In certain situations, anxiety can be useful. It’s your body’s way of preparing you for action. Maybe you are anxious about a test, a date, a competition, etc. Maybe you are in danger. Either way, anxiety triggers your body’s sympathetic nervous system so that you can react (also known as “fight or flight” response). Your body pumps out hormones, increases your heart rate, quickens your breath, tenses your muscles, and heightens your awareness.
Basically, you become supercharged.
But, let’s say there is no danger (or challenges to face), and all sorts of wild ideas begin to race through your mind. You feel like you are in danger, but you aren’t. Fear begins to settle in. Fear that is unprovoked, unrealistic, and seemingly uncontrollable. You feel like something horrible is going to happen to you. You feel out of control. You might feel numb, short of breath, shaky. You may even feel like you are going to pass out. You can’t focus and you feel out of sorts.
This is anxiety in its sneakiest form.
It may be an episode of anxiety, or it may be an overall state of being anxious. Either way, it is taxing on your system. When these episodes are ongoing, your body is continually producing stress-induced hormonal reactions. Over time your blood vessels can become stressed and damaged and your body will start to build up fatty tissue.
(It’s important to mention that anxiety attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, etc. are very different from worrying or nervousness.)
How does Pilates help?
Pilates allows the body to awaken the parasympathetic nervous system—the part of your body that controls your ability to conserve energy, to relax, to feel pleasure, to learn, to burn fat for fuel, to wake up the digestive system. Pilates allows the body to turn off the sympathetic nervous system and (most importantly) your anxiety.
Anxiety is a physiological response to something. It can begin even before we are fully aware of possible danger, but anxiety is also psychological. If it’s created by us, then it can end with us. The mind is key, because it’s very difficult to focus on more than one thing at a time.
The holy grail for anxiety (and vital to wellness) has to be the mind-body-spirit connection. Joseph Pilates touches on this when he says, “Contrology is complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit.”
“The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning is gaining the mastery of your mind over the complete control of your body.” – Joseph Pilates
When someone is anxious, their thoughts are often about the future (the what-ifs). They can also be about the past (the negative thoughts or events replaying on a continual loop). During Pilates there is no time to let your mind wander to such places. You need to be present. If you are in a Pilates session and you have found yourself thinking about your bills, work, kids, marriage, etc. then you aren’t present. You have to pick between Pilates and your thoughts. And I guarantee, your instructor knows which one you pick.
Working with a good instructor will help you connect your mind to your body so that you can concentrate on being aware of what your body is doing. They will also help you find and maintain controlled, fluid movements while being present for your session. Every instructor brings their own unique style of teaching. Find the one you best connect with and let them know you struggle with anxiety.
“The Pilates Method teaches you to be in control of your body and not at its mercy.” – Joseph Pilates
Just by focusing on your breath alone you will reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve mental clarity, increase circulation, and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Many of the exercises in Pilates have breath patterns that are slower (allowing for more movements to occur during the exercise), while some of the exercises are quicker and require a faster, more controlled breath pattern. Ultimately, the breath is vital to a session that will flow. Even Joseph himself said, “Above all, learn to breathe correctly.”
Many people with anxiety also experience pain. Pilates will help you learn to move your body more efficiently. You will begin to activate and use your muscles properly. You will learn to move with less effort and tension. You will regain control of your body and help reduce pain.
Our world is facing an opioid epidemic; finding ways to better manage things like pain, anxiety, and depression without medication is important. It’s very easy to pop a pill to ease our discomforts these days, but all that really does is mask the symptoms (and often times unsuccessfully).
“The acquirement and enjoyment of physical well-being, mental calm, and spiritual peace are priceless to their possessors if there be any such so fortunate living among us today. However, it is the ideal to strive for, and in our opinion, it is only through Contrology that this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind, and spirit can ever be attained.” – Joseph Pilates
Your mind affects your body and your body affects your mind, but your spirit is affected by both. Your spirit is a reflection of the two. During Pilates your spirit responds to the achievements you didn’t think were possible. It responds to the fears you overcome. It responds to the union of your mind and your body—creating balance and harmony.
If you’ve found relief from anxiety through Pilates and want to share your experience, contact Bonnie at [email protected]. Bonnie is certified as a BASI Pilates Instructor, YogaFit Yoga Instructor, and Nutritional Health Coach.
by Bonnie Zeitner
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