Pilates class was ab-solutely flab-ulous

When it comes to exercising after giving birth, the rule of thumb is to wait at least six weeks post-partum and let your doctor give you the go-ahead.

Now that my younger son Lucien is almost four years old, I figure that it's really, really safe to start working out. Besides, there is only so long one can pass off one's belly flab as bloating from gas.

So I sign up for a pilates class on Tuesday nights at the nearest Safra club - only to realise that my stomach muscles do not exist any more.

At the first lesson, I unfurl my cheap-o-la green yoga mat and try not to look myself in the brightly lit studio's mirrored wall.

My Michelin Man layers are accentuated by the fitting exercise pants I am wearing: I had bought them in a hurry a couple of hours earlier at Queensway Shopping Centre, because I can no longer fit into any of my old sweat gear. My table-tennis-player clipped hairdo is not helping the look.

As the petite, no-nonsense instructor issues commands from her podium at the front of the class of about 10, I try to follow - but my spare tyres keep getting in the way.

Assuming the child pose, which is essentially kneeling with your butt on your heels and your forehead touching the mat, I feel like there is a bowling ball between me and my thighs, hindering my communion with the ground. No matter how I grab it with both hands and try to move the ball out of the way, I just can't get rid of it.

Getting into the boat pose is even more of a challenge. The idea is to sit back on your tailbone, lift your legs and form a V with your body. Then extend arms in front of you - jazz hands optional.

By the time I get my legs a couple of millimetres off the floor, my super-slack muscles are protesting like crazy. And my abdomen area - exactly where I'd been cut open twice, for C-section births - starts to hurt a little from the strain.

"Breathe in and out, and lie down slowly," says our instructor, in her very precise enunciation.

I comply. Or at least I mean to, because this is the moment I discover that, in the 31/2 years I've put off exercising, my abs have shrivelled up to nothing.

I land with a loud "pom", face up, on the mat. I simply have no control over my core muscles, with which to lower myself elegantly to a supine position.

I blink, surprised, at the ceiling while on my back.

Zero stomach muscles also means that I have to cheat and quickly push myself back up into a sitting position with my elbows, instead of doing a sit-up. Repeat embarrassing pattern for 10 times, while my classmates seem to fare better.

For all my fumbling, it turns out to be a great lesson. For days, I ache in a delicious way - even in the back muscles I hadn't known I possessed.

Just practising the breathing technique I learnt in class is useful. Inhale through the nose, and then exhale through the mouth while contracting and pulling up the abdominal muscles - imagine a line going taut from pelvis to rib cage. I am doing this at my desk now, while writing this. The Supportive Spouse turns from his television show and asks: "Must you breathe so loud?"

Still, the toughest part about training to get back in shape happens not in the pilates studio, but outside of it.

When I unroll my mat to do my exercises at home, Lucien takes over. As I do my swan push-ups, he muscles me out of the way with squeals of "My turn!". Then, he proceeds to hold the plank pose for insanely long periods, or form a perfect inverted V effortlessly with his flexible kiddy limbs.

"He's showing off," I mock-sniff to the SS.

Next, Lucien and his elder brother, the serious seven-year- old, colonise my mat with their soft toys and bolsters.

I sigh and give up. Perhaps it is still not safe to exercise yet. Not while I may bust a gut dealing with these guys.

clarac@sph.com.sg


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