Pilates: Better mental health and bodies
Pilates has become an integral part of training for athletes, while also improving chronic back and core pain for everyone. It conditions the body and the mind for optimal performance, by improving movement and flexibility, while increasing core strength. It speeds up recovery, and helps prevent injuries.
The best athletes don’t just run faster or lift more, they’re also flexible and strong from the core, with increased lung capacity.
Injuries are often due in part to a lack of flexibility, or muscle tightness. A good Pilates routine can even prevent some injuries from happening in the first place, as it creates a better range of motion, heathier joints and pliable muscles. Often, injuries happen when a body can’t handle a particular movement due to poor posture, or weak muscles.
The trouble with Pilates, is that it looks too easy. People can’t grasp how hard it actually is to move muscles, while keeping your core stable, and your mind active. That is, until you try a Pilates hundred exercise. Then you realise you’ve committed to an hour of this class and your abs will be dead and you won’t be able to sneeze or laugh for a week afterwards.
If I were to hand you a pill and said take this every day and sit for half an hour and you’ll ease pain, improve your mental health, maybe even make a start on that six pack you’d eat it out of my hand. Half an hour of Pilates practice would yield the same results, no pill required.
We now have conclusive evidence that it improves our mental health as well. One of my former lecturers in the University of Limerick, an exercise psychology expert, Dr Matt Herring, in a published review concluded that Pilates reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety and fatigue, while also increasing feelings of energy.
Of course, you might say I have skin in the game, as I am a Pilates instructor. Which is true. However, I discovered it as I tried to deal with terrible shoulder and back pain, and a damaged knee from years of running and dancing on it, while ignoring any warning signs it screamed at me. Hand on heart, it has nearly cut all painkillers and anti-inflammatories out of my life. I now incorporate Pilates into my work in the field of sport psychology. It means we can work on mental skills and the delivery of key messages while athletes are still getting a physical and mental workout.
If you want to experience all these improvements, make sure you go to a qualified instructor, as good form is essential. Once you have that down, then sure, work along with some YouTube videos or tutorials, or roll out your mat and get some core work done. Even if the only exercise you do is walking from a car to your desk, it’s vitally important that you mind your body, and your mind. Your muscles and your brain will thank you for it.