The Connection Between Pilates and Mental Health

The Connection Between Pilates and Mental Health

Did you know that there are at least 11 million people practicing Pilates in the US alone?

When it comes to practice, there are a lot of mental health benefits that people might not be aware of.  What does that look like, though? What can you do to feel the benefits for yourself?

Read on to find out more on how Pilates can help you improve your mental health.

What Is Pilates?

Before understanding the benefits of Pilates, it’s helpful to define the practice itself.

Pilates is a type of mind-body exercise developed by a man named Joseph Pilates in the 1920s. The practice is based on three main principles:

  • Breath
  • Whole-body health
  • Whole-body commitment

“Whole body" means the mind, body, and spirit. Originally, the practice involved a series of exercises meant to be performed in a specific order, but over time it’s adapted to be more accessible to people of all ages and physical backgrounds.

Its main focus is on strengthening your core and working on both mobility and stability in your body.

There are six main principles that Pilates is built around:

  • Centering
  • Concentration
  • Control
  • Precision
  • Breath
  • Flow

Ultimately, the practice is used widely to not only help you become more physically fit but also to help your mental health and even spirituality if you’d like to take that route.

Physical Benefits of Pilates

If you’ve heard about Pilates before, it’s probably been from a celebrity talking about it or maybe your friends wanting to check out a class. If you have a friend that’s dedicated to the practice, you might have even heard them talking about pursuing their teaching certification.

A lot of people enjoy this practice, and a big reason for that is due to the physical benefits that you stand to gain from incorporating it into your life. Here are a few of the biggest benefits you’ll see:

  • Stronger core
  • Improved balance
  • Improved flexibility
  • Improved posture
  • Weight loss
  • Longer and leaner muscles
  • Recovery from previous injuries
  • Preventing future injuries
  • Deeper breathing capacity

No matter what you’re looking to find from your exercise regimen, pilates can help.

Mental Health Benefits

Now, what about the mental health connection that comes with Pilates? Here are a few of the biggest differences you can expect to notice.

Improve Concentration

Since Pilates encourages mindfulness, that means you’re meant to focus on your immediate environment. When you’re encouraged to focus on the current moment, you have the power to gain not only more clarity in the world around you but also in yourself and your practice.

It helps to improve your focus both on and off the mat, which is great for your mental health and also your memory.

Cope With Anxiety and Depression

With the focus this practice places on the breath, it can help some individuals reduce their anxiety and even cope with depression. It’s meant to be a place you can go to disconnect from stressful or bad days and unwind for a bit.

In fact, a 2020 report stated that physical activity may be helpful in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and also post-traumatic stress disorder.

Exercise itself can help treat anxiety and depression by offering a place to socialize and get out of the house, helping to boost brain chemicals like serotonin, endorphins, and even dopamine, which are great ways to leave negative thoughts and patterns behind, even if only for a short amount of time.

While finding scientific proof for this is still underway (things like individual differences and disagreement among scientists have held it back), the point remains the same. It’s definitely worth exploring Pilates to see if it helps you on your mental health journey.

Develop Better Sleeping Habits

Particularly hard exercise sessions can help you to develop better sleeping habits.

Working out raises your core body temperature, which typically tells your body that it’s time to be awake. After 30-90 minutes, though, your body’s core temperature starts to fall, and that decline helps bring on sleepiness.

Aerobic exercise, like Pilates, also causes the body to release endorphins, which can keep some people awake. If you find this happening to you, exercising at least one to two hours before going to sleep at night will give those endorphins enough time to give your brain the time it needs to wind down before bed.

It’s no secret that having a proper sleep schedule is important. With a solid routine under your belt, you can give your body the regulation it craves in order to fall asleep more easily at night.

Better Breathing

Your breath is one of the most powerful tools your body has in helping to calm the mind. It’s utilized in a lot of mental health practices, including Pilates. In fact, all exercises in this practice come with a specific breathing technique that’s used to improve the overall effectiveness of the exercise itself.

When you supply your muscles and brain with extra oxygen, it helps to remove toxins and it also prevents you from holding your breath, which can have a negative impact on the overall effectiveness of your workouts.

With those removed toxins and extra focus on your breath, it’s going to be a lot easier to stay honed in on exactly what it is that you’re doing and harder for your brain to focus on the things you have waiting at home or how you have to pick up the kids right after you’re done.

You get to focus inward for the duration of your class, feeling your muscles work themselves and working to reconnect with your body.

Easy Stress Management

Widely, Pilates is used as a way to reduce stress and cope with any factors that may be having a negative impact on you.

It helps to decrease the stress hormones in your body, like cortisol, while increasing those feel-good hormones like dopamine and endorphins. When you’re less stressed, you’re a lot more likely to be able to react to tough situations with a level head.

Improve Your Memory

When you go for runs or even walks, your body is engaged, but your brain isn’t. This makes it easy for the mind to wander towards things that cause you stress or even anger, which isn’t always helpful.

Non-engagement can also increase your risk of injury, meaning you’re definitely not going to see as many of those exercise benefits as you otherwise would.

Pilates, on the other hand, requires your full attention. If you’re focused on other things, your overall risk of injury goes up. When you’re going to classes and learning new exercises, this encourages your brain to remain engaged at all times, meaning you get to train your brain while also training your body.

You’re also working to pump extra blood to your brain, meaning you’ll have help with clearer thinking and potential access to better memory and brain function. It also increases your brain’s connections between nerve cells, which works to improve your memory and also protect your brain against disease and injury.

Release Extra Tension

Last but not least, Pilates can help release and relieve the extra tension that your body often stores while carrying extra stress from your days. If you’ve faced any particularly stressful situations lately, your body’s fight-or-flight was probably triggered.

When this happens, physical activity is a great way to relieve the buildup of stress hormones these reactions can harbor inside the body, but that’s not always possible. Consistent practice of Pilates can help to actively work to release extra tension from your body.

Through gentle stretching and gradual conditioning, you’ll slowly work all that stress and trauma out of your body, meaning it’s going to feel a lot easier to relax as time goes on.

Find Mindful Movement With Pilates

When it comes to “mindful movement," a lot of people’s first thought is yoga, but that’s not the only option you have. Pilates is a great alternative, and it’s an amazing way to get the mindfulness boost that so many often seek in their daily lives. It’s like meditation, but you don’t have to sit in one spot in order for it to be effective.

If you’re interested in trying this activity out for yourself, we can help. Contact us today to get started.