I am sitting on an enormous  purple plastic ball. My feet are dangling.  I am holding two very long blue elastic bands out in front of me. I am trying to inhale and exhale when told and am constantly drawing breath in when I should be breathing it out. To top it all, I am supposed to COUNT how many of these bloody exercises I have done! This is someone who finds it difficult enough balancing on two feet! So how on earth did I end up in this position?
       Have you ever suffered with back pain? In spite of my accident, I hadn’t really suffered from it. Then, three years ago I picked up a heavy pot plant and managed to break my sacrum. Weeks of lying in bed on my back ensued and ever since, without regular exercise, my back goes into spasm.
       To try to improve this situation my supposed best friend, ‘B’, suggested Pilates! “I read that Pilates said: ‘If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.’ Come on, we can’t let you be “old” so young, can we?”
       “I am neither gay nor young!” I muttered under my breath. B had heard this play on my name many times and took no notice.
      “It apparently strengthens the core muscles” she said knowingly. It turned out she actually knew as little as I did! She found a teacher, Brigitte, and booked us in for a series of six “private lessons, so we (in other words me!) don’t make fools of ourselves in public”.
      So that is how my love affair with Pilates began!
      It looked easy. I had watched a class whilst at Virgin Gym. The participants seemed to lie on their backs and move their arms and legs around in a gentle manner. It didn’t look as if anything of a strenuous nature took place. Ha, how our eyes deceive us! In reality, it is gruelling, backbreaking and demandingly difficult. Brigitte laughs and accuses me of exaggeration. Believe you me, I am not exaggerating. And I will also admit, a little grudgingly, that I absolutely love it!
      The first thing we learnt was how to breathe. Okay, yes, we are obviously all breathing. Pilates  teaches you to breathe properly, from your stomach. Once you have mastered your breathing then the exercises begin!
       Simply bending over is now called:
 A ‘Roll Down’! 
Stand tall, head pulled towards the ceiling, shoulders down, feet shoulder width apart, weight evenly placed over the balls of your feet, pubic bone lifted towards your stomach.
Breathe in! Exhale.
Nod head to chest, break at the sternum, roll down vertebra by vertebra, let your arms hang loose in front of you, soften the knees.
Breathe in! Exhale
Roll Up – vertebra by vertebra….. etcetera, etcetera and glorious etcetera!
      This is the first exercise we learned. It is still one of my favourites, mainly because when after an hour of punishment, Brigitte says: “Okay, Roll Down time,” I know the torture is coming to an end.
    After our private lessons, ‘B’ and I progressed to the beginners class where we have decided we are happy to remain. I think Brigitte  is also happy we don’t want to progress into the professional class. I regularly disrupt the whole class, by breaking into hysterics as I fall off the ball or get slapped in some part of my anatomy by the stretchy rubber bands as my spastic hand gives up the ghost. A clever move to keep me in the beginners class!
      Brigitte is a wonderful teacher. Our classes are small so she is able to give each person individual attention. She knows the body and the way the muscles perform intimately. She is a perfectionist and wants her pupils and their bodies to work to the best of their abilities.”I would like you to come twice a week,” she said to me. “Your body needs it. I think then you will feel the difference.”
       “I would love to come twice a week, Brige, but I can’t afford it. So once will be great.”
       “Okay…okay, then you can pay for one lesson but come twice!”
       End of story.
       And she works me hard. Everybody else quietly gets on, does the exercises and suffers in silence. I, on the other hand, let Brigitte know that my muscles are aching. I shout. I wail.
      “We should do it ten times rather than fifteen!” or “You’re mad! Human beings cannot do that…can they?  and “Shytenhauzen! Surely it’s time to rest now?”
       Brigitte simply rolls her eyes. “And we’ll do the exercise five more times since Gaynor is deriving so much pleasure from it!”
       That normally shuts me up.
       For a while!
       I have tried many different “positions” in my life! Smile. But the one that I discovered in Pilates supersedes them all. The “Recovery” position. Why? You may well wonder!
But……. that is for me to know and you to find out!
       And breathe!