• Nicole O'Donnell

Pilates for Stress & Anxiety

Come out of your mind and into your body with mindful movement.

“Through the Pilates Method of Body Conditioning, this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind and spirit can ever be attained. Self-confidence follows.” — Joseph Pilates

Meditation has long been known for its powerful effects on the body and mind. Recent studies prove that meditating regularly can decrease anxiety and depression and improve memory, concentration, and the longevity of brain function. If this isn’t the first time you’ve heard about the incredible benefits of meditation and you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon, you’re not alone.

Sitting down to meditate at some point in our busy day feels daunting. When your to-do list is endless and staying busy means you’re actively checking things off, why would you stop? Fortunately, there’s more than one way to get the centring benefits of meditation, and we don’t have to limit our definition to sitting cross-legged with our eyes closed.

What is Movement Meditation?

Using movement provides an easy way to meditate for newbies. In traditional meditation, it can feel like the goal is to focus on nothing. This is pretty much impossible and our lack of success can discourage us from forming a habit. Practising movement meditation offers us something tangible to focus on. By giving our conscious minds something to think about, we’re making it easier to let other thoughts drift on by. This focus on movement also allows our subconscious mind to process information. This is one of the mental benefits of exercise and why physical activity can improve cognitive function. On a deeper level, engaging in intentional, focused physical activity promotes connection with our physical intelligence.

The Mental Benefits of Pilates

Listening to our physical intelligence is a powerful form of meditation, and Pilates is an excellent way to practice. Joseph Pilates used our natural movement patterns as inspiration for his physical training. The exercises he designed, and the ones we still do in class today, were created based on our physical intelligence, on the most efficient ways for our bodies to function. Our societal habits interrupt our physical intelligence by causing us to do more sitting and less intuitive movement. When we practice Pilates, we’re reinforcing our natural movement patterns so we can continue moving efficiently for longer; we’re trying to better listen to our physical intelligence. To put it simply, Pilates allows us to catch our brains up with what our bodies already know.

The more we observe all our bodies are capable of, the more we come to appreciate them. In addition to the general benefits of using movement as a gateway to traditional meditation, Pilates requires multitasking both of the body and mind. This all ensures that we’re focused on the exercises at hand rather than our day to day lives. To get the full mental benefits of Pilates during your next class, explore the meditative side. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Try to let go of everything else that happened that day and everything you’ll do after class. When these thoughts come into your mind, bring yourself back to the present.

  • Focus on tangible things, like how your body feels as it moves and the way your breath supports your movement.

  • Consider each cue the teacher gives by picturing it applied to your own body. Ask for clarification when you need it.

  • If you feel physically comfortable and aren’t doing a balancing exercise, close your eyes. Dig deeper. In Pilates, there’s always a way to dig deeper.

How to Use Pilates as Meditation

Try using Pilates as movement meditation doing the three simple exercises below. If you’re sitting on the ground and/or feeling stable, try closing your eyes.

SIDE STRETCH Sit up tall either cross-legged on the floor or a chair. If you’re in a chair, uncross your legs, plant your feet firmly on the ground, move forward to sit on the front edge of the chair. Align yourself so your head, shoulders, and hips are stacked on top of each other. For most of us, this means tucking our chin a bit, pulling our ribs in, and leaning our ribcage back just slightly. Place your right hand next to your right hip either on the ground or on the edge of your chair and reach your left arm up towards the sky.

Take an inhale, imagining you’re growing taller through your spine. On your exhale, reach your left hand up and over towards the right. As your spine bends, imagine you can maintain the space between each rib on your right side.

Stay for a full breath, feeling your left lungs expand and contract as you breathe. On your next exhale, imagine growing even taller as you return to the centre. Stay for a moment in the centre, noticing the difference between how your right side body feels compared to your left. Then repeat on the other side. Do 3 sets in total.

SEATED CAT-COW If you’re sitting cross-legged, switch the cross of your legs. Check back in with your alignment before you start. Use your hands to stabilize your spine: if you’re cross-legged, you may want to hold onto the fronts of your shins. If you’re seated in a chair, try bringing your hands underneath your thighs close to your knees. Start with a tall spine and a neutral pelvis. Take an inhale. On an exhale, draw your navel into your spine and round your back. Use the hold on your legs to create traction with your spine so you can go into a deep curve. Allow your head to round forward. On a slow inhale, grab your legs to pull yourself forward through neutral and into an arch. Roll your shoulders back and let your head lean back slightly. Exhale to return to the centre and return to your cat back. Do 8 sets of these, focusing on your breathing and the articulation of your spine. Once you’ve done these exercises, take stock of your mental state. Feel any different than you did before you started? All of our classes focus on mindful movement. Try one of our Pilates classes here or if you're looking to relax your body as well as you mind try our Stretch & Restore class here

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