There seems to be an obvious link between Pilates helping people wind down, relax, sleep better and reduce their stress levels. Just the act of slowing down your breathing, movements and bringing more awareness into your body is such a helpful principle. I love checking out the actual science on these things, so I’ve had a little search around and found a few articles. Here is a summary.
Pilates helps your brain function:
30 volunteers had their cognitive function tested after a yoga class, a treadmill workout and a baseline assessment. After the yoga session their cognitive function was significantly improved. This sounds like it would also translate over to Pilates. So Pilates could help keep your brain working, it definitely makes you think hard about what you are doing and teaches you a new skill.
Pilates and Mood:
There is a specific Pilates study on just over 300 subjects comparing Pilates and a “special recreation” exercise class which was a class suited to the subjects exercise ability and needs. This showed that Pilates led to a better ability to regulate mood, a more relaxed state and a better sense of wellbeing.
Taking this to look specifically depression a group of 146 women followed a 16 week Pilates programme. Depression scores were measured before and after, showing that Pilates lowered depression.
So Pilates is not just great for core strength, for all over body conditioning and for helping rehabilitate after injury. It is also helpful for keeping you mentally alert and is a great way to help regulate your mood.
People normally start doing pilates with us because they have a bad back, want to gain more core strength or are pregnant. However Pilates has more benefits than just the physical ones. Joseph Pilates believed mental and physical health were closely connected and I think this is one area we need to explore further in this busy world where levels of depression are high.
I know for myself, teaching Pilates is the best job. After a stressful time in my other work as a dietitian or as a mummy, I get to chill out in a relaxed, beautiful space and teach a calm, mindful class. Focusing on your breathing, your body movements and your muscles is part of mindfulness so you can instantly see why Pilates has more benefits than just the physical ones. One statement I heard this week was “I always sleep best on a Thursday after Pilates”. I can see why that is. Pilates helps you slow down your pace of life, move your thoughts from work, home and stress to your body and draw plenty of oxygen into your muscles, using deep, thoracic breathing.
Mindfulness is a therapy that is being used for all kinds of mental health conditions now. A definition of it is: “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” It uses compassion and breathing to help you to let go of negative thoughts, stress and even pain. The similarities to Pilates are easy to spot. Even if you went to a Pilates class and did nothing except lie on the mat and breath you would feel some benefits for your mood and stress relief.
So there seems to be an obvious link between Pilates and mental health. One thing I always want to know is what is the evidence? Has there been any actual research done? There is actually quite a lot that shows a link between Pilates improving your mood, lowering stress and helping with cognitive function.
Look out for my next blog post that looks at the research.