How to Deal with a Substitute Guru (Part 2 of 3)

Last Saturday morning, I went to LAFitness geared up for my favorite Pilates instructor Ros and her kick-ass advanced class. Ros won my allegiance because she is fierce and fun and she smiles – a lot. She never takes herself too seriously even though hers is the hardest Pilates class I’ve ever taken (if enough men show up, she makes it even harder). When I first started attending, I could barely do five or six of the 50 reps she called for. But after a year, I could do 90% of the entire workout and my body felt fantastic, stronger than it had ever been.

Unfortunately, a work schedule interfered with my going to Pilates on Saturdays for several months, so I was primed for a superior core workout. I dropped off my bag and tennies in the locker room and strutted to the group workout room, mat tucked up under my arm, a smile on my face.

L19HinduCBut the smile soon faded to a grimace as I entered the glass doors and saw what all devotees fear, a substitute guru! I don’t want to name names, so we’ll just call her S. She was sitting on her mat at the front of the room looking out on the Pilateans dragging their mats into place on the floor (no one else looked all that enthused either). I thought about leaving. Maybe I could just run on the treadmill or do some situps on a exercise ball? I looked around and saw a lot of familiar faces, people who’d been coming all the months I’d been absent. Since I hadn’t been able to do any Pilates for so long, I forced myself to stay – to give her a chance. I wasn’t optimistic, just resigned.

The clock on the wall confirms it’s not yet 11:00 am, but she starts the class anyway. S announces that she’s going to teach us about Pilates techniques. She says, “instructors never talk about these important techniques.” I think to myself, isn’t she being a bit presumptuous? Some of the people sitting patiently on their mats while she talks about breathing have been taking this Pilates class with Ros for a long time, some of them for years. Certainly she isn’t saying that our instructor doesn’t talk about technique. I decide to forgive her for this oversight. because, how could she know? Right? She probably never takes class from anyone but herself.

We begin the standing warm-up (squeezing a metal Pilates ring between our hands overhead). S’s whiny group instructor voice spikes erratically at the oddest moments making me cringe. I remind myself there could be some small nugget I might learn from S and so I try to shake off my judgments. None of my body parts are in the least warmed up (other than my biceps) when we sit down on the floor for some roll-ups (and I don’t mean the chocolate covered caramel candies). With every new move S adds to the lineup, we get to complete a total of three repetitions before she moves onto something else. In comparison to the 40-50 reps we usually do in this class, I wonder if her watered-down workout will make a difference.

The man behind me gets up, rolls up his mat and walks out.

Leaving in the middle of a group class sends a pretty unmistakable “you suck” message to the instructor. I wonder if I should second his motion. I really want to leave too. I had come for an advanced class and S was giving us kindergarten Pilates. Could I leave discreetly? I decided, no, there weren’t enough of us to make a silent exit. That’s when S interrupts everyone’s thinking and announces, we are only a half hour in and we’re still warming up. Okay, maybe she’ll pick it up now, I think, and convince myself to stay.

We roll onto our front side for some swimmer’s kicks and a side plank or two. We roll over for some scissor kicks and fire hydrants. I’m so bored I could roll over and sleep. S eyes someone with bad form, “Muscle, NOT Momentum,” she barks. Then she looks up at the clock and says we might not have enough time for what she has planned. Someone two mats in front of me informs her we are already over time. Our 45-minute core intensive had been reduced to 50 minutes of mild warm up. The Ros devotees weren’t too happy about it. S, sensing everyone’s frustration tacks a little breathing exercise on the end and wraps things up.

I rolled up my mat, grateful to finally be leaving. I was thinking about how Ros would have done it differently, about how hard it would have been, about how sore I would have been. S’s was probably the most disappointing Pilates class I had ever been to. I wish I could say it was a waste of time, but considering I’d been on the bench for so long, maybe it was the perfect gateway back into my Pilates practice. We don’t always know why we are sent a substitute guru, but it would be a bigger waste to walk away not having received anything at all. For me S walked me slowly back to the starting line and maybe that’s exactly what I needed. Who knows.

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