If you live with anxiety, it’s time to look beyond yoga and meditation and try Pilates. Pilates may be more than just a way to get toned arms and a rocking core. According to a 2015 article in Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, in addition to the physical benefits, it can also help improve concentration and mental focus, reduce stress and anxiety, and boost energy.
By learning how to tune into your movements and breathing, Pilates can help you cope with challenging situations, which is especially important for those with anxiety.
Pilates teaches people strategies to control the body better when put under physical or mental stress. This can ultimately ease symptoms of anxiety like rapid breathing, and may bring down your heart rate.
Try out the following 5 Pilates moves to get started.
1. Seated roll downs
- Sit with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Hold your arms extended out in front of you, palms facing the sides of your thighs.
- Exhale and slowly roll down through your spine tucking your tailbone as you lie down on the floor, one vertebra at a time. Keep your abdominals engaged throughout the movement.
- Reverse the flow by lifting up your head and rolling up one vertebra at a time until you return to the starting position. Repeat 5 times.
This exercise for your buttocks and lower back helps build strong muscles in the legs and glutes, and can ease back pain and tension.
- Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Exhale and lift your hips off the floor until your body is in a straight line. Squeeze your glutes and engage your core, holding for one count at the top of the movement.
- Be sure to keep your shoulders on the floor and not overextend your back at the top, and not arching past neutral.
- Return to starting position and repeat 5-10 times.
3. Windshield wiper legs
This abdominal exercise is great to create movement through the spine and hips, and helps build core strength and stability.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Stretch your arms out on the floor in a “T” position with palms facing up.
- Exhale, and slowly drop your legs to one side keeping your knees together. Use your abdominals to control the movement, and try to avoid rolling your hip off the floor as you twist.
- Repeat in the other direction. Complete 10 repetitions.
4. Forward fold
This hamstring stretch combines deep breathing and stretching for total body relaxation.
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you, feet flexed.
- Inhale as you reach your arms out to the side and up above your head.
- Exhale and reach forward with your arms as you bend from the hip joints. Hold for one count.
- Return to the starting position by bringing your arms out to the sides and up above your head as you come back to a seated position. Find length through the spine and keep a long neck throughout the movement.
5. Seated rotations
Many people with anxiety tend to carry tension through the back, neck, and shoulders, leading to headaches and neck pain. These seated rotations are great for releasing upper back tension and mobilizing the thoracic spine area.
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended straight out in front of you, hip-width apart.
- Sit tall, tilting slightly forward off your tailbone, finding length through the spine and neck.
- Bring your hands behind your head, elbows to the sides.
- Gently rotate toward your right side. Feel the side abs working to create the movement. Visualize yourself getting taller as you twist.
- Return to center. Repeat on other side. Repeat the movements a total of 10 times.
Pilates offers many benefits for both the body and mind. Try this simple, no equipment routine to ease your anxiety and feel stronger and more relaxed than ever before, both inside and out.
Note: Always consult a doctor before starting a new exercise program. Exercise can be a great addition to conventional treatments for anxiety but should not replace medications without a doctor's recommendation. If you feel pain during these exercises, stop and seek medical advice.
Natasha is the owner of Fit Mama Santa Barbara, and is a licensed and registered occupational therapist and wellness coach. She has been working with clients of all ages and fitness levels for the past 10 years in a variety of settings.
She is an avid blogger and freelance writer, and enjoys spending time at the beach, working out, taking her dog on hikes, and playing with her family