“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness” Joseph Pilates
As we come to the end of stress awareness week here, we are reminded how important it is to take some time to focus on yourself and your mental health. 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 that is going on in the world.
One of the best ways to give yourself a break and relieve this pressure is to focus on your breathing and being truly present; and what better way than to practice the mindful exercise of Pilates (even if it’s just an hour out of your day.)
Practising 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.
As more Pilates instructors are bringing their businesses online, this is truly one of the best ways to not only connect with people and share stress-relieving tips, but to use your time to dedicate yourself to your health and your wellbeing from the comfort of your own home.
Take some time out of your day to learn our top 5 reasons Pilates can aid in stress relief, and our recommended exercises to boost mobility, calm your breathing, and help you focus on allowing yourself to a better level of mindfulness.
This guide will cover:
5 Reasons Pilates is so good for you and your mental health
We all know that exercise is good for you physically, and that taking some time to work out can relieve built-up tensions as you focus on making your body and mind stronger. But did you know that studies performed from researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have shown that it is mindful exercises that improves brain function the best over aerobic exercise
Some key reasons why Pilates is an excellent all-round body-mind conditioning tool are:
- Pilates trains your brain – Stress can
limit our brain functioning processes
, reducing our ability to make decisions and
take on new information. Exercising a few times a week by learning a new Pilates
move or modification counteracts this by helping your brain focus and challenge
the body at the same time.
improves your nervous system
deeper muscles activated in Pilates improves the function of the nervous system-increasing communication between your brain and body (
enhancing stress fighting
and mood boosting hormones
improves mindfulness and meditation
is a great way of relieving anxiety and uncovering creative thinking. Pilates is also a useful way to help fight addictions and
instil positive habits
- Pilates helps relieve tension in the body
– Pilates promotes stretching and being aware of all the muscles in the body and
how to best condition them.
helps you breathe easy
is one of the central pillars in Pilates instruction. You can calm your brain by
practicing deep breathing and being aware of your breathing patterns, reducing
your heart rate and levels of panic
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.
All the information presented can be further explored by
following the links to the references at the end of the page
Now you know a little more about the overall benefits of
Pilates to reduces stress and promote good mental and physical health, here are
some of our top exercise picks you can practice at home:
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
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!)
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
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
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
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.
Allow yourself the time to focus on yourself and your wellbeing and see the benefits that reduced stress levels can bring. As Joseph Pilates himself says:
“Pilates is the complete coordination of body, mind and spirit”
Christian Nordqvist (2013) 'Yoga Improves Brain Function More Than Aerobic Exercises' Medical News Today [online] available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/261667
Marcus Herbert (2014) 'Resilience | How stress affects your body and brain' Nuffield Health available at: https://www.nuffieldhealth.com/article/resilience-...
Pilates Bridge '12 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Pilates for Your Peace of Mind' Available at:https://pilatesbridge.com/12-scientifically-proven...
Serenity Addiction Centres (2020)'Pilates For Recovery From Drug & Alcohol Addictions' https://www.rehabclinic.org.uk/holistic/pilates/
Healthwise Staff (2015)'Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation' University of Michigan Medicine Available at:https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255#:~:text=Breathing%20exercises%20can%20help%20you,to%20calm%20down%20and%20relax.