Pilates for Mental Health

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly one in five adults in the United States (a total of 51.5 million people in 2019) lives with a mental illness. People with an official diagnosis of mental illness aren’t the only ones who are struggling. A pandemic combined with bleak winter weather has taken a toll on our collective mental health. We have lost jobs, loved ones, and the ability to connect with family and friends beyond Zoom. All of us are grieving the loss of something due to the pandemic, whether it’s a simple pleasure we used to take for granted, like meeting a friend for a yoga class, or missing out on important milestones like a graduation or wedding. More than ever, we are searching for ways to connect.

With so much uncertainty in our lives, how can we take care of our mental health?

Our bodies are equipped to handle small doses of stress. Because stress affects all of the systems in the body (not just muscular but also endocrine, reproductive, gastrointestinal, nervous, and respiratory), long-term stress can have serious physical effects. Sudden stress causes us to tense our muscles and release them when the stress has passed. When we are in a state of constant stress, we are always in “fight” mode: a conscious or unconscious state of heightened alert and guardedness. Constant stress can manifest in many different ways including migraine headaches, joint pain, shallow breathing, and digestive issues. It can also contribute to long-term issues with our heart and blood vessels, such as chronic inflammation of the circulatory system.

One way to improve our mental health is to exercise.

Exercise has a positive effect on our mental health, both right away and over the long term. Pre-pandemic, there was already a shift to online fitness, but the pandemic really sped up the adoption of streaming workouts. While it’s very convenient to have a wealth of exercise modalities on our devices, connecting to an instructor through a screen can feel very isolating.

During this challenging time, how can the Pilates community offer support to others while also personally reaping the benefits of this practice we love so much?

The principles of Pilates are:

  • Breath
  • Concentration
  • Control
  • Precision
  • Centering
  • Flow

Pilates demands focus. When the mind is focused on one thing, it leaves little space to take on other thoughts and things. Being mentally aware and present helps counteract our very human tendency to ruminate or worry (a.k.a. what Buddhists call “monkey mind”).

Other ways we can use our Pilates practice to help us through these times include:

  • Choose a class to attend online and invite friends to join.
  • Meet outside and do a Mat Class.
  • Take an online workshop with someone you’ve been wanting to learn from.
  • Search through Pilates social media hashtags based on your interest (Magic Circle, Pilates for men, seniors, dancers, athletes) and connect virtually with a new community.
  • If you usually practice Pilates at a studio, check to see if they are having virtual meetups and reconnect. If not, consider starting one.
  • Re-invigorate your practice by investing in a new prop.

During COVID-19, it feels as though we have very little control. It’s sobering to think about what we have had to endure. By committing to movement, we are giving ourselves an endorphin boost to have the energy to get to the next thing. We are sharpening our focus to be able to make it through the things we find challenging, mundane, and downright hard. By purposefully taking time to move our bodies, we are creating self-care routines and giving ourselves permission to move in a way that feels good to us at the present moment and helps us prepare for the next moment. By staying connected to what we love, we are reminded that while life can change in an instant, who we are at our core doesn’t. Our practice helps keep us grounded in our bodies.

Pilates isn’t magic, but it’s close.

It is fine to acknowledge that you are struggling during challenging times. It is fine to not feel like doing a Roll Up some days. It is fine to not get on your Reformer for a week. When you remember how strong and centered Pilates makes you, inside and out, you will be called to return to the practice, because going back to this practice is what we know how to do.

Take good care!

Tasha Edwards
About the Author

Tasha Edwards

Tasha is an integrative health coach, personal trainer and Pilates instructor who has been in the fitness industry for 16 years. She loves helping people find joy and ease through movement and is working hard to make all forms of movement accessible to all. When she’s not teaching or training, she enjoys reading, writing and dancing in the bathroom mirror.


Geraldine M
1 person likes this.
Great article! Good advice!

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