Your Mental Health and Pilates

Your Mental Health and Pilates

Originally named ‘Controlology’ by the inventor Joseph Pilates, Pilates later took on his name and has since evolved and exploded in popularity. Available in gyms and studios the world over, Pilates has been improving bodies and minds for over 100 years. Let’s explore what Pilates is and how it can support your mental health. 

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a form of exercise that aims to improve flexibility and muscle strength with a strong focus on the core. Created in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates, it combines breath work, balance and repetitive, precise movement with either resistance exercises on a mat or through the use of Joseph’s invention, the Pilates reformer. 

Pilates was designed to be an inclusive form of exercise, having originally been created by Joseph following his time working in hospitals during WWI. He created the model of exercise by incorporating the use of hospital beds, including springs, to help strengthen and tone damaged muscles. The springs facilitated incredibly smooth movements and helped rehabilitate patients, which in turn gave him the inspiration to create a number of Pilates machines to use while performing his exercises, including the reformer. 

While Pilates was originally utilised by soldiers to help rehabilitate their bodies after battle, it’s now a popular workout for everyone from elite athletes to your everyday office worker. Pilates reformers have evolved over time but never lost the original purpose of toning and strengthening muscles while engaging the mind during exercise. 

Exercise & Mental Health

There’s a well-known and often-discussed connection between exercise and mental health. All exercise works on the mind-body connection, it builds resilience and discipline, but not all forms of exercise work in the same way in this regard. While weight training and cardio are both good forms of exercise that can build strength and improve cardiovascular health, they don’t overly engage the mind. 

In contrast, like yoga, Pilates has a strong emphasis on breathwork and posture but offers a more active form of exercise. When we’re stressed, we often breathe more quickly and take shallow breaths. Pilates aims to slow breathing down, ensures you’re breathing deeply and combines this with precise, repetitive exercises that require focus at the same time. 

Another benefit that Pilates has over more conventional gym work and cardio is that it can be adjusted according to someone’s physical capabilities. Whether you do Pilates at home or in a class, it can be modified depending on the individual, with reformer Pilates offering different resistances to make it a more custom approach to account for different factors, both mental and physical. Given that it was originally created to help rehabilitate injured soldiers, it’s the perfect option for all fitness levels to increase their strength, mobility and posture, all while benefiting mental health at the same time. 

Pilates for Anxiety and Stress

Anxiety and stress are two major mental health factors that affect a large part of the population at some point in their lives. As many as 1 in 4 people will have a bout of anxiety or high stress at some stage. Both stress and anxiety typically manifest in the body with elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol and can include symptoms like heart palpitations and shallow breathing as well as mood dysregulation, resulting in feeling more short-tempered and irritable. 

Pilates can support the body through these symptoms, combining exercise and breathing techniques to help alleviate both cortisol levels and shaky breathing. Aside from helping to decrease the levels of stress hormones, exercises like Pilates also release happy hormones and endorphins instead. 

Doing as little as a 30-minute workout three to four times a week can help regulate your mood and reduce feelings of stress and irritability. In fact, the main reason Joseph invented the Pilates workout was his experience of feeling better both physically and mentally through exercise.

Pilates for Depression

There can be a number of causes of depression, including circumstantial and physiological. Similarly to stress and anxiety, the root cause of it within the body stems from hormones, but in depression’s case, it’s a lack of adequate serotonin levels in the brain. Circumstantially, it can also come from a lack of social interaction, lack of movement and even seasonality - winter months can be hard on your mood due to the lack of sunlight hours. 

Pilates is a wonderful option to support your body and mind through the challenges that depression can pose. Rather than doing Pilates at home, attending classes will facilitate social interaction in a group setting, allowing you to meet like-minded people. 

The practice of Pilates itself delivers two-fold benefits. First, the act of moving your body brings your mind back into the present moment, helping to remedy the feelings of listlessness and disconnection from your body. Secondly, as with anxiety, those with depression will also enjoy boosted endorphin levels when working out on a reformer or a mat during their Pilates session. 

Pilates for Memory and Mental Clarity 

We’ve already mentioned the mood-enhancing benefits of Pilates, but there are other mental benefits to regular sessions, too. Aside from making you feel better and more content within yourself, thanks to the lowered stress you’ll experience from regular Pilates sessions, it can also help to improve your memory and mental clarity. 

Neuroplasticity is a term you may have heard before, referring to how readily the brain can adapt and learn from new external experiences. Pilates helps to release a protein, BDNF, which encourages and supports neuroplasticity. When this happens, you’ll gradually increase your memory capacity and benefit from improved cognitive function. 

When you’re regularly engaging in Pilates workouts, you’ll also be improving blood flow to your brain. The hippocampus, the part of your brain that’s responsible for your memory, will, in turn, benefit from increased oxygen flow. Repeated sessions that get your blood moving not only benefit your muscles but your brain, too. 

Pilates for Mindfulness

Modern life can make it easy to get swept away in external distractions, from emails and phone notifications to everyday work demands. Pilates is the perfect environment to disengage with the outside world and bring your mind and body back into alignment. 

The very nature of Pilates itself encourages focus, removing those distractions from external stimuli. When you’re in a class, the mind-body connection is especially important as you’ll be focusing on your breath, steady movement and balance all in one. 

Engaging in this practice regularly can often help you translate that same skill to other parts of your life. This can manifest in noticing improved concentration and better mental clarity when you’re going about the activities of daily life. To learn more about Pilates or to get help finding the perfect reformer for you, contact our team for more information.