My Week with Alan Herdman

Low Tea After a journey through Frankfurt Airport walking on the brink of running from Terminal A, past many A gates, down many spirals of stairs, a long tunnel that feels like the bowels of Frankfurt airport, up the spiral stairs into Terminal B, I made it to B26, boarding in progress. I found my seat and changed my breathing. Now, I can feel the anticipation of meeting Alan in his home turf, London.

I have been looking forward to my trip for it is my first time teaching Pilates teachers in London. The bonus for me is being able to spend time with Alan. Over the years, we have spent time together at the PMA conferences and at Pilates on Tour. I have always found Alan to be a kindred spirit not only because we both teach Pilates, but his openness to learning, and sharing his knowledge freely. Alan, to me, is ageless in his spirit. He recently turned 70 and continues to help people maximize their movement potential. Outside of our interactions “on the road”, I have not spent a lot of one on one time with him. Nor has he worked on my body, or I on his. The body is all telling! It is another level of getting to know a person. I plan to have a session or two at his studio.

Alan greeting me upon my arrival March 22, 2012

Upon my arrival, I was detained at the immigration entry for an hour and a half. They had questions concerning my purpose for visiting. I sat there repeating a new affirmation. It calmed me and allowed me to be non-reactive. I thought this is helping me stay present and not get out of sorts. I thought I was in control. But, once I arrived at Alan’s I started to feel a little shook up. Here I am, getting out of the cab in front of Alan’s flat. I am gathering all my things that exploded out my back pack. I feel a bit fragmented, trying to keep track of my belongings. I turn around, and there is Alan, standing in his doorway, smiling at me.

He invited me in. We walked past many boxes stacked in the hallway and his belongings in piles on the table. Alan is just moving into this flat from a very large space to a smaller one. It is about 4 o’clock now. Of course, tea time. Alan served tea in a small space he carved out with a view of his garden. I shifted easily, relaxed and felt more connected to my self. Alan, whether he is aware of it or not, created a field allowing for some discharge of my fragmented feeling. He was giving me some grounding. I instantly, felt connected to my self and able to start our first chat.

We discussed our teaching schedules to see when we were going to be teaching at the same place. We are both teaching for Pilates on Tour in Hong Kong and Chicago. Plus we will both be at the PMA conference in Las Vegas. Conversations generally start in a comfortable place, like talking about the weather. In our case, it was about where are you teaching this year. As the tea cooled, we were just getting warmed up.

That is when I had a thought, it would be fun to write about my experience with Alan. I am certain, you reading this, would like to know what do two, what do I call us? Not elder teachers, we are certainly not elderly. Master teacher is over used these days. I think of what Al Harrison called me once while introducing me at POT, “an elder in training”....hmmm I didn’t take kindly to that. Alan is chronologically older than I am but as I said he does not match that age. Alan also has been teaching many more years than I have. We try to give ourselves a place, a category or label positioning ourselves in the industry. It is a way to reference where, and in some cases, who one is. Then are we comparing and judging our ability to do our work? When I self reference my core values, knowledge and use my senses, I know that I am on the right track. I wish not to choose a level, or name for our status in the field of Pilates. I know from my heart and core where I am. 

Moving on, I thought you, the reader may be interested in what do two teachers like Alan Herdman and Madeline Black talk about? I also had inquiries I wanted to ask Alan about his work and experience. I thought it would be fun to write about it. Alan liked the idea too.

One interesting area, we talked about was, of course, clients. We started talking about the notion of cutting a body part off that is giving us problem rather than working on it. We hear those comments, oh just cut it off. I recalled a client who had part of the toe removed because it caused rubbing and it was turning inward. It bothered him while wearing shoes. We both expressed the other option of working on the foot and changing shoes would be less drastic. Then again, it is the person’s choice, no judgement. It did solve his discomfort and pain. Alan said he sometimes wishes to cut out tongues of people who talk incessantly, we laughed.

This line of talk sparked an old experience, I had with a client’s boyfriend, whom she gave a session to in hopes he would start a Pilates practice. I told Alan about this man of 50 + years. When I referred to his navel as a landmark for him to concentrate on, he paused and looked at me with all seriousness. He said, “you know, I have been in therapy for many years over issues with my mother”. I listened. “I decided that I hate my mother so therefore, I had my navel removed”. I was acting professional and did not know how to react to that. So, I recall just moving him off the trap table and onto the reformer. Change of equipment, change of topic, a good avoidance technique. I asked Alan, how would you respond to a comment like that? Without missing a beat, he said “ Let me see it!” We laughed so hard. I think I am too serious, yet he is the Englishman!

Alan, living in London you can imagine has had very interesting types of people come through his studio. His first students were dancers at the Martha Graham school in London. Since 1970, the many actors (some very famous ones though he prefers not to work with them), opera singers, and all sorts of people. The stories he could tell about these people was so colorful. My favorite one was the “Madam” he works with till this day. One day in session, she asked Alan if his ears were burning last night. He said “no, why”. She said “I had my legs overhead, hooked on to the bed head and said if it weren’t for Alan, I wouldn’t be able to do this!!” All kinds of professions are improved with Pilates!

I asked Alan about his body. I wondered if he is experiencing some of the sensations that I am. Is his fascia getting tighter by the year, or has he had injuries that did not come from an obvious accident? I was fishing for what it is like getting older, how the tissues changes. Does Alan have any insight? Well, Alan said no. His flexibility is good, he does not feel tightening of his fascia, he has had no joint pain nor injuries. Except, recently, his big toe joint has been bothering him, enough that he notices it is affecting his gait. I offered to work on his toe. We will spend time together after my workshop for Pilates Umbrella in London, working on our bodies. More to report then.

Day Two Day Three Day Four Final Day