‘I miss you!’
Said a little sad voice as I handed over a ‘now too small’ school coat to the reception class teacher at my kids’ school. A house move had made it difficult for her to come to my Epping Pilates classes and she was feeling the lack in her life.
Pilates often starts with the physical, exercise bit.
- Can I do it?
- Will it hurt?
- Why can’t I do what she’s doing?
- I’m too scared to start.
- My back hurts and I need to do it.
- I’ve had a baby and my bits need Pilates.
But find a class you love and that you gel with and it becomes more than that. A regular class provides a community to be a part of, a solace in your week and a signal to your brain that you are about to stop. You are allowing your self a time to be, to breathe and to share space with others like you.
Overwhelm and Anxiety
If you’re new to Pilates or to exercise, as many people are in January, it can feel like getting yourself to a Pilates class – or to any new fitness class – is just another weight to add to your sack of overwhelm.
When you’re absolutely up against it with deadlines, new terms, new projects, catching up after Christmas or working hard until January pay day, it can seem counter intuitive to start a new thing.
Worries about money, pressure to achieve x, y or z this year and an increased awareness of time passing can add to feelings of anxiety in January. And of course, many people make their own plans and resolutions in January which could affect you and add to things to deal with or decisions to make. All of this, along with the weather, can make us feel pretty low.
I can’t claim it’s a cure all. In fact, I’m a big believer in a variety of movement, from running and cycling to weights and swimming.
But there’s something unique about Pilates that can help with our mental health and it’s not just a feeling.
Pilates and our brains
‘Change happens through movement and movement heals.’ [Joseph Pilates]
Pilates, like any movement, can help to restore calm in our processing centres. Our amygdala. We know that when we’re stressed and anxious, it becomes harder to make decisions. Our processing centres get full. Movement and exercise can help to restore order.
Research has shown that exercise and specifically mind body interventions can reduce symptoms of anxiety (Gok et al., 2018).
One of the things that sets Pilates apart from other forms of exercises are its principles which include awareness, balance, breath, concentration, centre, control, efficiency, flow, precision and harmony (Isacowitz, 2014). These principles result not only in body awareness but, as Joseph Pilates described in his book Return to Life, ‘complete coordination of the body, mind and spirit’.
Pilates affects our limbic system, the system responsible for emotions and specifically our fight or flight response. When we are stressed we are permanently ready for action. But Pilates can help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, this is our calming, sleep inducing, relaxing side. The cat curled up on the sofa rather than the lion waiting to pounce.
That nice feeling you get after a Pilates class isn’t just about the movement. There’s stuff happening on a cellular level to help you calm down too.
Happiness in not being the best
I think one of the most under-rated elements of a Pilates class is that it puts you in a state of never being the best and never quite achieving. You can’t ever reach your goal – there’s always a new one. So you might be the CEO at work but in a Pilates class, you’re just Linda who is struggling with her rollups.
And that’s the beautiful point. Whilst it’s great to have a physical goal, and we should set them and work towards them, there’s a beauty in the being too.
- Our bodies can move.
- We may have limits but there are bits that work!
- We can have a positive impact on managing pain through movement.
There’s a wonderful sense of personal achievement just waiting for us if we make it to our first class, manage a whole term of weekly sessions or finally manage to do that rollup.
So the next time you feel too scared to try Pilates or too busy to get to Pilates, remember it might just be the thing you need more than another cup of coffee. And it might just be the thing that if you stop doing, you will miss as much as that reception class teacher.