Movement & Holistic Wellbeing Series- Pilates

It goes without saying that movement is necessary for enhancing our overall health and wellbeing.

There are particular forms of movement that facilitate connection between our mind, body, and soul at a deeper level. Over the next 4 months, Her. Wellbeing. will look at movement and holistic wellbeing– sharing how different kinds of movement can connect our mind, body, and soul.

First up, let’s look at Pilates! Pilates is a low-impact method of exercise that utilises a series of slow and controlled movements and breathing techniques, usually done in the same order each time. Each movement is gentle but intentional, designed to strengthen your core (abdomen, pelvis, and thighs in particular).

Although Pilates focuses on strengthening your core, it provides a full body work out, as you are required to use your body weight to strengthen and focus on particular muscles. You can also use equipment such as a reformer (available in Pilates studios), but you really don’t need any equipment at all besides a Pilates mat to do the exercises.

How Pilates Benefits Your Mind

A high level of focus is required in order to carry out each exercise effectively. Pilates calls you bring your attention to your breathing, so that you can coordinate it with your physical movement in a controlled and relaxed manner. Pilates really does aid the engagement and flow of your mind and body simultaneously, as you have no option but to bring your attention to that very moment in your own body in order for it to do what it needs to. Another benefit of learning to control our breathing to induce a calmer state of mind, is that we are more likely to carry this learnt behaviour into our everyday lives when we face life’s everyday stress. Learning to be mindful of our breath and using it to alter our body’s stress response to be calmer is a huge benefit for our state of mind on a broader scale.

Pilates is such a great exercise to enhance your ability to clear your mind, practice mindfulness and concentrate on the ‘here and now’. The benefit of this for your mind is that regardless of what tensions, stresses, negative moods or anxieties you might bring into that Pilates session with you, they are soon placed aside out of your consciousness long enough to complete the task at hand. And given the average Pilates session runs for about 45 minutes, that’s a good chunk of time where any burdens on your mind are put aside whilst you tune into nothing but your body and the present moment.

How Pilates Benefits Your Body

Although gentle, Pilates truly is a workout that engages your entire body. By activating muscles in a careful and controlled way, it improves overall muscle strength, posture and flexibility by stretching, strengthening, and aligning your body all at the same time.

It is a high intensity workout in terms of engaging your muscles and burning fat, and is fantastic for releasing any muscle tension you are carrying. The control and flexibility that it trains you to build up also means improved physical coordination and stamina in other forms of sport and exercise is an added bonus.

How Pilates Benefits Your Soul

As mentioned, Pilates asks you to focus on the exercise at hand, be physically aligned and steady in your movements, and be conscious of and connected with your breath.

Research has found that we are happiest when we are able to set aside distractions and tune-in to what we are doing in the moment[1]. When we are not paying attention to our own physical reality (i.e., how we feel in our body), our mind becomes scattered and can go into overdrive trying to process all of the external stimuli we are attempting to make sense of. This comes at an emotional cost, driving us into a fear-like, stressed state, and away from soulful contentment of just ‘being’.

Pilates allows you to reconnect with yourself at that soul-level, to pay attention to the here and now, and to give yourself a mental break from all those external distractions that are swimming around in your head and causing anxiety a lot of the time. It truly gives the gift of connection to your authentic self without disruption for that period of time that you are practicing each movement. This in turn, allows clarity of mind, which often results in a sense of contentment and wellbeing within yourself.

The beauty of Pilates is that it can be done any time and anywhere. There are so many wonderful Pilates studios who run classes and 1:1 sessions, and also many online programs where Pilates classes are offered virtually. There are also some great DVDs available for you to use at home or when travelling. If you are just starting out, it is a good idea to attend some classes in-person or a few 1:1 sessions with a trained and experienced instructor so that they can guide you and ensure your movements are safe and not going to do any damage.

[1] Killingsworth, M.A., Gilbert, D.T., Science, 12 November 2010, Vol. 330, no.6006, p.932, DOI: 1-.1126/science. 1192439

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