Protect Your Mental Health With PilatesApr 17, 2021
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Although there is so much more awareness and openness around mental health issues nowadays, there is still a long way to go with this once misunderstood, taboo topic. It is now widely accepted that a mental health issue is just as valid as a physical one and requires appropriate treatment. Many of my clients start Pilates with the goal of not only improving their physical fitness but also assisting with the management of their anxiety or depression or preventing dementia as they age. The stresses of modern life, particularly with the added strain of a pandemic, can really challenge our mental health and it's important that we monitor our stress levels and seek solutions if needed. Joseph Pilates said, "It is the mind itself that shapes the body." He designed his unique method of movement to incorporate a mind-body connection and Pilates is as much a mental workout as it physical. In his book "Caged Lion," John Steele who was a client of Joseph Pilates, recounts that any form of talking between clients was completely forbidden in the studio to encourage full concentration on the exercises. This state can be called mindfulness or more recently has been referred to as being in the Pilates "zone". Many of my clients have been able to drastically improve their mental health issues, thanks to the mind-body connection, so let's look at how Pilates can help you too.
We've all heard about the benefits of meditation for calming our minds and bringing us into the present moment. We usually associate mediation with sitting in a crossed leg or lotus position, eyes closed, fingertips pointing upwards on our knees. While this can be a highly effective form of meditation, it's not always practical and the stillness required can be a little daunting for some people. The combination of movement, breath and concentration that Pilates provides, produces a powerful meditative experience. Every exercise has a conscious breathing pattern and breathing helps to calm the nervous system and bring you out of the fight or flight response and back to the rest and digest state. Pilates also requires you to go within and be aware of how you are performing the movements, which requires concentration and self-awareness. The focus that is needed to achieve this is a form of mediation as it stops your mind from shifting to other thoughts and trains you to be in the present moment.
One of my clients who has an incredibly demanding healthcare job that requires her to be on call, recently had a particularly tough week. Her midweek "moving meditation session" (her exact words) was the only thing keeping her going as she knew her Pilates session would provide time out for her to mentally and physically recharge. Many clients comment that their Pilates session seems to be over in the blink of an eye, which is another great indicator that they were mentally fully engaged and in the present moment the whole time. So if traditional forms of mediation haven't worked for you, Pilates may be the ideal solution.
If you already practice Pilates you will understand what I'm talking about when I say the feeling you have after a Pilates session is quite unique. One of my clients told me her husband always says she looks like she has just had a massage after Pilates and I have to agree! So what is actually happening in our bodies when we feel relaxed yet energised and calm yet happy? When we exercise, endorphins are released which are natural pain-relievers and improve our mood. Exercise also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. They all contribute to reducing the incidence of mental health issues. By exercising regularly you will increase the serotonin levels in your brain. This in turn will help you to have higher quality sleep which assists with maintaining good brain health. This helps to reduce anxiety and depression or prevent these conditions from taking hold. So Pilates and exercise not only leaves you feeling great but has a positive effect on your brain and overall well-being too.
Several of my clients have experienced the heartbreak of having a parent with dementia and they are determined to do everything they can to future-proof themselves against this. While we still don't have all the information we need to cure this group of debilitating diseases, there is new research coming to light all the time. Pilates is one of the tools my clients are using to fight this battle as exercise has shown to decrease the risk of developing dementia. Pilates ticks all the boxes as it includes strength and flexibility training as well as balance and resistance training as detailed in the Dementia Australia physical exercise and dementia guidelines. Pilates also provides the added bonus of the mind-body connection and all the benefits listed above that are associated with it. In addition, I ensure that my clients are being challenged with new exercises, variations of existing exercises and coordination challenges for an additional brain workout. It's also recommended that you have adequate sleep, a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables with sufficient water intake. Keeping as active as possible both mentally and physically could also help to reduce cognitive decline and Pilates is ideal for this.
As you can see Pilates can be very beneficial in both preventing and taking control of mental health issues and I've personally seen many of my clients experience these life-changing benefits. I will never forget one client in particular who suffered from crippling anxiety attacks which were understandably severely impacting her life. It was about 3 months into her training that she called me about a major breakthrough she had experienced. She drove through the Sydney Harbour Tunnel for the first time and she had remained calm and controlled throughout. I didn't even know that tunnels were an issue for her as she hadn't mentioned any of her particular triggers but using Pilates breathing techniques to prepare before she drove into the tunnel, allowed her to stay in control. This was an enormous achievement for her and really illustrates the power of conscious breathing for calming the nervous system. If you would like to start Pilates now take the free 10 day trial on JS Mind Body Pilates, my online studio or email me at [email protected] if you have any further questions about getting started on your Pilates journey. If this post has raised any issues for you or would like further information or support about mental health issues go to Beyond Blue where you will find many helpful resources.
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Learn more about what sort of people benefit from Pilates and how it can help you too. I separate the myths from the facts and share actual case studies of my clients who have achieved life-changing results from my unique Pilates program.