“Even bad Pilates is good for you,” said my teacher, Brooke Siler. As an apprentice striving to be better hour by countless hour and a perfectionist NO WHERE near recovery at the time, that statement always made me bristle. It was fine for newbies to bumble through their workouts, but why would an apprentice teacher want to do anything less than perfect? [Shrug.]
Ironically, it was during my last apprentice exam that I began to...I'm just going to say it...palpably dislike my own Pilates workouts, especially on the reformer. There is a rhythm to Pilates and an element of strong elegance. As someone who did gymnastics from age 3, played soccer and is an avid runner, I never have been able to “perform” Pilates like my teachers or peers from the dance world. I’ve studied movies made by Joe himself and with contemporary master teachers.
Now, I've done the soul-searching work to understand what skills and talents that I bring as a teacher. Yet every time I put my head back on that headrest to start my workout, I was Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz listening to a mixtape of every criticism from every teacher or every coach that I’ve ever worked with. The volume dial was at 11.
My reformer workouts got shouldier. Instead of focusing on feeling my body stretch and strengthen, my pulse change, and my lungs fill with air, I just unfeminine and imperfect.
Turns out, perfectionism is pretty insidious. When you slay it in one place, it can slither into another. I beat it back with self-compassion in other areas of my life, yet here it was again each time I got on that one apparatus. Eventually, I’m ashamed to admit this: I stopped getting on the reformer.
For the past year or so, I have been a Pilates teacher who won’t get on the reformer. My desk is in my studio; so there is absolutely no avoiding the 86” torture-looking contraption that was, quite literally, torturing me. Recently, I even considered selling it. Then, I wouldn’t have to feel guilty 20 times per day. For a hot minute, that almost seemed logical.
Maybe it’s that pervasive back-to-school energy in the collegiate Pioneer Valley. Maybe it’s the subtle erosion of my flexibility that finally finally got me to stretch beyond my comfort zone. Maybe it was the ridiculous notion that getting rid of my reformer (the symptom) would get rid of the problem (my last bastion of perfectionism).
Today, I did my first reformer workout in a year. I was drenched in sweat. I was shaky and mildly uncoordinated for a couple of advanced exercises. Literally, my stiffer muscles quivered for about 30 minutes afterwards, even in the shower. I did it the vital corps way: heart + smarts + guts, not ego. Turns out, even bad Pilates was spectacular for me.
We all have something that we're afraid to do imperfectly. So, what are you willing to be spectacularly bad this week? C'mon, people, what is it? Dish it in the comments below.