When we are experiencing a stressful day or going through a challenging time, fitness and exercise may be the last thing we want to do, however, it can be one of the best methods to manage our mental health. According to Mayo Clinic, research on depression, anxiety and exercise shows that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can help improve mood and reduce anxiety. The American Psychological Association even pushes for more therapists and other mental health professionals to prescribe exercise for managing symptoms. In Pilates, it is necessary to focus. This gives our minds very little space to take on negative thoughts, counteracting our tendency to stress and worry. Here are a few ways that Pilates practice can help us maintain a positive mindset and better manage our mental health.
One of Joseph Pilates’ 8 Principles of Pilates is breathing. Breath is a powerful tool used in calming the mind and is an essential component in all Pilates classes. When we focus on our breath we can improve the effectiveness of our exercise while moving our focus inward for the duration of the class. This allows us to focus on the present rather than worries or future plans.
Many of us struggle with falling asleep at night as thoughts begin to race through our minds when our head hits the pillow. We may even face challenges staying asleep, interfering with sleep quality. While any exercise or regular activity can improve sleep duration and quality, Pilates is more meditative than other types of exercises. Pilates has the ability to calm the mind and prepare us for sleep. Joseph Pilates once said, “It is better to be tired from physical exertion than to be fatigued by the poisons generated by nervousness while lying awake.”
Stress is a common feeling for many of us. In excess, stress can result in headaches, digestive problems, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and a weakened immune system. It can also lead to other mental health struggles including anxiety, depression, and insomnia. At times this can feel very overwhelming. While exercise alone releases the stress hormone cortisol, Pilates specifically can force you to focus on breath and your connection between your mind and body throughout movement. This heavily reduces stress as well as the body and brain’s response to stress.
Studies have shown that exercise promotes the creation of new brain cells, while protecting existing cells. This builds better memory, enhances problem solving, and lowers the risk of Alzheimers, making our brains more efficient and capable. Hippocampus are the parts of the brain that are responsible for cognitive functions and memory. Releasing cortisol, the hormone produced from stress and anxiety, from the body can help the hippocampus to function properly. Exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, increasing connections between nerve cells in the brain and protecting the brain against injury and disease. Pilates is a mindful movement practice and can activate the brain, challenging mind and body simultaneously.
Pilates offers an opportunity to distract ourselves from negative thoughts, reduce stress, and enhance mindfulness. Pilates can provide us with an opportunity to socialize and meet others with common interests while creating a self-care routine. Although we may not always feel inclined to continue with our Pilates practice, it is important to remember how strong and centered Pilates can make us feel on the inside and out.