As a nation, we’re stressed out! And stress takes its toll by negatively affecting our hormones and immune system with chronic elevation of a hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol is a necessary hormone useful in those occasional circumstances when we need the extra oomph to get us going. But chronically elevated levels of this hormone can have disastrous consequences for our body and mind.The Best Form of Stress Relief
The good news is that one of the best ways to reduce stress is fun, affordable and most of all come with tonnes of other health benefits too! EXERCISE! All exercise is effective at reducing chronic stress, but few are more effective than pilates. This blog will discuss the ways in which exercise and Pilates in particular trumps other forms of stress relief.
Breathing retraining is very effective, and by practising breathing into the lower abdomen you can reduce anxiety, reduce blood pressure, and reduce resting heart rate. Pilates takes this concept further by integrating relaxed breathing with every exercise you do and this combination of controlled breathing whilst applying the Pilates principles ensures a good alignment of body segments with just the correct amount of tension and activation (stress) of the core muscles to elicit a training effect. This means when stress rears its ugly head in other forms (eg. hectic work schedules) you’ll be better equipped to maintain a calm, controlled breathing pattern which in turn will help you stay more relaxed.Hormonal Responses to Pilates
As controlled as pilates is, it can still be very intense and get your heart rate up and the sweat dripping from your forehead. As with all forms of exercise, this increase in heart rate and energy output is followed by a release of feel-good hormones known as endorphins. These hormones make you feel happy and positive about life, including all the challenges which are thrown your way. Regular exercise and release of these hormones can help shift your perspective to a more positive one, helping you take every day stress in your stride.
Stretching Tight Muscles
A developing form of psychotherapy known as bioenergetics has a rooted concept in an inextricable link between mind and body. This isn’t a new concept, Chinese medicine has preached the importance of using the body as a gateway into the emotional. By releasing tension in problem muscles in the hips and neck, which often get tight and overworked due to poor postures (lots of desk work and driving), we often feel a sense of relaxation. Whether this is due to emotions being ‘trapped’ in these areas or whether it just feels good to feel more freedom of movement, we just know it works wonders!Pilates and Meditation
With meditation gaining popularity over the past few years, people are noticing that focusing on nothing but your breathing is an excellent way to calm your mind. Exercise and Pilates have a similar kind of effect. It’s much easier to shift your focus away from the ongoing dialogue in your mind when you are focusing on the control and precision required during Pilates. There’s no space in the mind to think about your day at the office or pressure of upcoming deadlines when you’re focusing on maintaining a controlled breathing pattern, whilst engaging the deep core muscles and performing one of a myriad of exercises we do in Physiolates. Every session is a workout for your body and mind, acting as a mini break away from the stress your own brains monologue creates.
Some of the Best Pilates Exercises for RelaxationShoulder Bridge
Working the gluteal muscle group and the abdominals, this exercise allows for a gentle stretch of the front of the hips releasing tension built up from sitting and allows for nice controlled breathing cadence with the execution of the lift and lowering portion of the exercise.
This exercise requires great amounts of balance and co-ordination which helps bring your focus inwards. Ideal for that meditation-like effect discussed earlier.Crucifix Stretch
This one is more relaxing than it sounds! Spinal rotation and relaxing into the stretch with deep breathing is perfect when you’re feeling lots of stress and tension built up in the back from a hard day at work.
Realistically though, Pilates isn’t about any 1 (or 3) exercise in particular when it comes to relaxation and stress relief. The experience of a full hour uses many different stretches and exercises which work synergistically to leave you feeling energised, but relaxed at the end of a class.