We often hear about stress everywhere; in the news, at the doctor’s office, waiting in line, or just among family and friends. We’ve learned over the past couple of decades that excessive stress has long term detrimental effects. Of course, some stress in life is okay and even needed to accomplish goals and move forward, but we’re talking about the kind of stress that keeps you in ‘fight or flight’ mode and plays havoc on your nervous system.
Stress can stem from many sources - work, finances, sick loved ones, or certain times of the year where life is extremely hectic, like holidays and big events.
But what effect can stress have on your overall health?
For starters, a decrease of the immune system. Have you noticed how a person who is swamped at work or generally dissatisfied tends to be sick frequently? Stress can be a trigger or factor for disease, it can affect the digestive system and mood, and it has negative effects on learning and mental health.
Enter Pilates. The widely known benefits of Pilates include a strong core, improved posture, increased flexibility, and a toned body. Pilates is that and so much more.
The essence of Pilates is its mind-body connection, incorporating principles such as breathing, concentration, flow, and precision. Pilates has the magic element of exercise and movement that gets those feel-good endorphins released in the body along with its focus on breathing, which calms the nervous system and lowers the hormone cortisol. Cortisol on its own is not a bad thing. Like everything in life, it’s all about moderation! However, for many people nowadays, life means constant stress and thus an overload of cortisol in the body. That basically translates to being on edge ALL the time. Sleep quality, diet, blood sugar balance, and inflammation are all negatively affected.
Stress management is the key and one of it’s best strategies is Pilates.
As a mind-body exercise modality, Pilates bridges strengthening with stretching. This provides a relaxed but energized session reducing muscular tension and calming the mind and body. Pilates exercises are steeped in its principle of breathing. Focused breathing is known for its calming effect, both on the mind and body. Pilates can be thought of as an active meditation, especially for those that find it challenging to sit still and only breathe.
With all of the distractions, responsibilities, and commitments most of us face, it can be extremely overwhelming - and in many cases unproductive - which keeps us stuck in a loop of overwhelm. Pilates focuses your attention on the practice in each moment and exercise, freeing you from thinking about anything but the practice.
Much like our smartphones that need recharging to work efficiently, so do we! Finishing your practice helps to give you a fresh and more grounded outlook.
From a physical standpoint, Pilates targets muscular strength for optimal posture and provides the foundation for a strong and connected body. That contributes to a perception of self-awareness and inner strength that can alleviate and combat feelings of anxiety.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization) 25% of the world will be affected by mental and neurological disorders within their lifetime with depression and anxiety ranking the highest. Some symptoms experienced with mental illness include exhaustion, poor concentration, chest and back pain, and sleeping disorders.
Pilates can greatly benefit mental health and alleviate some of those common symptoms. Exercise, in general, is mood-elevating due to the release of those ‘feel-good’ endorphins, however, Pilates goes a step further due to its mind-body component.
The focus involved in Pilates takes the individual out of their ‘head’ and into their body. This invokes a sense of control over their body that can be transferred into their daily lives with a renewed sense of confidence. Breathing with movements heightens mental clarity and mindfulness, again taking them away from any problems or worries.
Taking a class can build a routine as well as a social aspect of being around others.
Pilates is the ultimate act of self-care and stress management! Self-care and self-love are thrown around in media circles and even used as a marketing tool for stress management. But what are self-care and self-love? Is it treating yourself to a favorite food? Going out to a party with friends? Or waiting until you’re exhausted and deciding to go to a spa?
All of these options are fantastic and fun but like all successful aspects of life, consistency is the key. Sometimes self-care is saying no to that activity or food that is only a short term fix and will backfire later. A Pilates practice is your best short and long term solution. Ideally, you should aim for 2-3 times per week but anything consistent helps. Though it’s easy to fall into the trap of procrastinating on doing what is good for us for the sake of a project, feeling too tired, or feeling like you can’t step away, just getting yourself to that Mat will be worth all of the benefits!