This article is written by Vanessa Bartlett and is taken from Great Health Guide (March 2016 – issue 9).
Mindset: Pilates for The Mind written by Vanessa Bartlett
What does the term ‘mindfulness’ mean to you?’ Is it something you consider when you work? When you exercise? What about in your everyday life? These days it’s a popular word in the motivational, spiritual, health and personal development arenas. Some believe that ‘mindfulness’ is about learning to quieten the mind and find stillness with minimal thought. Others believe it’s more about learning to build focus and hone-in on your thoughts without distraction to help you move closer towards your goals.
The great thing is that no matter what you think about the concept, it has been proven that becoming ‘mindful’ helps your physical and mental health. In the first article in this series we looked at how Pilates creates ‘stability’ for the body in terms of building a strong foundation. We know that by working our deep, inner muscles we are helping ourselves avoid injury and creating alignment throughout the body.
Taking this idea of ‘stability’ further, I’ve discovered that Pilates can also create stability for the mind. With busy lifestyles and stress now affecting more of us, health professionals now use techniques like meditation and strategies to help their clients deal with different forms of anxiety, depression and the like.
To put it quite simply, stress causes havoc on our immune system and hormones and as a result can evoke a depressive state of mind due to inflammation in the body. And that’s just one example! No matter what mental health condition is being treated, or what modality is being used, the strategies used are all aimed to help a person become ‘mentally stable.’
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Over the past four years I have been working with a group of people suffering mental health conditions from bipolar, to depression, to schizophrenia and anxiety. With the help of social workers, I run a Pilates and meditation class for these people. Admittedly I was apprehensive at first when asked to do this, not knowing what to expect. Fast forward four years and the Schizophrenia Foundation are now looking to use our particular Wellbeing Program as a template for others to follow in the mental health sector.
You see, the results have been quite astounding. We have a high attendance rate – around 70% of the group turn up every week on their own accord. (Some of these people had not left home in years). Those clients who have dropped out have done so due to personal situations or in some cases even going back to TAFE to study or to go back into the workforce again. I was unaware but apparently it is quite unusual for mental health clients to consistently attend a treatment program of their own accord.
Over the years I started to ask clients what they like about the class. Responses are commonly: ‘It makes me feel strong again,’ ‘I can go home and practice the meditation if I feel stress coming on,’ ‘it just makes me feel good and in control’. A response from one of the ladies really evaluated the program. She said, ‘Anyone can do exercise such as walking on a treadmill, but not everyone can do Pilates. You need to focus and concentrate and it takes a lot more effort. But I know I need to be pushed to that level of concentration as I feel like I have accomplished something. My mind feels in control again.’ One of the social workers, Dennis Magro, (see his website) explained this to me from a psychological viewpoint. He said, ‘People cannot be suffering depression or anxiety at the moment they are immersed and ‘mindfully’ exercising. By doing movements that require the mind to think and focus on muscles, it pulls their attention away from their mental state.’
So the incredible thing is that the more they do this and feel like their exercises are improving, the more it has a positive snowball effect on their life. Essentially, you are building self-esteem. Once your level of self-esteem and independence has improved, your brain starts to think outside its box again, hence the reason that some have gone back to work or study.
There is something intrinsically powerful when you can truly connect your mind and body in movement. I know the effect it has on myself and all of my clients. No matter what state of mind you are in at the start of your session, it sure is a lot better afterwards.
If you have not experienced this state of presence while doing Pilates, you are likely doing it incorrectly. The crux of this unique form of movement is about its power in helping the body health itself – mentally and physically. Next time you are feeling imbalanced or your mind is not where it needs to be, avoid insanity and get yourself moving ‘mindfully.’
Author of this article:
Vanessa Bartlett has 14 years’ experience in the fitness industry and is a qualified journalist. She has appeared as a presenter for TVSN, The Morning Show and co-hosted a community TV lifestyle show. In 2013 she was part of a group award for ‘Innovation in Healthcare’ for helping teach mental health sufferers Pilates and meditation to complement their treatment. She is on a mission to empower people to become educated in holistic health practices, powered by Pilates. See Vanessa’s website for further information.
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