May is mental health awareness month in America, and we are on a mission to tell the world it’s ok not to be ok. Each year millions of people face the reality of living with a mental illness. While everyone’s road to treatment will always be different, studies have proven exercise is an excellent treatment for mental health, specifically Pilates.
Joseph Pilates, the creator of the Pilates method, believed that physical and mental health went hand in hand, which is why the Pilates method is both a physical and mental workout. Pilates focuses on correct alignment, control, breathing, flowing movement, and concentration.
Here are some ways Pilates can help improve mental health:
Uses the breath to find mindfulness in movement
Breath is one of the most powerful tools in calming the mind and is utilized in a wide range of mental health practices, from yoga to mindfulness and Pilates. Similarly. Breathing is one of Joseph Pilate’s 8 Principles of Pilates and is an essential component of Pilates. Pilates exercises involve a particular breathing pattern that improves the effectiveness of the exercise, helps supply oxygen to the muscles, removes waste products, and prevents you from holding your breath.
In focusing on your breath, the brain cannot compile that “to do” list or focus on the afternoon schedule or what to have for dinner! Instead, Pilates directs your focus inward for the class duration, focusing on the present, feeling the muscles work, and reconnecting with your body.
Stress management and relaxation
Pilates is also used widely to reduce and cope with stress. Exercise can decrease “stress hormones” like cortisol and increase endorphins, your body’s “feel-good” chemicals, giving your mood a natural boost.
Improving memory and brain training
When performing automated forms of exercise such as running on treadmills, the body may be working, but the brain is not active. This may lead to an increased risk of injury and reduced exercise benefits. Pilates requires you to recruit both body and mind simultaneously. Learning a new exercise or modification challenges the brain to learn a new skill, keeping the mind engaged.
Exercise pumps blood to the brain, making you think more clearly. It increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory. It also increases the connections between the nerve cells in the brain. This improves memory and protects your brain.
A tool in treating depression or anxiety
Most research on exercise and mental health focuses on the possible benefits for suffers from depression. Pilates may assist in treating depression and anxiety by offering an opportunity to socialize, changing the levels of chemicals in the brain (serotonin, cortisol, and endorphins), providing a distraction from negative thoughts, releasing stress, enhancing mindfulness, and helping to create a self-care routine.