Amongst Pilates aficionados, Michael needs no introduction.  And mention the name Shrublands and people will say..”Ah yes, I remember Michael…”

Speaking to Michael you soon discover that he is a man of many talents most discovered on his path to becoming an acknowledged Pilates expert and leader in his field.

Who Is Michael Mann?

Pilates foundation imageAn accomplished swimmer himself, he became an instructor during his time with the RAF and soon developed an interest about anatomy and physiology.

In 1986 he met Lady Julia de Saumerez of Shrubland Health Clinic who encouraged him to train with a great friend of hers, the legendary Alan Herdman. Lady Julia (ex Royal Ballet dancer and former owner of the Hall) pushed Michael ‘beyond his comfort zone’ but it was through her mentoring that Michael developed an enthusiasm in helping people recover with the use of Pilates and soon came to specialise in dancers and athletes.

Whilst at Shrubland Hall  he became a First Aid Teacher and Assessor and to this day, along with his qualification in swimming tuition continues to practise all three disciplines. He is also an expert witness for Pilates teachers! But it is as a Pilates expert that Michael is best known.

Brought up in the old-school tradition of Pilates, Michael flourished under the guidance of Alan Herdman whose training was recognised globally.  Under his apprenticeship, you were not allowed to leave until he was 100% sure you were ready to move on.

Pilates Foundation LogoAlan had previously studied at the London School of Contemporary Dance and whilst working as a dancer in the late ‘60’s, he accepted an invitation to go to New York to study the Joseph Pilates Method. He trained with Carola Trier and Robert Fitzgerald, both of whom had trained directly with Joe.  He had to learn all about dance and would be trained in the technique for 8-10 hours a day only to return home and write up all his notes!

Returning to the UK in the 1970’s he set up the first Pilates studio working closely with dancers, actors and singers.  He soon gained a reputation amongst the medical profession and physiotherapists who discovered how beneficial this form of treatment was for patients with chronic injuries and its rehabilitative effects it had on them.

Michael became one of the founding members of the Pilates Foundation originally set up in the late 90’s by a group of Pilates teachers who were keen to protect the integrity of the Pilates technique.  At Shrubland Hall Health clinic he worked closely with the qualified onsite-medics and soon gained a huge following and first class reputation.  Following the Shrubland  closure in April 2006 he joined a local practise specialising in providing  high quality osteopathic and physiotherapy care and other carefullyselected and integrated disciplines

Michael’s Work Within The Profession

Having attended various Pilates classes and, indeed, having been referred to him myself for a chronic back problem, I was keen to learn about  German born Joseph Pilates and how Pilates came to be.  Pilates came to this country and was interred in a POW camp during WW1. He developed his ideas having worked with injured soldiers and subsequently took his method of rehabilitating the injured to New York.  He went on to work closely with the dancing profession and to this day, most of the leading ballet companies, including the New York City Ballet and our own Royal Ballet School, use the same exercises and techniques developed by Pilates. Most ballet companies (and here we will include The Cirque du Soleil) will have their own Pilates teacher.

Pilates teachers are not medically qualified but will undergo a  training programme where they learn all about massage techniques, physiology and anatomy – something that Michael is passionate about.  With the Pilates Foundation apparatus training generally takes place over 18 months to 2 years and the matwork training between 9 months and a year.  Trainees will, however, have been a client at a Pilates studio for at least a year prior to beginning their teacher training and, ideally, for even longer than that.  Michael explained that he has always worked closely with the medical profession and qualified osteopaths to ensure that he has his patient’s full medical history which in turn will influence his individual approach.  He has also learnt about nutrition as he feels that this knowledge will compliment his Pilates training and enable him to provide a more holistic approach.

Each teacher will have his or her individual style which will be adapted to his client’s needs.  Michael deals mainly in remedial work and is always keen to get to know his client, learning all about  their medical history and what they are hoping to achieve by coming to see him.  The majority of his patients come from medical referrals both from within the Gilmour Piper practise, Ipswich, Suffolk and elsewhere in the county.  Michael, who works with Pilates equipment as well mat exercises, will set aside time to work closely with each person, and often discovers that using the patient’s problem can benefit everyone else in his class. His group sessions consist of a maximum of 5 patients.

Pilates foundation imageMichael described how he has to apply psychology to his patients and explained how often the presenting problem is not the underlying factor, and how he feels it is crucial to discover the true nature of the problem before he can start the process of creating a bespoke exercise programme.  Having got to know Michael over the time I attended his classes, I can vouch for his sympathetic and understanding approach, which in turn provides such a sense of security, confidence and belief that you will indeed get better.

I asked Michael what he thought of the current system of teaching Pilates as I had become rather sceptical over the years about the varying levels of tuition I had sometimes received in a class situation.  He feels that the training received today does not involve the rigorous schedule he experienced as a student and as a result he feels that standards have inevitably slipped. He is dubious about the modular courses which are not as demanding as he thinks they ought to be  (he feels that a modular system does work when it is completed hand in hand with an apprenticeship). However, he was quick to point out that there is a strict code of conduct and that tutors will fail their students if they are not up to the mark.  The training should also insist that teachers learn to get to know their pupils as individuals to ensure they are getting the maximum benefit out of their session – even in a class of 20.

I was interested to know how many teachers of the old-school training still practised, and the answer was but a handful.  However, through his mentoring, he has helped and guided new practitioners awarding them the benefit of his years of experience and he acknowledges that there are some superb instructors out there.

Michael’s clients cover the whole gamut of ages and back problems; he sees middle-aged men who are suffering from having been hunched over their desks for so many decades and now paying the price; women over the age of 40 and going through the menopause and learning how even small movements can help their backs, and some of the joint problems  that can be found during this period, as well maintaining good body condition so preventing further problems later on in life.

Platform505 is delighted that Michael is going to write a column about Pilates for us and if you have any questions for him please write to him at or directly at

Pilates Foundation imageMichael has just returned from a busy summer working at the Olympics and Paralympics as a first responder in the medical team. He can also be seen swimming throughout the year in the river Deben, Suffolk, with the seals as well as swimming at Woodbridge pool, Suffolk, and in the evening running into work or cycling. He is looking forwards to returning back to competing in triathlons as well; an enjoyable session for him is running across country through rivers, mud and more mud! Lyn, Michael’s wife, enjoys walking their dog Rosie, who for some reason does not enjoy the mud, rain or any of the weather that might get her coat in a mess!!!!

Women today find themselves having to work, run the house, be a nurse and a teacher; many hold down jobs that require their full attention as well as running the lives of the rest of their families – this all  brings a myriad problems. But even if your life is not so busy, Pilates can still help to improve your standard of living. Pilates is not an exercise regime that will build complete fitness, but it is a great form of exercise that will allow you to go out and perform at a high level. If you are unable to exercise due to illness or injury, Pilates will help to restore you back to health. If you are treated by a team where the pathology of your condition is taken into account and advice is given, you will have a speedy recovery and the cost to both you and your purse will be minimal.