum in an immaculate V shape.  And then, whist balanced in this impossible position, do all sorts of stretching exercises.  She can rise miraculously from a cross legged sitting position to standing in one smooth movement without putting a hand to the floor.  She can do much else besides; contortions that are beyond my descriptive powers, let alone my physical powers!

Anyway, I soldier on, doing my hopeless best. My sweat leaves puddles on the mat, I get cramp in both legs.  60 minutes never seemed so long and I have ached, just about all over, for four days now.

Needless to say, I have demoted myself to the beginners class and even that will almost certainly be too much for me.  Come back Jacky, all is forgiven!

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