I first was introduced to the Armchair as a dance student, in the basement Pilates studio at The Place in London. The home of the London School of Contemporary Dance.
I was sent down, by Jane Dudley, to study Pilates, after injuring my back. The studio became a safe haven. A quiet, friendly place, run by Alan Herdman who was assisted by Frances Rider. I was lucky to be able to attend classes every day and to observe and help (eventually) initially in exchange for cleaning the studio. I wasn’t very good at cleaning so very quickly the arrangement was changed to, classes in exchange for assisting. It was very competitive at the school and naturally as young dancers we were very concerned about honing our technique.
I remember my first impressions when I first walked into the studio. I was taken aback. It was not at all what I expected. The equipment, especially the Cadillac, looked like torture instruments. I was very shy, but Alan was charming, with a wonderful sense of humour, and I felt welcome.
Talking of Alan’s sense of humour. I remember him teaching me how to teach the supported Jackknife on the Reformer. He was the student! I remember that he made so many deliberate mistakes (many I had already witnessed) and that we ended collapsed on the floor in fits of laughter. Thank you Alan. You were amazing, and so kind.
The Arm Chair was on one side in the studio and I remember teaching the non dancers the exercises. I did them too but without thinking about them too much.
Fast forward to when I had my own studio in Athens, Greece. Frances (yes the same Frances Rider) was in and practicing on my Armchair. She said “Oh these exercises are so wonderful.”
Inside myself, I thought, “Really?”. I taught them, often, and I knew they were good for strengthening the upper back and the arms, for scoliosis, for kyphosis, for people with neck problems but they did not excite me.
I reckon it took my 10 years to fully appreciate these exercises. 10 years to realise how the slope backwards helps you to really connect with the muscles in the upper back. 10 years to realise how to use the support of the springs to free the true length of the arms. And even later how much the breath can be utilised. Finally I understood Frances’ comment. I am so happy. Now I LOVE my Armchair.
In 2013 I had to have a mastectomy, due to breast cancer. This resulted in my left shoulder being stiffer. Afterwards 2 years of treatments, I had plastic surgery which involved removing part of my back muscle on the left. I am very happy and grateful that I had the surgery. It had a positive psychological effect. It did leave a physical imbalance. My left shoulder is stiffer and it it is harder for me to raise my left arm. I take anti cancer medication which causes weight gain and, in my case, numbness, stiffness and has negatively affected my joints. Of course this had a knock on effect and my neck gets stiff and, sometimes, painful especially as with the pandemic I spend much more time at the computer!
I am not telling you all these things to make you unhappy or to complain, but to tell you Pilates has helped me generally with these challenges. I can say with confidence I do feel better after exercising.
The exercises on “The Armchair” afford me the support from the springs that aid me in increasing my range of shoulder and arm movement. The design of the chair with it’s backward slope helps me get more in touch with my back body, the back of the lungs and breath as support for the arms, as well as the shoulder blades.
I can no longer do the exercises perfectly, but that is not the point. The point is to go through the process, in a relaxed way, focusing on the details of how you do the movement and utilise the support. Each repetition will be and should be different, and it will be better than the one before. The body opens up, becomes pain free and moves with ease.
This is true for me just as it is true for those who have greater physical challenges than me as well as those who rely on there bodies being very finely tuned, dancers, athletes…..“The Armchair” exercises are good for all of us. They really help people that have scoliosis and kyphosis.
I will be sharing some of the details of how to get the most out of these exercises in future, blogs, posts and videos.
Have a look at this video https://youtu.be/ckaX_3X6oco
Enjoy “The Armchair.”