Why we should all do Pilates

Pilates and stress management

Pilates, originally named ‘Contrology’ by Joseph Pilates, has been around for about 100 years. It became particularly popular after the second world war and is as relevant now as it was then.

Pilates has many benefits, but the most relevant at the moment, while we are all experiencing stress in one format or another, is the practice of linking movement to breath. The linking of these two, helps us to slow down our breath as we become more aware of it and to practice our movements with precision.

Pilates is an incredibly mindful form of exercise that requires concentration on breath and positioning of the body, resulting in there is little time to think of other things, including day to day stresses. I often liken it to learning to drive, there are many different elements to focus on that the time flies by.

When we breath slower, our heart rate drops, our blood pressure lowers, our body is guided into a state of calm and most importantly healing can take place. Changing the rhythm of our breath can signal relaxation and kick start the rest and digest state (the parasympathetic nervous system).

This particularly relevant as it is stress awareness month, you can read more about this campaign and access from excellent resources here Stress Awareness Month 2021 – The Stress Management Society

There are six different principles that Pilates focuses on and they each bring an element of mindfulness, we layer up the movements, to bring the benefits of being present in our bodies, by focusing on: –

  • muscle control
  • moving with precision and purpose
  • flowing movements
  • concentration on our core
  • centring our focus on both mind and body
  • breathing in time with our movement
Pilates and posture


I’m listening to clients that have been homebased for a year now, who are sitting at less than optimal, often makeshift desk and sitting for much longer than they would have otherwise when they were based in an office. They are feeling stiff and sore around their lower backs, hips and knees as a result of sitting more. In our own homes our kitchens and bathrooms are often much closer than they are in an office so comfort breaks, lunch breaks, meetings or chats with colleagues away from the computer aren’t happening in a way they used to.

The movements we do in Pilates help us to improve our posture through stretching tight areas like hips and back.  The movements help us nourish our joints encouraging lubrication in the them and they help us to build strength where we are weaker.

Mobility, flexibility and core strength are all suffering at the moment, we can help counter balance some of these effects with Pilates.

Breaking the cycle of stress.

When we are in a stressed state we often hunch over and our breathing suffers, we take small shallow breaths. These can trigger our flight or fight response. Cortisol (the stress hormone) is released as we prepare for a threat – which is fine if there is a genuine threat but when we have this reaction more frequently it can disturb our delicate hormone balance negatively affecting how we function on a day- to-day basis. Bringing our awareness into our breath allows us to start to work on our posture. With the movements we use in Pilates we are encouraging good posture, full and wide breaths bringing us out of the stressed state we are in.

My five absolute favourite Pilates moves: –

  • Roll downs – Start standing with feet hip width apart as tall and proud as you can. Breath in to prepare and then as you exhale that breath start to fold down towards the floor, one vertebra at a time. Let you arms and head relax as you fold down toward the floor, leaving your legs long but softly bent at the knees. Feel the stretch of the muscles in the spine as you fold and then rebuild back up to tall after hanging down by your feet for a few seconds.
  • Walk out to plank – Starting on all fours, hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Tilt your pelvis until the lower back is flat and you could support a glass of water without spiling it. Walk one leg out to a long leg position and then bring the other leg out so that you are in a full arm plank for a few seconds and the walk the first leg you moved back to its starting position and return to all fours. All with out slipping a drop of water in our imaginary glass. This movement and keeping a still lower back requites us turn on lots of deep core muscles.
  • Rolling like a ball – Sitting up right on a mat hug your knees into your chest and start to round your spine to make a ball shape, bringing your feet up away from your mat. Breath in to prepare and then round the spine even more and roll backwards as you exhale, using the momentum of rolling to come back up without going so far that your toes touch the floor. Use your abdominals and breath to control this moment. It’s a really fun movement that increases our heart rate and gets the blood pumping.
  • Clams – Lying side on mat with your elbow propped up (or with your arm extended above your head and rest your head on your bicep), bend your knees forward and line your feet up with your bottom. Stack you hips, knees feet and shoulders. Using abdominals to keep everything else still while you open at the knees. This is great for building strength around our hips.
  • Roll ups – starting laying flat with our arms up in the air over our chest. Breath in to prepare and then exhale as you start to lift the head and peel the spine away from the mat, c-shaping your spine as your come up to seated. We can bend at the knees to help us come up if we need assistance. Sit tall once you are up and then hinge at the hips to lean forward towards your feet. Repeat the moment in reverse to come back to the mat with control.

If you give these movements a try, repeat each move for two to four minutes each to make a short Pilates workout. To find out more about Pilates and how it can help, increase your flexibility, strength and help manage stress please get in touch with me through my new website here .

Sara McDonnell

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