“Do you feel elongated?”
It is not a question I have ever been asked before and I am not sure how to answer. I certainly do not feel any taller and my clothes still fit, but as I lie on the mat, knees in the air, slowly raising my legs in rhythm with deep breaths, I do feel something – and elongated is not a bad word for it.
Just like most lawyers, the majority of my day as a journalist is spent at a desk, hunched over a computer. You do not have to be a chiropractor to know this is not the true path to good posture.
And while any time I get away from my desk is usually spent hunched over something else – a baguette perhaps, or a bar – today it is being spent trying Pilates.
I am being instructed by Speechly Bircham commercial property partner Anne Magill (who teaches under the name of Annie Turner), who is currently working out her notice period to teach Pilates full time instead.
“I felt I’d achieved all I wanted to in my legal career and had nothing more to prove to myself,” says Magill. “I had made some very good friends, worked on some fantastic deals and enjoyed some longstanding and loyal client relationships, but I wanted to try something new before it was too late.”
The exercises she is taking me through are based on the relaxation position – ie lying down – although other positions include lying on your side, sitting and standing up, and the exercises vary in difficulty. I am told that what I am doing is at the gentler end of the scale, although I can still feel the strain in my stomach as I hold my legs and arms aloft.
“As lawyers we’re constantly deskbound and Pilates helps to open up your posture and get you thinking about your alignment,” Magill says. “At work I was constantly sitting forward staring at my screen, slumping and shortening my body. But I only realised that after I’d been doing Pilates for a while.
“Pilates teaches body awareness, strength and mobility. It’s a good way to relieve stress too, because it takes a lot of concentration. The trick is to try to bring that into everyday life.”
Magill joined Speechly as a partner in 2003. Before that she spent three years as a partner at Altheimer & Gray, which collapsed amid a mountain of debt the year she left, and also spent 13 years as an associate at Slaughter and May.
It was only around six years ago that she took up pilates.
“I first went to some classes while on a family activity holiday,” she relates. “I came back feeling aligned, elongated and just really energised. I started coming to Body Control [a Pilates studio near Tottenham Court Road] because our office was in Holborn Circus and it was close. I made a commitment to myself that I’d find time every day to do the class.”
Magill began training as an instructor in 2008. She qualified as a mat-work teacher and is now partway through teaching training for a machine known as ’The Reformer’. It is an ominous-sounding name for an exercise machine and the object itself is all straps and springs.
Joseph Pilates created his eponymous exercise regime during World War I. He developed the workouts to help injured patients recover by getting them to exercise in bed, using bedsprings as resistance – which explains The Reformer.
For the most part, though, all you need is a mat and some space. You might not even have to leave the office – Magill hopes to teach classes at law firms.
“Speechly Bircham runs a Pilates class,” she says. “A lot of firms do. It makes sense if you think about it. Even if you’re doing it at the more difficult levels it’s not going to get hot and sweaty, so you can do it in the morning or at lunchtime. There’s even an express class that lasts just 45 minutes.
“What I want to do is combine my ability as a Pilates teacher with my experience as a lawyer and businesswoman to help other people working in the City cope with the pressures of their working lives. Pilates can change your life – it’s changed mine.”