By Matt Evans
Pilates is an incredible workout. It can increase flexibility with stretching exercises, which is perfect for fighting the signs of aging, increasing our range of motion and maintaining wellness throughout our lives. It can also improve our strength by performing isometric holds: holding our bodies in positions which force our muscles to contract for long periods can create long-term core strength, leading to better performance in sport (and a solid six-pack to boot). All you need is one of our best yoga mats to get started.
However, one of pilates' most underrated benefits is its effect on your state of mind. Much like yoga, pilates can encourage a sense of relaxation and stillness. One study, published by researchers from the University of Limerick in Ireland, set out to examine the effect on young adult males with generalised anxiety disorders, or GAD.
After just 30 minutes of pilates, the participants recorded how they felt, comparing it to the answers they gave before the session. It was found "acute pilates significantly reduced state anxiety, feelings of fatigue, and total move disturbance, and significantly increased feelings of energy". It even curtailed feelings of depression.
Lockdown means anxiety has never been more prevalent in our lives. With the coronavirus pandemic still closing businesses and leading us to isolate ourselves, communicating only via electronic means, we're more nervous than ever about the state of the world. To reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and increase our energy levels, a 30 minute all-levels pilates session might be just what the doctor ordered.
Below, you can find a 30-minute session from expert instructor Sandra Ostapova, designed to banish feelings of anxiety and negative energy, and encourage self-love and positivity. Check out the flow below:
Watch (and follow along) to our 30 minute pilates flow here:
Sandra's 30-minute routine focuses on breath work, something it has in common with lots of yoga flows, combined with slow, languid stretches to release bodily tension.
A report by Harvard University found "the same stretching exercises that help relax your muscles after a hard workout will help relax your mind as well", reducing the levels of adrenaline and cortisol (the chemicals which cause stress) and increasing the body's production of endorphins, which will improve your mood. Combined with meditative breathwork and positive reinforcement, it's a great release for mind and body.
Self-love might sound a little "woo-woo", but it is important for everyone to cultivate: women, men, and especially young people. Self-love is a difficult quality to pin down, but it's helpful to practice gratitude, being thankful for what we have. Studies from Berkeley University in California found gratitude practice has lasting, positive effects on the brain.
Never tried it before? After completing Sandra's pilates routine, pick up a notepad and write down three things you're grateful for. It could be that your body is healthy and active, it could be you have a safe living space to practice in, or even the fact you've got an internet connection to stream the workout. Regular gratitude practice is exactly that: just meditating on the things you're thankful for.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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