Maxine Gordon joins a seated Pilates class, ideal for people with mobility problems

IT all looks so easy. Here we are, sitting down in a chair, lifting a lightweight ball up and down. Next we gently stretch to one side, then another.

We cross legs, "drawing" the alphabet with our foot. The movements are miniscule and gym bunnies might not consider them exercise at all.

But they'd be wrong.

This is seated Pilates, a variant on the popular stretch, strength-building and toning regime created for people with restricted mobility.

Today in class we have a pregnant women as well as others suffering from a variety of ailments including arthritis and ME.

Our instructor is Joanna Ingerson who became a convert after Pilates helped her recover from a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis that left her bedbound.

Joanna said: "I could do less and less - people even had to take me to the toilet. I was too frightened to move because I was in pain all the time.

"I had always been a healthy lifestyle sort of person - I was a gym goer, a swimmer and runner," she says.

A friend taught seated Pilates and came to visit Joanna. "She sat me down on a chair and made me move my finger. It was a breakthrough. She got me moving again."

York Press:

GET IT RIGHT: Joanna Ingerson, right, leads a seated pilates class in York

Joanna had worked as a therapist, practising craniosacral therapy as well as aromatherapy, but was so impressed with her recovery that she decided to train in Pilates. She specifically wanted to teach seated Pilates to others - and was keen to offer classes in the city centre, encouraging access to as many people as possible. A class was established at Sycamore House, Clarence Gardens, on Wednesday mornings, which is still going strong.

Keen to teach more people, Joanna has linked up with the city council's adult education department to run short introductory courses. The session I attend at Briar House, Club Chambers, Museum Street, on a Tuesday afternoon, is one of these adult education classes.

Pilates is designed to improve people's core strength and posture. Joanna instructs us how to sit properly - feet firmly on the ground, placed directly below the knees; upper body tall, shoulders pulled down (imagine two elastic bands attached to you shoulder blades tugging them towards your bottom); head looking straight ahead, chin parallel to the floor.

York Press:

GENTLY DOES IT: Exercising in the seated pilates class at Briar House, York

We use a small squidgy ball to help us sit properly. Placed in the small of the back it nestles into the chair, making it easier to maintain the correct posture Joanna is looking for. To remind us, she has a mantra: "tall, poised and beautiful" (or "tall, poised and handsome" to male participants).

The ball is so comfy and perfect for helping me sit up straightly that I buy two from her - one to use at home and the other at the office.

Joanna teaches us how to "zip", a technique in Pilates that involves engaging the deep stomach muscles and holding them firm as you carry out the exercises. It is akin to the feeling you get when you have to suck in your tummy to pull on a pair of tight jeans.

The exercises are deceptively simply. Using the ball, we hold it in front, arms bent at 90-degrees. then gently rotate our torsos around, one way then the other. All the while, we are engaging our abdominal muscles, and maintaining our posture.

It's only when you actually sit properly that you realise how hard it is to hold yourself correctly - it's so much easier to slouch.

After a minute of doing this simple exercise, my arms start to feel tired and I do feel that the moves are making me stronger.

Teresa Christie, aged 67, is new to the class. She has arthritis in her toe joints and neck. She says she enjoyed the session very much and hopes to come back, providing she doesn't suffer any after effects in the following days. She once tried a general Pilates class, where a lot of work was done standing and lying on a mat, but said it was too difficult.

She said: "I can't exercise, I can't even iron. But this was very good because everything is done so slowly and carefully. If you are moving you are exercising and getting the blood circulating properly."

Stephanie Holdsworth, is 44 and suffers from ME, which leaves her chronically fatigued, which gives her a tendency to slump. She has been taking part in the taster course and benefitting from it. She said: "Part of my recovery is the opportunity to be able to do targeted exercises without overdoing it. Most other classes are too long or too strenuous. This is just right. I find the exercises small, but incredibly effective. I love the release of cramped-up shoulders in the middle of my back."

Joanna gives her class a final encouragement: "Pilates doesn't have to be frightening. We can be as strong as we can be within our own perimeters and enjoy life again."

There will be new taster sessions and short courses in seated Pilates after Easter. To find out more, or book a place, telephone 01904 552806 or visit or look out for the adult education brochures in city libraries.

The free taster session will take place on Tuesday, April 12, from 1.30-2.30 at Briar House, Museum Street, York.

The short course will run at the same time and venue from April 19 to May 17, cost £30.