Whether it’s a long day at the office or a common recurrence, we all feel stressed at times. In fact, one in four people in the UK experience a common mental health problem like stress, anxiety and depression. For many, exercise is a great way to relieve stress, but intense, supercharged workouts might not always be the best solution – the release of adrenaline and cortisol can make matters worse.
A more measured, mindful form of exercise may be more beneficial – and Pilates in particular has been said to relieve anxiety and stress. Gaby Noble, owner of Exhale Pilates London, says: ‘Any person who practises Classical Pilates regularly knows Pilates doesn’t only sculpt and change the way your body looks and feels, it also clears your mind, giving you more space to think, more energy and inner calm.
‘Doing breathing exercises, which is one of the key principles of Classical Pilates, helps trigger the brain to calm down, creating a psychological response in the body that naturally decreases our stress and anxiety.’
Noble says people typically hold stress in different parts of their bodies; namely the hips, chest and shoulders. Try these basic exercises at home to reset, destress, relax your body and open up those main areas:
Lie down with hands cupped over your ribs.
Have your knees bent, with feet flat and hips, shoulders and head heavy on the floor.
Inhale deeply, lifting and expanding the lungs for a count of three. On the last breath exhale deeply for a count of three into your lower abdominals and draw them back into your spine.
Do this four to six times, relaxing the face and jaw on each breath.
Lie down, mindful that your knees are bent and in line with your hips and heels.
Relax the upper body, chest and head, making sure your torso, or box, is square (shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip).
Inhale, lift your hips without arching your back and keep your abdominals drawn into your spine. Hold your breath for three seconds.
Exhale, articulating your spine down bone-by-bone – start from the back of your neck, making sure your bum is the last thing to touch the floor.
Focusing on the breath and the articulation of the spine will open up the hips, back and chest, relaxing the nervous system and releasing any built-up tension.
3 Spine rotation
Lie on the floor, knees bend and together.
Making a ‘T’ position with your arms, draw your abdominals into your spine as you take both legs to the left and your head to the right.
Take deep breaths here, focusing on filling the ribcage, back and lower abs with fresh oxygen.
Hold your abdominals into your lower back as you draw the knees into your chest (to protect your lower back) and switch to the other side. Do this two or three times.
Rotation of the spine is key to releasing tension around organs, chest and abdomen.
4 Spine stretch forward
Sit up with legs straight out in front of you and a little wider than your hips. If you have tight hip flexors keep your knees bent slightly.
Lift your arms up so your wrists are in line with your shoulders.
Inhale, lift the spine and exhale. Reach your hands forward towards your toes whilst pulling your abs back into your spine – this creates opposition and a stretch in your upper and lower back.
Inhale, re-stack the spine bone-by-bone, keeping your arms forward to lift up tall and exhale deeply. Do this three times.
With legs still out in front of you, take the hands behind the head with elbows wide.
Inhale, lift the spine, exhale and twist to one side, imagining you’re rinsing your spine out like a towel, using the breath.
Inhale, lift back to centre, exhale and turn to the other side.
This is a great move to open up the chest and release tension in the spine.
6 Lift heart up to the sky
Place your hands on the lower back, making sure you don’t arch.
Stretch your chest whilst lengthening the spine and lifting the crown of the head to the ceiling.
Take deep breaths here to release tightness in the chest, which can suppress the ribcage and restrict the lungs.
Keep breathing deeply, constantly finding ways to mindfully stretch the chest and spine as you breathe. Even on the exhale, lengthen the spine and chest to create opposition – which in Pilates terms means space all over the body!
Take four to six breaths.