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How Pilates can help reduce anxiety in the lead up to Christmas

In modern society there are several factors that can lead to stress and anxiety, pressures at work, juggling responsibilities and the general feeling of becoming overwhelmed with everything going on in your life. The hype of Christmas can certainly add to those pressures, with the expectations of others and the never ending to do list that risks taking the fun out of Christmas! How can we put anxiety at arm’s length and embrace the Christmas spirit?

Firstly, it is imperative that you give yourself the gift of time, just an hour out of your day to dedicate to yourself, your health and your wellbeing. Practicing Pilates just three times per week, will allow you the opportunity to clear your thought process and release any built-up tension. Pilates is a mind body discipline, where your attention needs to be in the present moment, focusing on the exercises and their instruction to ensure precision and quality of movement. This means that for one hour out of your day, you can forget about all the hype of Christmas shopping and rejuvenate your body and calm your mind.

For the best results to aid in relaxation, perform exercises with slow, controlled movement synchronising the breath. Each repetition of the movement is performed with flow and precision, paying attention to the detail of your technique, fully submersing your thought process in the practice. You can also use soothing background music to enhance the flow.

Why not try the these 5 moves to help combat stress this Christmas:

The Shoulder Bridge – for spinal mobility

Start by lying supine, lengthening through the spine whilst relaxing the shoulders; your pelvis is neutral. Engage your centre.

Inhale as you tilt your pelvis and then exhale as you begin to peel the vertebrae, one by one into a bridge position.

Inhale and float your arms over your head

Exhale and float the arms back again

Inhale slowly articulate back down the spine, section by section

Perform 6-8 repetitions

The Shoulder Bridge

Each part of the exercise flows into the other, seamlessly with the breath. Imaging that the vertebrae are embedding into a memory foam mattress one at a time as you return to the start position. Take your time, concentration and precision is key.

The One Hundred – for core strength and enhanced circulation

Resume the supine set up position.

Inhale to prepare, as you exhale float one leg up to a tabletop position

Inhale to prepare for the second leg, exhale as you connect rib to hip and raise the second leg to tabletop

On the next exhale raise your head and shoulders from the mat, arms are hovered either side of the body

Using the breath, start to pump the arms moving from the shoulder joint. Five pumps of the arms will equate to one breath in and five more pumps will equate to one breath out

❄ Repeat for a maximum of 10 breaths (100 pumps, hence the name The One Hundred!)

The One Hundred

Your focus will be on the breath, with concentration remaining on a strong static position and management of repetitions.

The One Leg Circle – for hip mobility

Resume the supine set up position.

Inhale to prepare, exhale and raise one leg from the floor extending at the knee towards the ceiling

Start to draw medium sized circles onto the ceiling with the toes, flowing with the breath

Keep the hips stable and opposite leg steady

Preform five circles in one direction and then five in the other before changing legs

The One Leg Circle

If control is compromised, reduce the range of movement of the circle. Lengthen through the working leg imagining a beam of light glowing out of the toes.

The chest opener – for spinal rotation and a lovely chest stretch

Transition into a side lying position with your head resting on a block or towel, your arms stretched out in front of you and your knees bent.

Inhale to prepare, exhale and sweep the top arm forward and over, as if drawing a rainbow over your body

Your eyeline will follow the fingertip

Inhale and then exhale to bring the arm back to the start position

Repeat 5 each side

The Chest Opener

Only rotate as far as mobility will allow, keep the movement continuous with the breath.

The Swan Dive – for thoracic mobility

Lie in a prone position with the arms bent at 90 degree angles either side of the head. Engage your core and lengthen through the neck. You can rest your forehead on a block or towel if required.

Inhale to prepare, exhale lengthen forwards through the upper body and lift from the floor

Inhale and float back to the start position

Elongate the neck and slide the shoulder blades down

Keeping the lower body relaxed

Repeat 6-8 repetitions

The Swan Dive

Concentrate on length rather than height. If you would like to move into a strength exercise for further variety, then you can hover the arms from the floor. Try turning the toes in slightly to switch off the muscles in the lower body. Now transition to perform chest opener on the other side.

This sequence is aimed at increasing mobility and strength whilst lengthening the muscles and promoting relaxation with the use of breath, focus and imagery. Try doing this sequence every other day and notice the effect it will have on your mood. Allow yourself the gift of Pilates this Christmas and your outlook on this wonderful time of the year will be a positive one.

Merry Christmas and a healthy New Year!