Reforming The Posture

7th October 2011

There’ s more to Pilates than lying on a mat and waving your legs in the air,
discovers Jill Glenn, during a session with local practitioner Jane Collins…

"Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. In order to achieve happiness, it is imperative to gain mastery of your body. If at the age of 30 you are stiff and out of shape, you are old. If at 60 you are supple and strong, then you are young." Joseph Pilates

The idea of Pilates with machines was, I must confess, quite new to me. Indeed, I’d never tried any form of Pilates before, and so was really quite ignorant about the whole thing… although, in the privacy of my own head, I may, perhaps, even have been somewhat disparaging about it, considering it lightweight, straightforward, undemanding – a group of people lying on yoga mats, stretching and turning, and risking injury by not doing it ‘properly’. I may know better now.

The contraptions awaiting me in the light and airy studio at the bottom of Jane Collins’s Bushey garden look like a high-tech cross between Victorian bedsteads and instruments of medieval torture. The bed analogy, at least, is appropriate: Joseph Pilates (circus performer, boxer and self-defence instructor) began to develop the fitness technique he came to call Contrology by attaching springs to hospital beds during the First World War, to enable the bedridden patients to perform some simple exercises via a clever mixture of resistance and support.

It was therapy, really, but after Pilates moved to New York in the early 1920s, he opened a 'body-conditioning studio' which featured much of the original apparatus designed for rehabilitation work.

Albeit adapted and updated, much is still in use in studios today. Jane’s machines are beautifully made, a fact which I find bizarrely comforting as I submit to their mysteries. The idea of Pilates is to improve core stability, and the benefits are manifold: a slimmer outline and a toned stomach (“It tones up, rather than bulks up,” Jane explains), for example, plus amazing improvements in posture. It still has therapeutic use, too, of course – ideal for treating sports injuries and improving fitness in anyone from soldiers to dancers. Working with the machinery is, in a sense, both a purer and safer form of Pilates, allowing the body to be better supported, and to perform manoeuvres that couldn’t be done on the floor.

Jane treats everyone from elite athletes to the elderly and the physically challenged (not sure quite where I sit on that scale…) – and it’s hard to think of another fitness discipline that can work for such a wide range. It’s excellent for the obese, because they’re supported, and can move in ways they can’t move in matwork.

The first machine I try is called the Reformer (more shades of Victoriana, there). My notes are, necessarily, rather sketchy from here – it’s hard to write (and even to think) coherently when your feet are in straps, you’re ‘bending and extending’, tipping your pelvis, and listening to instructions like ‘recruit the neutral’.

Jane is at hand all the time though, to support, advise, intervene. She makes it seem thoroughly natural – and it feels a lot more elegant than it sounds. I have a sense of ‘moving gracefully through the air’ (or, at least, that’s what my scrawled notes tell me) and of my whole body working in harmony.

Other pieces of equipment – the Trapeze, the Split Pedal Chair – offer fresh challenges, and each, like the Reformer, limits the amount of incorrect movement the body can make. I like it; I feel fresher, lighter, looser, and both relaxed and refreshed.

For more information:
07958 648013 •

Find Your Local