How Can Pilates and Yoga Counteract Anxiety?

The modern world is fast paced and highly-stressful, with lifestyles which see us unable to switch off from trying to fulfil many roles simultaneously, resulting in anxiety which can exhaust us during the day and keep us awake at night. However, help of the holistic kind is at hand.

The extra benefits of exercise

Yoga Workshop

Activity and exercise generally are acknowledged as being beneficial to many aspects of physical and mental health, including stress and anxiety. This is because during exercise the body produces endorphins, those feel good-hormones which also act as painkillers, so undertaking any form of regular exercise could help to counteract anxiety and pain – but how do Pilates and yoga offer additional benefits?

  • Easy Endorphins
    Endorphins are produced even during low intensity exercise routines, so even where yoga or Pilates are practised at low or moderate intensity, endorphins can be released easily into the body in sufficient quantities to still offer a beneficial physical and mental effect.
  • Restorative reconnection
    The relaxed and steady progress of a Pilates or yoga class is a direct antithesis to our fast-paced daily lives and busy lifestyles. With modern communications technology forcing us to be “on call” 24 hours a day in our social and even work circles, we are constantly on alert and find it hard to wind down – a reality which contributes significantly to our stress thresholds. This is an acknowledged modern issue, so much so that ‘Digital Detox’ is now often recommended by GPs and therapists, who encourage disconnection from devices as a way of reconnecting with ourselves. Taking a yoga or Pilates class literally offers a way to do this: to switch off from technology and focus instead on the self; focus on movement in the moment, rather than worrying about the future or the day and removing us, even temporarily, from what is happening or may happen in our lives and our world.
  • Mental control
    Precision is required in the practice of both yoga and Pilates and gaining this requires a focus which can only be achieved by mental control. Stress and anxiety both affect the brain and further impact on the body through nerve endings, so focusing on yoga or Pilates routines can help to improve mental control and alleviate the symptoms of anxiety on both mind and body.
  • Fatigue reduction
    Fatigue contributes negatively to many conditions, and is implicated in both the cause and effects of many stress-related conditions and anxiety disorders. Both yoga and Pilates routines can be specifically tailored to offer bodies the chance to restore and re-energise, even whilst ‘working out’ during a class. Managing fatigue in this way can be an important contributor towards reducing overall anxiety, whilst regularly practising yoga or Pilates can also help improve sleep, something which also aids fatigue reduction.
  • Breathing Techniques
    Yoga particularly is well known for helping individuals to develop and use breathing techniques for relaxation and to aid meditation and holistic well-being, all of which can in turn turn help to manage stress responses and ameliorate anxiety and the sense of overwhelm which can quickly arise in stressful situations. With regular use and practice in yoga or Pilates classes, specific breathing techniques can also become coping mechanisms for situations of potential anxiety – thereby not just reducing the symptoms of anxiety, but helping to manage the causes and onset.
  • Reduction of physical stressors
    When anxiety hits, adrenaline floods the body to enable that well-known fight-or-flight response which is part of the human condition and instinct. As anxiety attacks can hit whenever there is an internal perception of threat, regardless of whether or not there is actually an external threat, adrenaline takes over and can cause those physical stressors such as palpitations, laboured breathing (to the extent even of breathlessness and hyperventilation) and tunnel vision, all of which can exacerbate physical feelings of anxiety and loss of control. The relaxation and breathing techniques learned in yoga and the body control and mindfulness of Pilates can help to reduce these physical responses and minimise overall anxiety.

Holistic health benefits

Yoga Class

It’s also worth being aware that by improving the way we manage these physical and mental symptoms of stress and anxiety through practising yoga or Pilates, individuals can significantly benefit their holistic and mental health. Such is the benefit of practising holistic therapies such as yoga and Pilates on mental health that in America, around 3% of patients are regularly “prescribed” yoga and meditation instead of medication, specifically to help manage depression and anxiety (source: Harvard research data, 2011).

Add to this the communal benefits of taking yoga or Pilates classes in a small group to help reduce the isolation which often comes with anxiety disorders and it becomes clear that Pilates and yoga have plenty to offer in managing anxiety and improving overall well-being.

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