6 Pilates exercises to combat stress and anxiety
In a world where we are constantly connected and caffeinated it’s very hard to switch our minds off. It is widely recognised that exercise – in particular – Pilates – can help reduce the symptoms of stress and release anxiety – two very common problems. However, something that can be harder to get your head around is understanding which are the most effective types of exercise that tackle these issues and knowing what the benefits are (and why!).
Anxiety and stress are linked to adrenaline and cortisol, so by doing high impact activities or anything that raises our heart rate we can raise these further and actually be feeding the problem.
That’s where Pilates comes in…
Pilates is low impact and has endless benefits when performed correctly. You learn to control your body, your breath and mind.
Due to tuning into your movement and breathing more than you would with other practices, Pilates also helps provide space for the mind to focus on the present moment and leave worries at the door. Doing breathing exercises – which is one of the key principles of Pilates – helps trigger the brain to calm down, and creates a psychological response in the body that naturally decreases our stress and anxiety.
With most of the population searching for tools to help find inner calmness, many consider Pilates as a top option alongside other routes such as meditation, self-improvement techniques and medication – this shows just how powerful Pilates can be on the body and mind. Pilates is a form of exercise which is a real gift to help balance our lives and the symptoms of anxiety and stress.
Reset, destress and clear your thoughts with some of these basic exercises, which can be done at home or in a gym, to calm your mind and relax your body. As people hold stress and anxiety in different parts of their body, try these exercises which open up the main areas holding tension in the body, such as the hips, chest, and shoulders.
- Lie down with hands cupped over your ribs. With knees bent, feet and hips flat, make your shoulders and head heavy on the floor. Inhale deeply whilst lifting and expanding the lungs for a count of three. On the last breath, exhale deeply for a count of three and lower your abdominals and draw them back into your spine.
- Do this four to six times, making sure to relax the face and jaw on each breath. (This can be done sitting and standing, but the body and mind will relax more having the whole body lying down).
*Sometimes simply doing just two of these deep breaths, being mindful of the feeling of your lungs expanding and counting the inhale and exhale, can immediately prevent a full-on anxiety attack coming on. It will relieve the body of tightness and stress.
- Lie down, mindful to have your knees bent and in line with your hips and heels. Relaxing the upper body, chest and head, make sure your box is square (shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip).
- Inhale, lift your hips (without arching your back) and keep your abdominals drawing into your spine – you are going to now hold your breath for three seconds. Exhale articulating bone-by-bone, from the back of your neck, making sure your bum is the last thing to touch the floor.
Focusing on the breath and the articulation of the spine, you will open up the hips, back and chest relaxing the nervous system and releasing any built-up tension.
- Lying on the floor, knees bent and together, make a ‘T’ position with your arms. Draw your abdominals into your spine as you take both legs to the left and you take your head to the right.
- Taking deep breaths, here, focus on filling the rib cage, back and lower abs with fresh oxygen. Holding you abdominals into your back, you are now going to draw the knees into your chest (in order to protect your lower back) and switch to the other side.
- Do this two to three times.
Rotation of the spine is key to release tension around organs and make sure any built up tension in the chest and abdomen area is released.
SPINE STRETCH FORWARD
- Sit up with legs straight out and a little wider than your hips. ( If you have tight hip flexors keep knees bent slightly).
- Lift your arms up so the wrist is in line with your shoulders.
- Inhale lift the spine and exhale reach your hands forward towards your toes whilst pulling your abs back into your spine to create opposition and a stretch in your upper and lower back. Inhale re-stack the spine bone by bone with the arms keeping forward to lift up tall and exhale deeply.
- Repeat 3 times.
- With legs out in front of you, take the hands behind the head and elbows are wide.
- Inhale and lift the spine, then exhale and twist to one side – imagining you’re rinsing your spine out like a towel using the breath. Inhale and lift your back to the centre and exhale and turn to the other side.
These are great to open up the chest and get rid of tension built up in the spine.
LIFT HEART UP TO THE SKY
- Place hands on your lower back, making sure you don’t arch. Stretch your chest whilst lengthening the spine and crown of the head to the ceiling – making sure to take deep breaths here in order to release tightness in the chest which suppresses the rib cage and restricts the lungs from breathing properly.
- Keep breathing deeply constantly, finding ways to mindfully stretch the chest and spine as you breath. Even on the exhale, lengthen the spine and chest to create “opposition” – which in Pilates terms means space all over the body!
- Take four to six breaths.
These are just examples of some of the exercises you can do to release stress and anxiety. To deepen the work that Pilates provides, find yourself an authentic Pilates studio that has many pieces of equipment to support you. They should give you the tools to support you to live a much more anxious free life. When the mind and body work together it’s the most powerful tool of all!
Here are just a few more benefits of how Pilates supports anxiety and stress…
- Pilates trains your brain
- Deeper muscle activation means better function of the nervous system
- Calms the mind and emotions
- Improves memory
- Pilates makes you more creative
- Relieves tension in the body resulting in relieving tension in the mind
- Pilates makes you happy!
Gaby Noble is a leading Pilates expert and owner of award-winning Classical Pilates studio, Exhale Pilates London. Find out more at exhalepilateslondon.com