Updated: Apr 17, 2022
Most people start Pilates because they want to flatten their tummy, get a great full-body workout, ease discomforts, improve athletic performance, etc. And these benefits to the body will surely be realized by the dedicated practitioner but many are surprised by the benefits they receive to the mind as well. Joseph Pilates even quotes the ancient Athenians in his book, “Return to Life”… “Mens sana in corpore sano” which means, ‘a sane mind in a sound body’. Even in 1945, Joe knew you couldn't have a healthy mind without a healthy body. So what are the mental health benefits of practicing Pilates, specifically, and how do we achieve them? Let’s take a look…
4 Mental Health Benefits Of Pilates
As compared to other forms of exercise, Pilates is uniquely designed to benefit your mental health. Often clients report that practicing it has helped them to improve their memory, calm their mind and emotions, relieve stress, and manage depression and anxiety.
It has been proven that people who are physically active report better cognitive function, breathing, circulation, and sleep. All of which lead to improved memory. In 2021, a study involving mice found that aerobic exercise increased the level of a specific hormone related to improving cognitive function in aging and in Alzheimer's disease. Another study in 2019 found that memory was improved after a year of regular stretching and toning exercises. So, whether you're going for a run or doing Pilates, you are going to be improving your total cognitive function and memory. But I would argue that the nature of learning the Pilates mat work, the order, the repetitions, the specific placement of the body, the names, the breathing patterns, all lends itself to improving your memory! In addition, every time I come to the mat, I learn something new which is what helps to keep weaving that intricate web of neurons throughout the brain!
Calms the mind and emotions
Control. Center. Concentration. 3 of the 6 principles of Pilates designed to calm the mind and our emotions. If you’re familiar with the chakras of the body, you’ll know that the root chakra is our foundation. This is located in the base of the pelvis. Our ground zero for Pilates - the pelvic floor. This chakra relates to feeling safe, grounded, and at home. When we tap into this area of the body, which we do in every Pilates exercise, we are connecting to our bodies in a way that is powerfully calming and comforting. Dare I say, empowering?! The sense of strength we develop via the Powerhouse and use of concentration is unlike any other form of exercise. Whenever I’m feeling spread too thin, overworked, or tired I turn inward and do a few simple exercises that gets me connected to my root chakra. In just a few minutes I'm cool, calm and collected.
What’s the first thing they usually tell you when you have stress and anxiety? Breathe. And what’s the first thing we do in Pilates? The Hundred. Lots of breathing. This is not an accident! When I’m stressed and need to shake it off, I get down, do the Hundred and focus on breathing. The pumping of the arms and the challenging position of The Hundred gets the body working at full capacity right away. In 10 deep breaths you’re well on your way from a stressed out, parasympathetic nervous state to shifting into that sympathetic, relaxed state.
Not that the Hundred is relaxing! Joe Pilates explains in Return to Life, how many of us carry around “nervous tension” in the body. His exercises are designed to shake off that nervous tension for a better feeling -- that which we get after a great workout.
"Such a body freed from nervous tension and over-fatigue is the ideal shelter provided by nature for housing a well-balanced mind that is always fully capable of successfully meeting all the complex problems of modern living. Personal problems are clearly thought out and calmly met.” -- Joseph Pilates
Helps manage depression and anxiety
As a new mother, I often feel isolated, overwhelmed and a bit down on myself. Pilates gives me several things that help combat each of these feelings. First, it helps my body to feel better which usually quickly improves my mood. It also makes me feel like I am achieving goals each and every time I come to the mat or the apparatus. My body quite literally changes from the beginning of the workout to the end. I not only have burned a bunch of calories(which gives me a sense of accomplishment) but I have lengthened my spine, re-aligned my pelvis, connected to my center(my root chakra, my life source), straightened out my neck and opened my chest. My perspective on life is different. Change is possible. One step at a time.
Feeling stressed out? Anxious? Overwhelmed? I can't promise to solve all your problems but I can guarantee you will feel better afterwards. Now let's get to the mat and do some work.
Stressed --> Try our series of videos focused on Breathing
Worried/Anxious --> Try our series of videos focused on Tempo
Depressed --> Try our series of videos focused on the Pelvis