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How Pilates can have a positive impact on your metal health

We have heard about how Pilates can help you physically, can rehab you after an injury and is just generally magic. But can it help you improve your metal wellbeing too?

Pilates is famous for creating long, lean muscles that contribute to your strength, muscle tone and ironing out the everyday creaks. Since the original development in the 1920's there has been a Pilates revolution that has transformed Pilates from being a rehabilitation tool to world renowned fitness regime that everyone wants to get involved with. In more recent studies we have also begun to see the positive effects regular Pilates can have on a person's mental wellbeing with illnesses such as depression and anxiety. (1)

The main principles of Pilates are concentration, control, centre, flow, precision and breathing. So how can these have an impact on mental wellbeing?

A pilates instructor doing pilates in a green gym outfit in a side plank

The Science

Breathing is our connection between our parasympathetic nervous system and our sympathetic nervous system. Our parasympathetic nervous system is otherwise known as, rest and digest. It's primary task is to conserve our bodies energy and relax us. Many of the techniques involved in triggering our parasympathetic nervous system to kick start are about shifting your focus on to the present moment and gradually reducing the fight or flight response that's in action when we are stressed and the frantic response that goes alongside it. A functioning nervous system will self regulate but for those who have anxiety it's like having that switch for fight or flight constantly on and for those that suffer with depression it's off, leading to a feeling of disconnection. (2)

There are many ways to help you battle the feelings above such as medication, cognitive behaviour therapy and counselling and it's always suggested that you speak to medical professional however there are some things you can do by yourself to help you along the way.

The suggestions of self management are socialise, find a routine, regular exercise and mindfulness practice. (3)

This is where Pilates comes in...

The link between Pilates and metal health

If you have ever done Pilates you will understand when I say, it requires a LOT of concentration. Many times when you finish a class or your own practice you feel like your brain has had a workout too and you have forgotten all the things you came in thinking about. This is because although we can perform a task and also be doing something else our brain can only one have conscious thought at a time. So although you can be doing Pilates and continue practising an exercise and a cue a may have given you eg try to reach your leg to the back of the room, your brain will have focused on this meaning you cannot then think about anything else without you dropping your leg. (4)

Being in class provides the opportunity to socialise and meet like minded people that are there to improve themselves either physically, mentally or just have fun. This doesn't have to be in person either, we have seen how online classes can still provide the same interactions as you can 'see' others and chat after or before the class but from the comfort of your own home. Also by attending a regular class it provides routine and takes the pressure off you motivating yourself to do it on your own.

In Pilates we do have a breathing pattern of breathing out on the challenging part of the movement and in to return. This allows us to keep our breathing controlled and regulates the pace of the movement. In my opinion we put too much emphasis on breath in Pilates because how can we be expected to do an exercise, focus on precision through a cue you may have been given and breath to a specific pattern . Therefore I encourage clients to actually just breathe however feels natural to them and then to try and slow that pace down. I would suggest a more meditative practice such as listening to a guided meditation or attending a breath class to give you techniques you can transfer to everyday life.

When we exercise it releases hormonal chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins (5), how many times have you done exercise and your mood has felt worse afterwards?

So in conclusion although Pilates can't fix everything and depending on the severity of your illness making a positive step to help yourself and taking back the feeling of control over certain aspects of your life, Pilates is never going to do you any harm.

If you’re yet to try it then I’d love to invite you to join us for a 14 day free trial. Discover how we can help you to improve your mental wellbeing through regular practice.

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