I go to a yoga class after work on a Monday. The teacher has a calm and meditative voice, and the emphasis is on stretching out muscles and focusing on one's breathing. I find it hugely restorative after an inevitably busy start to the week, and it allows me to stretch out any pony-induced weekend aches.
So imagine my surprise this week when I was laid out on my mat in the studio expecting to hear the dulcet Kiwi tones of my normal, slightly hippyish, utterly lovely, lithe brunette encouraging me to find my centre, and was instead greeted by someone who introduced herself as "Mama": a tiny, well-preserved lady of about 65 with a crop of shocking bleached hair and a very strong French accent telling me that today's class would be physio-based Pilates.
"Stand up! Come on, come on, stand up!" With some trepidation that this wasn't going to be the restorative relaxing hour we'd come for, we rose from our mats.
"ENGAGE your pelvic floor muscles! Make sure your butt-ocks are married togezer. Clench zem. CLENCH! Squeeeeeze zose little J-Los."
I was so wrong-footed by the shock that I was cowed into complete submission as she danced around the room. The poor chap who'd turned up for his first ever yoga class I imagine may never come back again.
We lined up against the wall as she encouraged us to plant our feet "like Charlie Chaplin - toes off the floor" and came around manhandling each one of us until our shoulders were pressed down, our pelvic floors were engaged - "boys, zeez are ze ones zat keep you DRY! Think Michael Jackson everybody - thrust thrust!" - and we were all wavering madly between sheer terror and utterly hysterical giggles.
Suddenly: "Ah! What is zees?!" As we knelt on improvised bits of kit (boxing pads stolen from the studio equipment bin) trying for all the world to keep our balance as we contorted ourselves madly towards opposing walls, she leapt, cat-like across the floor, coming down on the other side with the bottom of someone's trainer and a loud thud. "Ah! An insect! I will not have zat in my class. It ees a PREDATOR!"
"Neck LONG," she sang, bouncing again across the studio, "zis little, ah, feature, up towards ze sky." She firmly repositioned one woman's top knot towards the ceiling.
"Come on, inhale and jzzzzz, jzzzz, jzzzzz." She exhaled firmly and noisily sounding like nothing so much as an angry Gallic bee.
By the time we'd finished the class an hour later, knees around our ears, several people visibly trembly, and the poor yoga novice utterly petrified, I had no idea whether I was coming, going or upside down. But I swore one thing: I'll never complain about planks or pigeons ever again.
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