Created by Joseph Pilates, a German physical trainer, he began practising his new method of body conditioning as an intern during World War I, spurred by his own ailments. By 1926 he and his wife, Clara had embarked on teaching the Pilates method by way of rehabilitation classes for the dance community in New York. Since then, it has been used globally for people to increase muscle strength and tone, improve flexibility, posture and help with weight loss. However, in recent times it has come to light that Pilates also has a wide range of mental health benefits.
Taking deep breaths and breathing correctly is one of the most powerful tools in calming the mind and is utilised in a wide range of mental health practises. Breathing is one of the Eight Principles of Pilates and an essential component in all Pilates classes. Every Pilates exercise involves a particular breathing pattern, improving the effectiveness of the exercise by encouraging oxygen to be released around the muscles and eliminating waste products, which is detrimental to your physical and mental well-being. Focusing on breathing also discourages the student from becoming absorbed with matters outside of class.
Pilates is also used widely as a way to reduce and cope with stress. As a form of exercise, Pilates may also improve your ability to respond to and cope with stress, enhancing your stress resilience:
In the quest to ascertain how conducive the practice of Pilates is in managing depression, researchers measured the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter well-known for its mood-boosting effects, before the clients began the experiment. In addition to serotonin, they measured depression levels and blood pressure. These were measured once again after the twelve week experiment had been completed.
After twelve weeks of regular Pilates classes, a significant increase in serotonin and a 34% reduction in severity of depression was noted. This result is a holistic rival to the effects of some SSRIs, a class of anti-depressant medications that target serotonin’s action in the brain.
The serotonin and dopamine in the brain have an improved transmission rate when exercising occurs.
Aside from the exercises and breathing techniques involved in Pilates, the spirit of camaraderie in each class is prevalent, leaving no doubt that everyone ends the session on a ‘high’, continuing not only through the course of the day, but is adopted as a way of life.
Our physical ills often go hand in hand with our mental well-being. When we feel healthier and fitter, our mental health is stronger, resulting in our mindset being in a better place to be. All in all, when we look good, we feel good. When we feel less pain, we feel happier. Life is more ‘glass half full’ than ‘glass half empty’ when Pilates is in your life.