My Life: All I didn't want to know, I learned in Pilates classes

My Life: All I didn't want to know, I learned in Pilates classes

January 23rd, 2011 by By Dana Shavin in Life Entertainment

This morning my husband and I were on our way to work when he said, for the 100th time since last Tuesday, "I can't get over how much snow is still on the ground!"

"Yes," I said, gritting my teeth to keep my eyes from rolling. "I've noticed you can't get over it."

"Well," he said, "At least I'm not still amazed that people get married."

It's true. Ever since I was little, I have thought of marriage as a foreign country, travel to which requires a confluence of vivid imagining, nuclear programming and arrival at some personal apex of failure.

This includes my own marriage. It has been 10 years since we exchanged vows, and even now my husband will occasionally catch me staring at my wedding ring with a look of disbelief. There are, of course, reasons for this odd view of matrimony, but they are complicated and depressing, so I will not go into them here.

That said, marriage has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. It has given me the opportunity to know myself like nothing else ever has ... until Pilates.

Pilates, if you don't know, is a form of exercise sort of like yoga, only with a proper noun for a name and, depending on whom you ask, bigger promises of health and well-being. I signed up for Pilates classes because my back hurts most of the time and lately so does my shoulder. My husband thinks it's because I carry the dog on one hip while I make the bed; curiously, he never mentions the toll that shouldering a husband can take.

Like marriage, Pilates has taught me things about myself I might otherwise never have learned. Or wanted to. For example:

1 I have never, ever, not once, moved my body through space correctly. This came as a shock, though it shouldn't have. When I returned to horseback riding a few years ago, I was overjoyed to discover I hadn't lost my form. Unfortunately, it was the wrong form. My riding instructor quickly pointed out that I lean too far forward in the saddle and my legs stray too far behind the girth. So while I felt exquisitely balanced, I was in fact on the verge of imminent ejection.

Likewise, I have been stretching, bending, jogging, lengthening and strengthening all my life. But according to Pilates, I have been doing these things without the aid of a single proper muscle. What is astounding is not that I have back and shoulder pain but that I have not collapsed into the floor in a tangle of unsupported bones and nerve endings.

2 I do not know how to breathe. This, too, came as a surprise. I did not know how to find my lungs, my diaphragm or my abdomen, all of which, according to my Pilates instructor, have been starving for oxygen for more than 40 years. Suddenly my body seemed like that foreign country marriage has always been, unreachable by any ordinary means.

3 I do not know the width of my own hips. Pilates asks that you often lie or stand with your feet hip-width apart. I suppose I looked like something out of a Western drama, my legs planted so far apart a horse could have passed between them without brushing my thighs. Thankfully, my friends in the class did not know the width of their own hips either. This was some consolation.

4 Pain, regardless of what a Jewish upbringing teaches you, is not something to strive for. When my Pilates instructor asked if various positions hurt my back, I answered with an enthusiastic yes. Where I come from, pain in all its forms -- including guilt, self-denial and good old-fashioned free-floating misery - makes you a more conscientious person, ensures future happiness and might even make you smarter. Not so according to Joe Pilates. Which only tells me he couldn't have been Jewish.

I'll end here. According to my watch, it's time to exhale.

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