On the first day of my Pilates teacher training, we were asked to talk about our 'journey' to the course: how we had started and why we had ended up wanting to teach etc. Lots of people talked, with great vigour, of how Pilates had saved their life and taught them to walk again, or how their first session was a great 'lightbulb' moment. I couldn't help but feel like a fraud. But why?
Well unlike these people, my first encounter with Pilates was less transformative. Less life-changing. Less dramatic.
Picture the scene: the summer of 2005, Durham University, having more or less completed my fresher year, minus a set of pesky exams. I hadn't exercised since compulsory P.E. lessons at school three years previously (unless you count dancing in nightclubs), and my only real concern regarding my wellbeing was ensuring I made it to at least two College meals a day (to be supplemented with lots of hot buttery toast and tea made in the Wear kitchen).
Somehow, however, I found myself lying on my back in the orange-carpeted Ustinov Room of Van Mildert College, undertaking my first Pilates class. I think it was something to do with my friend Bex. I'm sure the patter was along the lines of "My Mum does Pilates and she says it's good" and "It'll be helpful for exam stress". To be honest, when you're 19, there's revision to be avoided, and you have Mrs Fogg's approval, one takes very little persuading.
Our teacher was Erica. I had seen her around, but I knew nothing about her. She was quite small and looked nice. A couple of my friends had lectures with her and said that she was lovely. What I did not know was that, inside her tiny smiling body, she was a machine.
I remember a feeling of awe as I watched Erica. Everything she demonstrated looked simple and graceful. When I tried the exercises, I was woefully useless. Her limbs moved effortlessly, whereas I could barely lift my feet off the scratchy orange carpet.
In many other situations like this, I probably would have given up. But there was something about a) Erica, b) Pilates and c) the fun we were having as a class that meant I came back for the next session. I remember being in fits of giggles when one of my friends unintentionally slipped out a fart (origins unknown) when trying to lower her legs to the ground. I also remember those giggles being really quite painful as my abs were already sore from the Hundreds we had previously performed...
So why am I telling you about this, farts and all?
Well firstly, it's to say that our exercise journey isn't always some romantic tale of life-changing experiences. Sometimes it's just rolling around on the floor laughing about puerile things.
Secondly, it's that if I can succeed with Pilates, anyone can. Back then, I would have bet a considerable amount of money against the odds of me ever being able to touch my toes in twelve years' time, never mind being a Pilates teacher myself.
Thirdly, it's about the importance of a good teacher. Erica was only ever encouraging. Yes, she was clearly stronger and more flexible than all of us, but this was never intimidating. Of course, I was aware of the gulf between her abilities and my own, but somehow this was inspiring, not off-putting. She challenged us, but always within our limits, and I remember her audible delight when we did something well.
I don't really know what happened with these classes after the summer of 2005. I think a combination of the holidays and then not living in College meant they fizzled away. It would be four or five years until I returned to Pilates again, but I will always be grateful to Erica and those who took part in the classes (you know who you are) for introducing me to my now career.
My final message is that these early sessions are central to the philosophy I want to bring to my Pilates classes: I want you to laugh, I want you to surprise yourselves and I want you to be encouraged.
Hey, and maybe one day you'll be sat in a room being asked to tell everyone about your own Pilates journey...