Why Hanker to Sweat with Strangers?

I went to Pilates last night for the first time in a couple of weeks. I had been going 1-2 times a week for years, but lately, like so many other health pursuits, I’ve lapsed a bit.

What is it about an exercise class? Why hanker to sweat with strangers? And why is it almost all women in these classes?

I pondered these things as I went through the shake-inducing classical Pilates workout last night. If you don’t know what Pilates is like, it’s kind of like if a yoga expert and a ballet dancer and a drill sergeant had a child (yeah, that’s three parents, but work with me here) and made a profession out of torturing everyone around them. But in a nice way.

At the recommendation of a friend, I started with Pilates about 3 years ago. Yoga didn’t do it for me; I can’t get into the whole “spiritual” component of it. Pilates, on the other hand, was scientific. Worth a shot.

I thought I was going to throw up my first mat class session. That’s how hard you work your core. I laughed at my inability to do a lot of these moves, while I marveled at the lithe young women  who could do them easily. The trainers were mostly dancers and a few had studied medicine of some kind. Unlike personal trainers, who seem to think that yelling and shame will get you to your goals, the Pilates instructors were kind. They understood the body’s quirks and struggles. They helped. I got better.

After 6 months of regular classes, I figured out how to do the basic moves with the precision of a Rockette and started working on more advanced moves. I didn’t need to attend the classes at $16 a pop anymore and could probably have done the workouts at home, maybe with a video class for company. Yet I still went to the classes.

I had hoped to make friends, but I made none. The classes were mostly college students with the occasional woman a generation older than me. I did belong after a while though. While I was still no dancer, I was competent and earned praise on occasion. So I kept it up. I got hooked into the small but exciting local dance scene and saw some great performances. An injury (unrelated to Pilates) took me out of Pilates for about a year. When I returned, everyone welcomed me back. What a nice feeling!

So I guess that’s why I go to these classes. I belong, in all my imperfect glory.

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