Change Your Brain With Pilates
Nov 28, 2020
Most people turn to Pilates to improve their physical fitness without being aware of the additional benefits it can provide for our mental well-being which becomes an added bonus. Originally called "Contrology" Joseph Pilates designed his unique method of exercise to benefit the mind as much as the body and referred to it as "the thinking man's exercise." One aspect of this mind-body connection is that you can take control of your body using your thoughts to create positive change which benefits your overall well-being. Even though we still have lots of unanswered questions about the brain that are yet to be uncovered, Joseph Pilates was ahead of his time and instinctively knew that the mind and body shouldn't be thought of as two completely separate entities and said that "Pilates is complete coordination of body, mind & spirit." Let's look at some of the ways that Pilates can change and improve our brains.
What is Mindful Movement?
To gain the maximum benefit from our Pilates workout we are required to be in the present moment during a session as we go within and use our concentration to get in touch with what is happening in our bodies. Over time, this develops good body awareness as focussing on the breath and correct alignment of our bodies also gives us a sense of how our bodies feel and function. When we become skilled at honing in on our bodies we become accustomed to our own movement patterns, areas of tension, weakness or pain and then can begin to implement change. Several years ago now, a client of mine was struggling with PIlates in her early stages of practice. She believed she was physically weak, un-co-ordinated and since childhood had never been able to participate in any form of sport as she would always end up with back pain. Out of frustration, she asked me what she could do to improve her progress as she believed her strengths were more mental than physical as she had three university degrees. I told her this was perfect as she should put her brain into her body and harness her mental abilities to take control of her body. She could then make the necessary changes to develop the physical strength and coordination she desired. It was like a lightbulb moment for her when she realised it was possible for her to use her mental ability to physically change her body. From then on she let go of her limiting beliefs about her physical weaknesses and steadily made amazing progress in Pilates. This prepared her for long challenging walks which she adored and she took up tennis without any pain for the first time in her life. She now constantly challenges herself and believes she has the mental and physical capabilities to succeed at whatever she undertakes and so far everything has been a success! "Pilates is gaining the mastery of your mind over the complete control over your body" Joseph Pilates
What is Neuroplasticity?
After developing our body awareness through mindful movement like my client, we will begin to see positive change, which is where Neuroplasticity comes in.
It was commonly believed that after the age of 25 the brain was matured and wired and there was a steady decline in neurons which continued to decrease as we age. Children's' brains were able to be re-wired and were "plastic" or receptive to change but everyone else over 25 was facing a gradual but continual decrease in neurons with each passing year. Sounds very depressing, doesn't it? The good news is after many years of research beginning in the late 1940s, it was confirmed around twenty years ago, that it's not only children who have the ability to rewire their brains but we all have the ability to change our neural pathways throughout our adult lives. It comes down to "use it or lose it". The more we can stimulate our brains to increase the number of connections between the neurons the more resilience we will build which is protection against diseases such as dementia as we age. Movement, exercise and in particular Pilates is the ideal way of achieving this.
How does Neuroplasticity allow us to change our brains through Pilates?
Pilates challenges our brains as we focus on coordinating movement with a conscious breathing pattern, often incorporating imagery to help us achieve a particular movement or connection. It usually involves stabilising or keeping one part of our body still, while we move another part, all while maintaining good posture & placement and avoiding excess tension in our bodies. New clients always look overwhelmed when they begin moving and start to co-ordinate all these elements. At first, it can seem almost impossible to achieve but before long our brains and bodies adapt and we slowly increase the complexity of the exercises. This is the type of mindful movement that creates new neural pathways in our brains and helps us to keep our brains firing and healthy for years to come. Another benefit of Neuroplasticity is we have the ability to actively change or improve a specific movement pattern we have, such as our posture for example. If you have poor posture and you know what you need to do to change your posture, start by standing in your new posture preferably in front of a mirror. Establish a clear picture of the physical changes you need to make which may be quite subtle and remember how this looks and feels in comparison to your old posture. Hold your new posture for very brief periods of 1 to 2 minutes 4 or 5 times per day and depending on your age and the size of the change you are making, you should start to feel the new posture becoming second nature somewhere between 14 days - 1 month. You are rewiring your brain with your new posture. I successfully changed my own posture when I started Pilates as I had swayback posture. If I try to hold swayback posture now, I really have to think about finding the position and it feels very uncomfortable. Another example is clients who are dealing with back pain and have developed many compensatory patterns to keep moving despite the pain. They begin by establishing a strong pathway from their brains to their abdominal muscles and glutes and then slowly work through other issues that arise. Their spines are often rigid, so they learn to move their spines in different directions and then to articulate through each vertebra. This takes time which varies from person to person, but it's all about rebuilding the body by rewiring the brain which allows people to take control of their own recovery.
The mission statement of JS Mind Body Pilates Online my online Pilates Membership site is "Empowering People to Take Control of Their Own Health & Fitness Through Pilates" and thanks to Neuroplasticity this is entirely possible. Joseph Pilates was ahead of his time as he instinctively understood the way the mind and body work together that wasn't formally known during that era. We now have scientific research to back up his concepts of fitness and rehabilitation adding even more credibility to his unique method of exercise. If you want to start your Pilates journey take the free 10 day trial now
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