Progress in Pilates: It Takes a While!

By Melissa Greenwood

In his Literary Hub article “Writing My Own ‘Indian American Novel’ Meant Looking to California,” author Sameer Pandya notes, “Sometimes it takes a while.” In his case, the “it” was publishing his first novel, which, on account of many false-“starts and stops,” he didn’t end up doing until he was 48.

Although I’m younger than Pandya, I understand the feeling. I remember being 28 and wondering whether to apply to graduate school for my MFA in creative writing. I lamented to my then-therapist, “But, I’ll be 30 by the time I finish!” She rightly pointed out, “You’ll be 30 either way, with or without that MFA.”

She was right. I got the degree (I also moved to Canada and back again and met and married my husband), but around the same time, I picked up a hobby – Pilates – that slowly developed into an unexpected career. Nine years ago, it was my mother who dragged me to Yogaworks for my first-ever class. The company, which I later ended up working for, is sadly no longer physically standing on account of the pandemic, but back then, it was the place where – together – we sought out the movement-cure à la mat. In the ‘70s, following a divorce, Mom had written her master’s thesis on the healing properties of movement, and now she was hurting over another break-up, and I–along with this new fitness routine–was her moral support. Although I didn’t know it then, the Pilates system would prove just as important and therapeutic for me.

I loved Contrology right from the start, even with the knowledge that I was doing it all wrong. Do you remember that Friends episode from season one – “The One with the Fake Monica” – where the girls go tap-dancing, and the teacher says to the real Monica: “You’re getting it all wrong!” That was me for the first year (or five) of weekly and then twice- and thrice-weekly Pilates. But remember Monica’s response?: “Yeah, but at least I’m doing it!” That’s exactly how I felt too. I was doing it despite the fact that it was too hard; that I was too uncoordinated; that I was too inflexible and not just in my hamstrings. (My mom says that when I was a child, flexibility was the “f” word: It was like a four-letter word to me.) Just as in the case of Pandya’s novel, progress in my then-hobby and now-career was going to take a while.

After my first exposures to this new way of moving, I was keenly aware of my shortcomings. There was patterning I couldn’t even begin to achieve and shapes that in 2011 my body could not yet form. What’s more, there were other people in the room who were so much stronger, so much more mind-body attuned. But there I was, trying it anyway.

One of my mentors, first-generation teacher Jay Grimes of Vintage Pilates, likes to joke, “Come back and show me in ten years.” In a recent virtual workshop, he added that it might take a decade or two to master anything in the system, “but don’t give up…it’s a lifetime journey.”

Jay’s words hold wisdom even outside the Contrology world. They apply to any pursuit and certainly to my three hobbies: writing, singing, and teaching. No matter how much natural talent we bring to the table–and I had no aptitude when it came to Pilates–there is always more to learn. It’s like the old adage: The more we know, the less we know. That’s why, even after completing a 600+ hour comprehensive, classical bridge certification, I still take Pilates lessons almost daily and attend all the workshops I can afford. That’s why, even after publishing articles and earning an English teaching credential and graduate writing degree, I still wake up early every morning to attend a writing group. That’s why, even after finishing my weekly voice lesson, something I’ve done on and off since I was 11, I still make the time for self-practice.

This is all just to say that everything worth doing well “takes a while,” whether that something is finding a career that fulfils you; a romantic partner worthy of becoming a life-partner; or Pilates in your body. It’s even been true of finding my teacher’s voice or the right words–now more so than ever in our Zoom-world–so my students understand what I’m asking of them and can work, bit by bit, at achieving it.

A dedicated Pilates practitioner since 2011, Melissa Greenwood—a reformed couch-potato—has been teaching the method since 2014. She has taught both in the US and Canada and, from 2017-2019, bridged her piecemeal Contrology certifications with a comprehensive one she highly-recommends from Strong Body Pilates in Los Angeles.

In her life before Pilates, Melissa had zero athleticism or coordination and struggled with yo-yoing weight, as well as disordered-eating. Like her mother, and Mr. Pilates before that, Melissa found that “movement heals”—flash-forward to several of her own break-ups, pre-marriage. Melissa is proof that this system is literally for every body and everybody—even people who aren’t natural-born movers, like herself. Case in point: As a kid, she only ever once scored a goal in soccer; unfortunately, it was for the other team. With that in mind, and with the new understanding that progress “takes a while,” Melissa sets more realistic goals for herself these days as she works to continuously hone her craft.

Here, Melissa demonstrates the control balance: pre-quarantine at Strong Body Pilates,where she teaches (left); on vacation in Carmel, California in August of 2018 (center); and on the same beach this past summer—July 2020 (right). Progress, progress, progress!

2 thoughts on “Progress in Pilates: It Takes a While!

  1. LOVE your writing and instruction, M. No wonder you are able to explain the series so susinctly, even to a newbie and despite our virtual class format. (I’ve never gotten the right/left thing down; that’s on me, not you!). And absolutely, it does take time! You gotta show up, do your best, persevere… Like they say in LA — The dream is free; the hustle is sold separately! Thx for class and this inspiring post. P

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