Postcards from the pandemic/Letters from lockdown 2: Pilates14th May 2020
On the morning of 20 April, I dragged myself out of bed some time before 08:00. While I left my coffee to brew, I searched for the running tights that hadn’t been used in longer than I’d care to admit, and squeezed myself into them. Once sufficiently caffeinated, I spread a yoga mat on the floor.
Minutes prior, Tracey Daniels, an exercise instructor who’s been teaching for nearly 14 years in the Dainfern Golf & Residential Estate, sent a link to all who were to participate in the Pilates class that morning. By the time I joined the group Zoom, a few women were already there. One of them, Sandy Cotton, was adjusting her camera to give a good view of her own mat. ‘Can you all see my baby?’ she asked, as a small Yorkshire terrier came into view, framed on the blue rectangle of her mat.
Tracey welcomed me and one other new participant to the class, explaining to her long-time students that we were joining for the first time. ‘Can you get a loo roll?’ she asked the two novices. ‘You’ll need it for some of the exercises.’ (If I’d raised an eyebrow at the untamed zeal with which toilet paper was hoarded, I’d at least now found another use for my modest stockpile.) After some brief chit-chat, we all tried – as best we could – to place our cameras to give Tracey a good view of us on our mats. For the better part of the next hour, Tracey led us through a routine while still managing to keep an eye on each of us, correcting individuals on their form and providing gentle encouragement throughout.
The venue, to be sure, wasn’t perfect. Moments of faltering internet connectivity led to delays or freezes, as might be expected. Over the course the class, I had to juggle my laptop between a stool, the floor and a coffee table to try and keep myself visible during different exercises. And, of course, some of the in-person camaraderie is lost. Bev Scoggins and Debbie Cross missed the ‘groans of exertion and chirps through gritted teeth’ that in a regular class would ‘evoke guffaws and giggles.’ (Tracey mutes everyone in the Zoom class.) Still, they are quick to add that the ‘absence of class interaction clarifies and calms the mind, which in turn reduces stress.’
For all clients, it seemed that the small inconveniences were outweighed by the advantages. Gaby Stocker, who has been taking Tracey’s Pilates classes for 15 years, appreciates her familiarity with the teaching style and the attention Tracey can pay to each student’s needs: ‘I understand what she means, and she explains each movement very well. Moreover, she knows me individually and can advise me how to modify an exercise if need be.’ As Sandy puts it, ‘in Tracey’s class you’re not just a number. I can let her know if I have a problem with my neck, for example, and she can adjust accordingly.’ This is particularly valuable given that many of Tracey’s students are over the age of 60. With a mischievous grin, Sandy jokes that she wishes the technology weren’t so advanced: ‘I thought I might be able to get away with a bit more cheating, but unfortunately Tracey is on to me. Nothing escapes her. It’s not just me – I know there are a few of us who try!’
Tracey decided, as many other instructors have done, to find a way to teach and instruct online once the lockdown seemed imminent, recognising the benefit for her loyal clients, as well as enabling her to retain some income. ‘Most of my clients have been with me for so many years that they are familiar with my method of teaching,’ Tracey told me. As such, ‘it’s been a very easy transition. I instruct and watch and correct in my normal way!’ In addition to her normal list of classes, she’s added a free yogalates class on Saturday mornings to show her gratitude to her clients and to provide a weekly interactive exercise class to others during lockdown. Once in-person classes are possible again, Tracey plans to continue the online Saturday classes at a nominal fee, and will give clients the opportunity to join other classes remotely. Gaby, who spends half the year in her native Switzerland, says she would appreciate this opportunity, now that she knows how easy it is: ‘No need to take out the car, no waste of time!’
The prevalence of free online exercise classes, to which people around the world have turned during lockdown, doesn’t seem to have dampened the loyalty of Tracey’s clients. ‘The majority of my wonderful clients have responded well and I think are grateful to still have the routine of their classes in place. I think some even prefer it!’ After all, attending exercise classes isn’t only about staying fit, but also about building a community through shared experiences. This is all the more important when face-to-face interactions are severely limited. ‘Just the routine that online classes add to clients’ days has helped. They look forward to seeing the familiar faces on the screen and greeting each other, having their little jokes and laughs. It’s something familiar and normal in these unusual times!’
For the possibility of taking classes online, Tracey says: ‘I am blessed. It makes my heart happy to think that I can continue to keep these people moving, smiling, and breathing, and bring a little bit of happiness into their days. I am truly grateful, and have really been enjoying it. I look forward to my classes every day.’ After my first Zoom class, I began to understand the appeal. ‘It really is the “bestest” way to start your day,’ Bev and Debbie wrote to me. Staying active has many benefits, of course. But besides those, it was reassuring to be reminded that others were going through the same motions as Tracey occasionally corrected a posture or someone asked a question. (I, certainly, was glad to get encouraging feedback about my pitiful flexibility!) It was also heartening to see people maintaining a supportive group dynamic during lockdown. And when I felt my abdominals whingeing as I got up the next morning, it was comforting to know that I might not be the only one whose body ached in the same way.