Why Everyone Should Make Pilates Their Way Of Life

First of all what is Pilates?

You have heard about it, even read about it but you are not sure what it is.  Let me correct that WHO it is.  Pilates was invented by a chap called Joseph Pilates who overcame illness by inventing a series of exercises which he called Contrology.  For more information please click here . There were 34 original exercises which over time have been modified by various different teachers and fitness professionals to suit every fitness level from someone recovering from an illness to a top athlete with body imbalance caused by repetitive exercise.Stretch  It can be carried out seated in a chair, standing, lying on your tummy, lying on your side, lying on your back, seated on the floor, on a stability ball and using small equipment such as resistance bands and small squashy pilates’ balls etc.

How Does It Work?

Muscles make us move.  Every joint in our body has muscles going across it in pairs.  In order to move that joint one group of muscles tightens and the opposite stretches.  And we now have movement!  For various different reasons such as poor posture, repetitive exercise, illness, injury, not moving for long periods of time these muscles become unbalanced leading to loss of cartilage, stiffness, a smaller range of movement and even pain.  However if we practice Pilates on a regular basis balance is restored to the body as a whole as each exercise is designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the joints.

What Are The Exercises Like?

In a class situation your instructor will draw up a lesson plan designed to suit the individuals in the class.  The exercises are slow and there are very few repetitions.  There is a breathing pattern and you engage your core before you move into the exercise.  An explanation of the core and the breathing is given here.

In a one to one situation your personal trainer will do a full posture analysis and take a full history of previous exercises, injuries and any illnesses.  A home programme will be drawn up from that and taught to you.  You then agree a series of appointments to check your progress.

What Should I Wear And Bring To Class?

Always wear unrestricted clothing, layers during the cold weather.  We work in socks and can, if safe to do so, work in bare feet.  You will need a proper Pilates mat and a small pillow or rolled up hand towel.  It is a good idea to bring water with you.

Pilates for Stress and Anxiety

 

Nearly a fifth of adults in the UK suffer from anxiety or depression.  Although a range of factors can contribute to the development of these, stress often has a significant impact when it comes to anxiety.  While doctors may prescribe medications to combat feelings of anxiety, these are not without their problems, so it is useful to explore the other treatment options available.

Managing Anxiety

Although clinical trials show that anti-anxiety medications are safe to take, they may cause a range of side-effects during the course of treatment.  For example, unwanted effects include drowsiness, dizziness, irritability, confusion, problems with movement, jaundice and reduced lung function.  In addition to this it is important to be aware that certain medications used to treat anxiety, such as Diazepam, are potentially addictive, so specialist help is sometimes required to withdraw from these drugs.  Thankfully though, talking therapies are also an effective treatment for anxiety,  but there are a range of strategies anyone can take to reduce stress levels that can help significantly.  For instance, eating a well-balanced diet and limiting alcohol and drinks containing caffeine can effectively reduce stress,  and, indeed regular exercise can also have a very beneficial effect.  There is evidence that exercise known for its ability to induce relaxation, such as Pilates, is particularly helpful for controlling stress and anxiety.

relaxationReducing Anxiety Among Cancer Survivors

One group of people known to experience high levels of anxiety are cancer patients and those who have survived cancer.  It is understandable that following diagnosis and during treatment it is an extremely anxious time, with many uncertainties about the future. However, for cancer survivors there is often a constant fear about recurrence of their illness.  Although there are not as many studies into the positive effects of Pilates on mental wellness among cancer survivors as there are for yoga,  there is promising evidence from  research conducted. For example, Pilates enhanced mood, quality of life and body image, all of which are related to anxiety, among breast cancer survivors.  Several physical benefits of Pilates were also seen for the participants, such as a greater ability and desire to exercise and improved range of movement, mobility and flexibility.

Managing Stress Among Students

Students are another group that often suffer from stress owing to the demands of balancing academic work with paid employment and a busy social life.  That’s before you even consider the added pressure of taking exams.  While students can access a range of support services to cope with life at university,  there is interest in whether taking part in movement-based sessions, including Pilates, may help to reduce stress.  One study among students found that after 15 weeks of Pilates stress levels were reduced together with with brighter mood and improved sleep patterns. This is not surprising, as suffering from stress can negatively affect mood and sleep quality.

Benefits For Pilates Practitioners

It isn’t just people taking part in a Pilates class who can benefit from improved mental health, as practitioners delivering sessions also gain.  A study investigating the influence of Pilates on the quality of life of practitioners, which looked at the benefits among those new to the discipline, established practitioners and ex-practitioners, found that benefits on mental well-being were greatest among experienced practitioners.

Why Pilates Is Effective

Although further research is necessary, Pilates may promote reduced stress levels and anxiety in a number of ways.  Firstly, all forms of exercise encourage your brain to release feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins and serotonin, which have a positive influence on your well-being.  At the same time your body reduces production of stress hormones like cortisol, which has obvious benefits. Beyond the chemical changes within your body, Pilates also helps to relax your muscles,  reducing the build up of tension, which can lead to physical problems, such as muscle pain and headaches, and can also worsen feelings of anxiety.  However, Pilates additionally promotes mindfulness, which is known to have a positive impact on stress and anxiety.  By focusing on just the movement and  breathing, the sights or sounds of the surroundings  distracts you from your worries, but it also helps you to become more aware of the connection between your thoughts, feelings and behaviour, allowing you to take positive steps to manage stress.

 

Research taken from an article in Pilates Union