Beat stress with Pilates

20 April 2017 by
First published: 27 October 2016

Feeling frazzled? Here’s how to beat stress with Pilates. As we all experience stress at some point in our lives and it can be really hard to cope with. It causes sleepless nights, nausea, sweating, pounding heart, headaches and even irregular periods. Stress is an everyday thing for lots of us, and even though our body is designed to acknowledge and react to it, it’s still not a pleasant feeling.

On top of that, there’s barely anything we can do to prevent stress itself. But you’ll be pleased to read that there are many things you can do to relieve its symptoms. Whether you like to take a candlelit bath, or get a peaceful night’s sleep, people deal with it in different ways. However, according to a recent study, there’s a new remedy in town. Pilates has actually been proven to help our body deal with mental and emotional stress.

Lynne Robinson, Founder of Body Control Pilates and author of Pilates for Life, explains: ‘scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have identified a circuit that directly links part of the brain to the adrenal medulla (the inner part of the adrenal gland, which triggers an adrenal surge when we feel stressed). The very same network is also associated with the part of our brain that controls movements.’

But why Pilates? What makes it different to any other therapy? Lynne explains: ‘anyone who does Pilates regularly will recognise the moment, a few minutes into a session, when you get an overwhelming sense of release and calm, and, dare I say it, even joy. As your breathing deepens and settles into its rhythm, as your spine lengthens and unravels, as your deep core muscles connect and your limbs stretch out, mind and body unite and you suddenly feel in control. The world seems to be a better place. It’s almost addictive, which might explain why classes have waiting lists. No one leaves, no one wants to miss out.’

There are countless Pilates positions that you can bend and twist yourself into, and we know they’re definitely not all relaxing. So Lynne has provided us with her top three stress-busting positions.

  1. The relaxation position

In this starter exercise, you learn how to position your body, breathe and activate your deep core muscles.

Starting position

Lie on a mat on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart and parallel. You can rest your arms on your pelvis or by your sides. Check that your pelvis is level (neutral) and your spine retains its natural curves.  Take a few breaths, wide and full into the back and sides of your ribcage.

What to do

Breathe wide into the ribcage.

Breathe out, and gently squeeze your back passage as if trying to prevent passing wind and bring this feeling forward to your pubic bone. Then gently draw these muscles up inside like an internal zip. Notice what happens to your lower abdominals. If you wish, you can check by placing your fingers just inside your pelvic bones. You should be able to feel them engage, gently hollowing away from your fingers.

Breathe in and hold this ‘core’ zip.

Breathe out and release.

  1. The starfish

Free flowing movement away from a stable centre.

Starting position:

Adopt the relaxation position with your arms down by your sides, palms facing your body.

What to do

Breathe wide into your lower ribcage to prepare.

Breathe out and raise one arm back as if to touch the floor behind you. Remember you may not be able to touch the floor comfortably, so only move the arm as far as you are happy to do so. At the same time, slide the opposite leg away along the floor in a line with your hips, keeping the pelvis stable.

Breathe in and hold the stretch.

Breathe out and return the limbs to the starting position.

Repeat eight times with alternating arms and legs.

  1. Roll downs

A great way to fully release tension in the upper body. Think of rebuilding and renewing as you restack the spine.

 Starting position

Stand tall on the floor. Keep your feet hip-width apart and parallel. Bend your knees a little and keep them bent throughout.

What to do

Breathe in as you lengthen the back of your neck and nod your head forwards.

Breathe out as you continue to roll your entire spine forwards and down. Imagine you are rolling over a large beach ball to create space between each bone. Roll until you can go no further without bending from your hips.

Breathe in as you begin to roll your pelvis underneath you.

Breathe out as you continue to roll your spine back up, restacking bone by bone. Lengthen your spine as you return back to an upright position.

Repeat up to eight times.