Updated: Jul 11
We all know that movement is good for the body but did you know that different types of movement elicit a different response from the mind-body connection too?
Pilates works on the principle of the mind-body connection. Spending time focusing on your body and your breathing can detract the mind from anything else going on that may be causing stress or anxiety.
Your autonomic nervous system has two parts: the sympathetic nervous system (the so called fight or flight response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (your rest and digest response).
The sympathetic nervous system kicks in involuntarily if we need a heightened response to a dangerous or stressful situation such as avoiding a fast approaching car (or a wooly mammoth). It is activated by the amygdala (the most primitive part of the brain) sending signals to the hypothalamus which is the command centre of the brain. This then transmits a signal through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands which pump out the hormone epinephrine (also know as adrenaline) into the bloodstream.
Once in the bloodstream, adrenaline:
binds to receptors on liver cells to break down larger sugar molecules, called glycogen, into a smaller, more readily usable sugar called glucose; this gives your muscles a boost of energy
binds to receptors on muscle cells in the lungs, causing you to breath faster
stimulates cells of the heart to beat faster
triggers the blood vessels to contract and direct blood toward major muscle groups
contracts muscle cells below the surface of the skin to stimulate perspiration
binds to receptors on the pancreas to inhibit the production of insulin
An adrenaline rush is sometimes described as a boost of energy. Other symptoms include:
rapid heart rate
decreased ability to feel pain
increased strength and performance
feeling jittery or nervous
After the stress or danger is gone, the effect of adrenaline can last up to an hour. However, modern lifestyles mean that many of us live in a constant state of mid to high stress which provides the body with a constant overload of adrenaline. This means the body stays in constant ‘fight or flight’ mode rather than allowing the parasympathetic system to be activated. The result can manifest in anxiety, depression, tight neck and shoulders, poor sleep, high blood pressure and digestive upsets.
So what can we do about it? How do we activate our parasympathetic nervous system?
Because of the combination of building deep core strength, improving flexibility and mobility and improving posture, Pilates is one of the most holistic forma of exercise that you can do. Done regularly (at least 2 or 3 times week) studies show that Pilates also helps to regulate the nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety.
I have recorded a Wind Down Pilates Flow session for you which may help to ease any frazzled nerves, release stiff shoulders and lower backache and generally help put you in a relaxed frame of mind. This might be helpful if you're going through a particularly challenging period!
Other things you might like to try are:
Meditation and deep breathing exercises.
Having a hobby (research shows it is better to do things alone for best results),
Limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption
Exercising regularly and including Pilates, yoga or Tai Chi
Getting into nature in daylight every day
Avoiding mobile phones, TV, computers, loud music and bright lights before bedtime.
I hope you find the time to switch off for a few minutes, lay on your mat and enjoy this Wind Down Pilates Flow session - especially at the end of a busy day.