Healthy control of stress by the body
The body produces the hormone cortisol as part of normal body functioning. It also called the stress hormone as more of it is produced in response to stress. Cortisol enables the body to respond to stress e.g. by providing a surge of energy to enable it to run from danger. If not returned to normal levels, excessive cortisol can cause:
- Impaired metabolism and digestion, causing increased appetite, body fat, and weight gain;
- The destruction of healthy muscle and bone, which contributes to weakness and fatigue.
- Increased blood pressure
- A weakened immune system and slower healing processes
- The impairment of chemicals that are needed to make other hormones (e.g. serotonin).
To keep this hormone at a healthy level and under control, the body’s relaxation response should be activated following stress.
How Does Pilates Reduce Stress?
- Controlled breathing: Pilates requires deep controlled breathing. Focusing and concentrating on breathing allows the mind to be quiet and free from stress and anxiety. The physical benefits of deep breathing include a lower heart rate, reduced blood pressure, reduced production of stress hormones, reduced production of lactic acid in the muscles, increased energy, a more effective immune system, and a general feeling of calmness.
- Relaxation: Joseph Pilates said that “one must move without tenseness”. This means that only the muscles needed for a particular activity should be used, meanwhile all other muscles stay relaxed.
- Imagery: The use of imagery (e.g. move your arms like you are moving them through water, hold your ball like it was the seed head for a dandelion flower) fuels creativity. The visualization used in Pilates imagery helps to calm the mind and encourage concentration as well as providing better movement and anatomical understanding.
- Concentration/ mindfulness: this helps keep distracting and stressful thoughts at bay allowing successful mastery of the exercises. This can improve confidence and a positive sense of well-being.
- Body Awareness: In Pilates, heightened body awareness is reached through the principles of precision, control and centring. Pilates requires very precise movements, starting and controlled from just the right place. This practice can help the management of physical stress.
Beyond your Pilates classes
Pilates is one of many tools that can be used to manage stress - others include physical activity, relaxation and meditation.