Your mental health and Pilates
Pilates is internationally recognised as a muscle strength and posture improvement practice, particularly helpful for building core strength and relieving back pain. So as a recent convert to Pilates after years of debilitating lower back ache, I was more surprised by how much pilates helped my ‘brain-pain’.
After a long day at work there’s little else I want to do apart from retreating to my sofa, so enter Pilates. There have been many comments on the connection between Pilates and improving your mental health, and actually the practice in itself is a form of mindfulness: being present with your body and listening to how it feels and reacts.
Originally called ‘Contrology’, meaning ‘the science of control’, founder Joseph Pilates was intent on building an exercise concerned with health that encompasses the whole body. And it’s this connection that encourages deep mental stimulation.
“A body freed from nervous tension and over-fatigue is the ideal shelter for a well-balanced mind.” Joseph Pilates
Keep your focus
Like with anything new, focus is essential in Pilates for optimum practice. Interrupting your thought pattern and the cycle of your brain (including potential negative thoughts), enables the mind some rest-bite from whatever is plaguing you.
Find your breath
Much like yoga, there are plenty of positions in Pilates that encourage you to breathe deeply. A real, belly breath. When we’re stressed, we often take shallow, short breaths, raising our shoulders instead of expanding the belly, keeping tension in the body.
When we breathe deeply, we activate the hypothalamus region of the brain, connected to the pituitary gland which regulates our body’s hormone and neurohormone distribution. When the hypothalamus region is activated with the breath, neurohormones that prevent stress are released triggering a relaxation state in the body.
Train for stress
Pilates acts as a stress reliever. In modern-day situations it can be difficult to rid ourselves of the daily frustrations such as traffic, queues, un-helpful colleagues, rudeness etc. and these emotions can build up over time, settling as stress hormones in our body. These hormones manifest in our muscles creating tight, painful bodies with little flexibility. With regular practise, Pilates conditions the body to stretch out these tensions and enables muscles to be better prepared for holding stress.
The link between mind and body
A lot can be measured about our emotions, thoughts and feelings towards ourselves by the way we present and hold our body. With Pilates, your core and spine are two key areas that are gradually manipulated to encourage healthy posture. A recent study by the Mental Health Foundation cited that ‘participants felt more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity. They [researchers] also found that the effect of physical activity on mood was greatest when mood was initially low.’
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