Observations From the Reformer (the first and probably the last): Crash & Burn & Embarrassment

Yeah, never got to this level. But, geez, that woman’s got some abs!

Besides left-wing politics, writing, reading, and the two original subjects of this blog: scooters and Sacramento area hamburgers, this blog has sometimes seemed more like a blog on yoga than anything else. My interest in yoga lasted about seven and a half years. This blog has featured about 80 posts about yoga or something my practice inspired me to investigate (meditation, Buddism, minimalism, etc.). Seven of the posts made up a series called “Observations From the Mat.”

The eighth “observation” is a draft titled “Why I Hate Vinyasa Yoga,” but I never finished it and probably never will. After the Pandemic, when my health club reopened, we had a new group exercise director, and all the yoga classes (save for a once-a-month Restorative Yoga class) were Vinyasa style. I hung in there for a while, taking two-morning Yinyasa classes taught by the group exercise director, but I started to check out Pilates. Finally, I paid the cash to take the three required private Quick Start Pilates classes the club insists members take to get acclimated to the Reformer before beginning Level 1 Pilates classes. (I was going to bore the reader to death with explanations on what exactly Pilates is and what kind of a widget is a Reformer, but I added links above for anyone who needs answers.)

Pilates is unique and separate from all other group exercises in my fitness club. Even the club’s Group Exercise Schedule does not include Pilates—Pilates has its own schedule, webpage on the club’s website, and director. The short time I practiced Pilates was on a Reformer (see the image below if the reader didn’t check out the link above). Before the Pandemic and the club closing, there used to be a Mat Pilates class available. I have never tried that form of Pilates though I hear it is more physically challenging than practicing on a Reformer. Still, I might be practicing Pilates if I practiced the mat version instead of the Reformer one.

One of the things I noticed from the first Quick Start session is Pilates is similar to Vinyasa Yoga: the practitioner does not stay in a position for very long—a few seconds at best and then moves on to the next posture. The constant movement (or “flow” as it is called in Vinyasa) was a disappointing discovery, but I got over it—it was a new kind of exercise, so it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. The main reason I remained excited about the new training was the trainer. Sabin was an excellent trainer and highly knowledgeable at Pilates and the Reformer. I felt in good hands.

Some challenges worried me about my new Pilates practice. For the same reason, I could never achieve balance postures in yoga (Warrior 3, Eagle, Tree, etc.); there were positions on the Reformer that required balance. In the seven and a half years of practicing yoga, I could never stick any pose that required less than my two Fred Flintstones on the mat simultaneously. (This is due to being heavily medicated.) Just a side note on me and yoga: I haven’t completely given up on it. I still try to attend my once-a-month Restorative Yoga class, and maybe someday, when my gym ends its blind love for Vinyasa Yoga and starts holding classes on traditional Hatha or maybe even Yin Yoga, I’ll sign up for a class or two.

So, after completing my mandatory one-on-one Quick Start sessions, I began taking Level 1 (group) classes. And they were enjoyable and challenging. I made it a point to sign up for the classes led by Sabin, the Pilates Director. I had it on good authority she was the best trainer. I got to know one of my fellow Pilate students, Nancy. She and I talked a few times before class while the previous course was winded down. She told me she got extra help from a Pilates expert who lived in Greenhaven—a bicycle ride from my house. I asked if it would be okay if she gave me this person’s contact information. She said sure.

I had practiced twice a week for about four weeks when Nancy gave me the trainer’s name, phone number, and hourly rate. I was excited and planned to call the private trainer for a chat and a possible session. It was that same day, minutes before our class was about to begin, when I looked through the window of the Pilates studio door and noticed everyone was standing on the Reformers (as in the image at the top of this post). Knowing the carriages their feet were on were spring-loaded and slid back and forth, all I saw was me losing my balance and landing teeth-first on the adjustable footbar and knocking out my grill. (See the above image for the footbar sans my blood and teeth fragments.) When we finally got into the room and were about to start, I asked Sabin what was with everyone standing on the Reformers. She told me that it was a Level 2 class, and we would not be performing any standing exercises in Level 1. That made me feel both relieved and depressed: relieved because I wouldn’t have to attempt to stand on a moving carriage and depressed because I once again picked an exercise that requires balancing, if not in Level 1, then definitely on Level 2 and Level 3.

It is a bitter coincidence that on that day–the day I got the contact information of the private Pilates instructor and found out I wouldn’t advance beyond Level 1–I lost my balance while executing a pose and fell off the Reformer. Remarkably, I did a tuck and roll on my way down to the indoor-outdoor carpet. (I have a knack for falling on my chest when I had plenty of time to have an arm break my fall.) Sabin saw the fall and complimented me on how graceful I looked. Not agile enough, unfortunately, it turned out I had skinned my ankle. I noticed I was bleeding when I stood up.

I left the studio with Sabin. First, she gave me a couple of alcohol wipes and bandages. Then, she filled out an incident report. She could have returned to the class, but I couldn’t read the type on the form (I left my glasses in my locker). The final embarrassment was returning to the studio to pick up some of my items. Since Sabin had to fill out the form, it cut into their class time. Nobody said a word. They were just sitting around waiting for the class to restart. It reminded me of when I had a seizure in front of my friends when I was twelve—I never got treated the same way. Then and probably now, I felt like I was treated as fragile or not whole. Sabin was very supportive and emailed more than once, wanting to know how I was and that I was welcome back, and she had some modifications for me. She is a terrific trainer, but I didn’t want to show my face again in that class.

One thing I like about Pilates and yoga (and theoretically HIIT, Step Aerobics, and all other group exercises) is that you have a specific day and time to attend and participate with others. Therefore, I feel compelled to show up. Kind of like when I was going to Weight Watchers: every week, you were expected to show up at the meeting once a week, get in a line then, stand on the scale where your weight was noted, and then, hopefully, get inspired by your leader’s speech to do better. Currently, I don’t have that structure. Post-Pilates, I’m working with a TRX system and an indoor rowing machine. Both of these systems do not require much in the way of balancing. However, the nylon straps and handles of the TRX are indifferent to whether I use them or not. Also, the pulley, flywheel, sliders, and saddle of the rowing machine don’t give a shit whether or not I employ them.

As a result, I find lame excuses for not showing up at the club and using them. At least I can’t fall off the couch and bump my head on the coffee table while sitting on my ass reading or watching whatever is on one of my streaming services. Boy, that sounds more depressing than falling off a Reformer in a Pilates class!