Caroline's recent "I Hate Working Out" piece had me wondering if she'd ever tried what I consider to be the key to my physical wellbeing, sense of self-worth, and reason that my feet look so freaking immaculate. If you haven’t tried it, maybe nobody’s told you yet that Pilates is working out while lounging. This morning I woke up just after dawn, and layered on some new department-store socks, a clean pair of tissue-soft Uniqlo leggings, some sweatpants that had been warmed by the precarious placement of my dresser directly in front of the radiator, a hilariously unsupportive but cute brassiere, a thin t-shirt, sweater, and my ugly puffer jacket. It didn’t matter how marshmallow-y I appeared, for the only people seeing me would be school children in buses and livery cab drivers taking their sedans in for a quick clean at the car wash I pass during my 22 minute walk to my lesson—which provides a refreshing, lukewarm lemony-chemical mist on my way back. It’s still early enough not to be bombarded by strangers, but light enough not to be terrified of the East Williamsburg Strangler. If I remember my headphones, I play a dreamy background soundtrack—something French and poppy, like “La Fille Avec Toi”—and envision the scenario being the backdrop for the opening credits in a movie about my life. You see, even if only for the walk to the studio, I would love Pilates.
I go to April Nicole Studios twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, to two different instructors. I schedule the sessions early, before work; I think I’ve always been the first lesson of the day. I don’t know if this means I get worked out harder because they’re up-‘n-at-‘em, or if they’re a bit fatigued from waking up so early. Either way, it’s easy. In fact, it feels like my instructors do most of the work for me—handing me the straps and balls and resistance contraptions so that I don’t have to get up, correcting my posture, prepping the various machines. One of them always gives me a relaxing back massage at the end of every lesson—seriously. Sometimes they drink tea or coffee while we work, which I find very calming. And they love to chat! They’re great at small talk. And they’re pretty—so pretty! Not sure if their attractiveness is just by coincidence, but regardless, Pilates is working out great for them. I actually do feel like my skin has gotten better since starting back up a couple of months ago.
A pause for an acknowledgement of the financial ruin an ill-conceived Pilates package purchase could cause: yes, it’s expensive. But you know what I didn’t just spend $700 on? Cocaine. A pair of shoes I’d wear once and decide hurt too bad, but maybe I’ll pass them down to my daughter because they’re cool. Bitcoins. A night at The Bowery, just to see what it’s like.
Your average private session will run around $75. I’ve gone to a $50 instructor before, who taught out of her apartment, which also served as a pungent litter box for her misbehaving cat. It hated the jumpboard, and would dart back-and-forth across the room while I Pilate'd. And she would regularly cancel on me with the most inexcusable excuses—literally as I walked up the stairs to my session. I think I told her that a roommate bailed on me, and that I could no longer afford her services, rather than “I hate you.” I told the same thing to my ex-boyfriend; makes for a nice, clean break. Anyway, beware of a cheap Pilates instructor.
I actually do recommend buying a package after you’ve gone a few times and determined that you like your institution/teacher—around 20 sessions if you can swing it. This is especially true for the types that tend to give up easy, because it takes about that long to really start seeing results. Although, I felt the oh-shit-I-haven’t-done-physical-activity-in-forever results immediately, and the oh-shit-I-can-walk-three-floors-without-my-thigh-muscles-breaking-off after about three weeks.
Package or no, I can’t imagine anybody not wanting to stick with a Pilates regimen. It’s the type of physical activity I would imagine that heavy marijuana users would find not only doable, but fulfilling. I don't even pull my hair back or wear real workout gear (pajamas, actually)—there's a good chance that I won't be breaking a sweat. So it's not strenuous, but "easy" isn't really the right word for it, either. Concentration is key—on your breath, your movements, the positioning of your body, the muscles you're using. It feels like a mixture of ballet and yoga, stretching and perfecting the lines of your body while toning through resistance movements. That's what's great about going to a private instructor, or being in a small class. They're there to correct you, guide you through new movements (no two sessions are ever the same), and remind you to use your glutes and hamstrings instead of your quads. And, maybe this says something really sad about my life right now, but I forgot what it was like to feel a real sense of accomplishment until I began excelling in my Pilates classes. It stuffs my fulfillment void that I didn't even know existed until Amy told me that I nailed my short spine stretch (and that she liked my striped leggings).
I’m a little embarrassed to say that I love Pilates so much that I purchased my own reformer machine, which takes up the space of a twin-sized dorm bed in the middle of my apartment. I use it while watching something trashy on Bravo, and find the pairing of the repetitive, fluid movements with Ramona Singer’s voice so relaxing that I oftentimes just end up napping right there on the leather-padded contraption. I consider it my daily physical activity, nap, and meditation session all packaged into one 45-minute time slot.
And the best thing about Pilates is that I found myself not only suddenly becoming far more concerned about the state of my naked winter feet, but actually doing something about them. I did a preemptive filing and extra scrubbing before my first session earlier in the year, but the preoccupation with what my instructors think of my feet during my lesson has been making me want to improve the state of my toes more and more each session. Lately I’ve been using OPI’s When Monkeys Fly—an extremely distracting combination of tiny-to-small flecks of rainbow glitter and huge golden, mirrored hexagonal sequins. It’s kind of a lot, but what can I say? My instructors—the ladies, if you will—go nuts for it.
Bianca Balti photographed by Mario Sorrenti for Vogue Paris April 2005.