I first came across the Wunda Chair back in 1989 and in all honesty I really was not that impressed. It looked rather archaic and shabby in comparison to the Reformer and the Cadillac with their mysterious springs and fuzzies. All the Chair had was a maroon leather seat that was rather over padded and a foot-bar made of a section of wood with a long black leather foot rest. I used to watch it out of the corner of my eye as I glided up and down the sleek Reformer, suspicious of its four springs. It seemed as though to sit atop and “leg pump” my already overdeveloped quads was really not my cup of tea. Consequently, I gave it a wide birth.
Admitedly it was a piece of equipment that I had no desire to purchase or invest in when I set up my own studio in 1999. However, after unexpectedly gaining a scholarship to work with Pilates and dancers in 2000 I flew to San Fransisco to work with the rather fabulous Elizabeth Larkham.
I have to say I really am a big fan of Elizabeth’s work. She is a real pioneer in the field, with gentle hands on cues and as sharp as a whippet. Her work at the San Fransisco memorial hospital, young dancers and with the Cirque de Soleil has led her to develop a creative rep that is both fun and highly effective. If you ever get the opportunity to go to one of her workshops in the Balanced Body Tour or anywhere else for that matter you won’t be disappointed. I do urge you to work with one of the true masters in the field with a wealth of knowledge and experience.
So there I was once again giving the chair the eye, when Elizabeth announced we were going to do some spinal release work. I cautiously sat atop a rotator disc on top of a rather sparkling version of a new Wunda Chair. This one had beautifully polished wood, smart black leather, gleaming high silver handles and split pedals. Call me shallow but just the décor was beginning to win me over.
Putting a magic circle in my arms, resting against the sternum and holding it like a large wheel I proceed to do a series of exercises she called the Bus Driver. What’s great about working with Elizabeth is she has a knack for coaxing your body to release whilst setting a fair paced challenge. Trying to maintain the integrity of the rotator disc, whilst pushing down the split pedal and rotating my spine the opposite way to the pedal, was no mean feat. Just when I got the hang of it, she then asked me to rotate my head the opposite way to my spine. It was quite a challenging exercise. Then came the piece de resistance, rotate my eyes the same way as my spine but move my head in opposition. Talk about cerebral explosion!! My poor little nervous system got completely re-wired, I turned green and burst into tears. Embarassed? Just a tad.
My reaction had nothing to do with the complexity of the exercise but rather the re-training and release of the nervous system. Two years previously, I had had the misfortune of having a horse riding accident followed by three car accidents. There was something about the rear of my car that men liked to drive into the back of. As a result, I suffered both trauma in the spine and whiplash. Being a hardy Northerner (Jon Snow, a distant relative of mine), I picked myself up and got on with life facing each set back with grim determination. The Bus Driver Exercise gave me a powerful somatic release and neural wash and started a long healing process. It also started a love of the Wunderbar Wunda Chair !!
Joseph Pilates originally designed the chair for a client who lived in a cramped New York apartment. There is some fabulous footage on You Tube of Joseph demonstrating its delights to Clara. Converting it from a normal household item into a piece of training equipment. There is also footage of some of Josephs early clients many of whom were dancers doing some rather elegant moves and showing it potential.
What’s special about this piece of equipment is that is can be easily adapted from use for a beginner with little core control to use with a top athlete who needs to challenged on all levels.
By placing the Wunda Chair against a wall with a roller or baby barrell supporting the spine we can give a beginner the support they need. Learning to disassociate leg movements from torso stability. Take the chair away from the wall, take the dowl out of a split pedal machine, add a rotator disc with an upper body movement challenge and you have the same rep adapted for a more advanced client.
This little gem of equipment can work the body through a plane of movements in both open and closed chain exercises and offers different muscular emphasis and loading to the muscles. It’s a good challenge for progressing clients as well as working with rehab. Pliés on the chair are an invaluable tool for knee rehabilitation work as this targets both the vastus medialis and hamstrings. The sitting posture challenges abdominal stability and takes the client to new levels of understanding and awareness of their body. It develops pelvic stability and promotes a better understanding of pelvic and leg alignment. There is also the opportunity teach isolation of leg movement against the resistance of gravity and the springs. The Wunda Chair is a versatile and fun piece of equipment. It can be used with a range of clients; from beginners who have some abdominal strength, right through to advanced clients.
It offers quite a lot on the way of standing, prone, side lying and sitting balance challenges. When ever I do side lying work with a magic circle between the ankles and moving the foot pedal with my upper body I am reminded of JPs words
“ Correctly executed and mastered to the point of subconscious reaction, these exercises will reflect grace and balance in your routine activities”.