There are many different exercise classes here in the Algarve including yoga, zumba, and aerobics, so whatever possessed me to join a pilates class? I asked myself as I lay on the beach, covered in sand and frizzling in the midday sun.
My friend, who introduced me to the class, was an excellent sales person. Although she convinced me pilates would “tighten my midriff and all my other dangly-bits”, I felt she just dragged me along to make up the numbers. If I went “AWOL” for even one class I usually received at least one email and/or telephone call demanding to know why I did not attend.
My bulging proportions also demanded I take action, however I am still not convinced all the pilates body-contorting exercises are actually conducive to my body shape. My legs and arms are too short and my stomach far too round.Have you ever tried touching your toes when your stomach protrudes so far you can’t even see them? It doesn’t magically disappear when you bend down, oh no!
My self-esteem nosedived to an all-time low when I discovered the majority of the women in the class resembled anorexic sparrows. Unlike me who resembled the prize porker ready for the hog-roast at the village BBQ.
As a complete rookie, the principles of pilates were very much a mystery to me as I struggled to coordinate my breathing in conjunction with various body movements. Breathe in, breath out – inner core in, open up your rib cage, shoulders down, zip everything up and don’t forget your navel to spine. I can almost recite the teacher’s spiel off by heart, though this does not make participation any easier.
The teacher had some interesting ideas including group massage and pilates classes on the beach, which she thought was hip. She wanted to lift our spirits and connect with nature. I initially felt excited by the prospect of ‘connecting with nature’, although I remained unconvinced any form of exercise on the beach—with no shade in the midday sun—was a sensible idea. However, when she was organizing the venue I decided to ‘go with the flow’ and said nothing, so I could hardly complain on the day.
The day of our pilates lesson on the beach was hot and airless.
With skin the tone of piglet pink I decided to play safe and wore sunglasses to protect my eyes from UV rays and a baseball cap to prevent sunstroke. Both accessories were definitely not hip if you wanted to exercise and look chic. I also plastered my skin with sun protection cream which made me look rather a wimp as my skin glistened in the sunlight. As I parked the car and joined the group I noticed they were all dressed in their usual super-sexy designer Lycra gym kit. Unlike me who was wearing not-so-sexy shorts and t-shirt.
As we all trudged along the sand in the stifling mid day sun the teacher looked for the perfect location to lay out our mats. She dismissed several suggestions, and as we continued walking I felt hot and grumpy. Surely one patch of sand was the same as the next? No, apparently not! I became irritable and my sense of inner peace evaporated.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the teacher decided on a suitable location. For goodness’ sakes, I thought crossly—one area of sand looked pretty much the same as the next on a deserted beach. Mental note: suggest she uses our neighbor’s dog next time—even he makes vital location decisions more quickly. We laid out our mats and towels in a big circle.
No doubt sensing my waning enthusiasm, my friend looked at me and smiled encouragingly.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, fine thanks,” I lied, my eyeballs already melting in their sockets with the intense heat.
As I sat down on my mat, ready to start, I smiled and put on a brave face. I looked out across the ocean for renewed inspiration and felt its hypnotic attraction. I marveled at the way the sunbeams danced on the surface of the water in time with the rhythmic sound of the waves gently lapping on the shoreline. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply and as a feeling of inner peace returned my earlier tensions disappeared. I filled my lungs with fresh sea air and with renewed mental energy I was ready to take on the world.
The class was about to begin when my friend suddenly leapt from her mat and sprinted towards a pile of stones in the centre of our circle of peace.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Err, nothing, you really don’t want to know…”
Everyone looked at her waiting for her response. She placed her hands on her hips and struck the pose I’ve come to know well: she is about to impart some really juicy gossip.
“Well, ‘flowers’,” she said, slowly looking around the circle.
I held my breath in anticipation…
“We’ve formed our circle of peace round a big pile of dog’s pooh,” she joked covering the offending dollop with some large stones as she spoke. “I couldn’t face staring at that all through the lesson,” she laughed. “The way them flies were buzzing round would have driven me mad.”
She turned to me and I blushed; I hate to be singled out.
“…And if you’d have spotted it you would have had a hissy fit!”
I nodded in agreement. I totally disagree with people walking their dogs on Blue Flag beaches and this was a clear example of why.
I smiled and breathed deeply as I tried to regain my inner peace; I considered the inconsiderate dog owner who did not bother to remove the dog’s mess. I looked out to sea for inspiration while trying to avoid eye-contact with the mound of stones. I closed my eyes.
The lesson began and we started to contort our bodies. As I rolled round in the sand with my legs and arms held out at angles beyond the mat, the sand, thanks to copious amounts of sun lotion, stuck to my exposed bodyparts. I felt like a BBQ’d pork chop coated in “paõ rolado” (bread crumbs). Oh joy!
“What AM I doing here?” I asked myself as I searched desperately once more for inspiration.
The lesson continued until the teacher decided to split us into groups of three to “give massage”. The two Portuguese women I was partnered with were like stick-insects – they even made anorexic sparrows look obese. As I massaged their backs and legs it feels like I was massaging a coffin full of bones. Not that I’ve ever massaged a coffin full of bones, you understand.
“You’re nice and slim,” I said, wondering if men found bony women attractive or preferred someone a little more rounded like me. Their toned bronzed bodies did not have an ounce of spare fat between them. Meow… “I wish I was nice and slim,” I said as I made a mental note to renew my dieting efforts.
They smiled sweetly yet said nothing so I was unsure if my Portuguese partners had understood. I considered the idea of attempting to translate my compliment into Portuguese, but my vocabulary failed me.
It’s now my turn for a massage and as I laid face down in the sand like a grounded whale, I muttered, “There is just so much of me”.
“Sim, but even big fat people ‘as muskcales,” one of the Portuguese women replied. I laughed, but felt mortified and vowed the diet WOULD start tomorrow.
As the lesson drew to a close a little boy wandered over to the pile of stones in the sand. My friend opened her mouth to speak, but too late. We watched in horror as he discovered why they were there…
Has anyone else tried pilates on the beach?
by Carole Hill.
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