"Deep breath, breathe out, and move only your sixth toe," she says.
You breathe out and try to move your sixth toe.
"No," she says patiently, for the dozenth time. "That is your fifth toe. Move your sixth toe. Now deep breath."
You like your instructor, and you're paying lots of money, so obediently you try to move your sixth toe. You don't have much luck. Problem is, you can't actually feel your sixth toe. In fact, you're pretty sure you don't have a sixth toe. Still, your trainer is insistent. Apparently you do have a sixth toe, you've just never used it before, and she'll work with you for as long as it takes.
Welcome to Pilates.
Okay, you're not really asked to move your sixth toe. But it's almost as tough.
Before Pilates, I thought I had one set of stomach muscles, and I did sit-ups to make them strong. I was proud to demonstrate my muscles to the instructor. I was sure she'd say I'd be a brilliant student.
I was wrong.
You see, apparently I have a few different stomach muscles, and the ones I've been using aren't the ones I should be using. The ones I should be using are hidden under the ones I shouldn't be using. Problem is, they all feel the same to me.
"Breathe out, and draw in," the instructor says. She is lovely and serene and has her fingers wedged near my hipbone.
I draw in.
"No, see," she says as she presses down on my pelvis, "feel the tension here? You're using the wrong muscles. Let's try again."
I feel the tension all right, but it's not in my stomach. It is like being asked to bend spoons with your mind.
"Breathe out," she repeats ever so calmly. "Concentrate on the corset of muscles in your centre."
"But HOW?" I wail. I feel petulant. I can't feel the corset, I'm not sure I believe in the existence of the corset. How can I draw something in when I don't even know if it's there?
"It takes practice," the instructor says soothingly. "In the meantime, just keep sending it signals. Eventually it will catch on."
So I send signals, corsetry signals, out towards my mid-region. I concentrate fiercely. So determined am I that I nearly chip a tooth.
"No," she says gently, and I want to weep. "Let's try again."
So on we go, the instructor and me, on our search for my elusive corset. It may take a while, and I'd better be careful. Wouldn't want to stub my sixth toe.