Pilates and Body Awareness – New Research

Taught as the founder intended, Pilates is a very mindful form of exercise. Throughout my classes I encourage you to feel what is happening to your body as you perform the exercises and in the pauses between the movements.  You will hear me drawing your attention to your heart beat, postural tone, how and where you are breathing, the temperature of your body, the sensation of tissues lengthening, contracting and releasing, gurglings in the gut when you perform the navel to spine core engagement.  It is this aspect of our Pilates practice that helps us be more present in the body as we go about our day-to-day life and be more mindful of how well we’re moving.  Are we sitting, standing, walking with good posture?  Do we feel well-balanced?

New research from Anglia Ruskin University highlights another important benefit of being tuned into our body and the sensations we can feel happening inside us. In an interview with cognitive neuroscientist, Dr Jane Aspell on a recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind, developing this ability to detect physical sensations going on inside the body – or interoceptive awareness as it’s called – can have a positive effect on how we view our body, how we feel about our appearance.  The study showed that people who have stronger brain responses i.e. greater awareness of signals from inside the body (heart beat, rumblings in the gut) have a more positive body image.

Pilates is therefore a useful way of training ourselves to be more aware of what we can feel happening inside the body, which in turn helps us be more comfortable in our own skin and more in tune with our body’s physical and emotional needs.  Fascinating stuff.

The images in this post are of Peter Jansen’s Human Motions Sculptures. Another new discovery this week. Thank you!

To close, Bjork beautifully being herself…

How to Manage Your Worries

Worried cat

Do you ever find yourself worrying more than you’d like to?  If so, you’re not alone. Anxiety is very common.  According to the charity, Anxiety UK, almost one in five people feel anxious a lot or all the time, while nearly half feel more anxious than they used to.

Want to learn how to manage your worries better?  This new video from Radio 4’s psychology, neuroscience and mental health programme, All in the Mind, might be helpful. It’s a short animation, just over three minutes long, with evidence-based advice from clinical psychologist, Professor Kirchhoff from the Netherlands.  Based on trials, Professor Kirchhoff has devised a useful technique to help people worry less.  Take a look…

Attending a Pilates class can also help with anxiety.  An hour spent concentrating hard to execute a series of flowing exercises with precision and control, using a distinct method of breathing, provides a valuable space from any nagging worries that may be going round and round in your head.

Meditation on the beach

The Rest Test

Photo by Alison Brady

Rest is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for all ages. It rejuvenates your body and mind, regulates your mood, and is linked to learning and memory function. Not getting enough rest, on the other hand, can negatively affect your mood, immune system, memory, and stress level.

How good at resting are you?  Why not take the Rest Test and find out.  The Rest Test is designed to explore people’s attitudes and opinions towards rest and rest-related experiences. The reseachers want to take a snapshot of people’s resting habits.

The Rest Test was designed by Hubbub, an international team of social scientists, psychologists, neuroscientists, artists, humanities scholars, and public engagement experts who are in residence at the Hub at Wellcome Collection in London.

The questionnaire is split into two parts. The first part takes about 5-10 minutes. You will be asked some questions about your attitudes towards, and opinions of ‘rest’ and to give some demographic information.

After completing Part 1 of the questionnaire you’ll be asked if you’d like to continue to Part 2 – there is no obligation to do both parts, but if you do have the time to do both that would be of great benefit to the researchers.   Part 2 takes about 30-40 minutes and has more in-depth questions about rest and also some questions about yourself.

By completing the test, not only will you help the researchers understand more about rest, you’ll also be given an instant summary of the results from the first part of survey, which will allow you to see how your responses compare to those who have taken the questionnaire so far.  The results of the The Rest Test will be aired on BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind programme in 2016.

Here’s a link to the site where you can take the Rest Test.

Ballerina Project

Want to feel more rested and relaxed?  Here are a few tips which might help:

1. Make time to relax

As you do with a hair, dental or other self-care appointment, make relaxation a priority by blocking out time for it in your diary. Taking this time is especially important when you are feeling stressed and over-burdened, even if all you do in that time is take a leisurely walk round the block.

2. Follow a routine

Rather than waking up and immediately jumping into the day at high-speed or equally jumping straight into bed at night, follow a routine that allows you time to transition from one part of the day to the next. For example, consider waking up 10 minutes earlier and before turning on your TV, radio, computer or smartphone, take the time to do some simple Pilates exercises instead.

3. Give your mind a break

Relaxation isn’t only about resting your body—resting your mind is just as important. If you struggle with constantly worrying or stressing about certain concerns, write them down, put the list aside for a few days and then revisit them. Sometimes when we give our mind a break from certain thoughts, we return with greater clarity. Also, consider participating in an activity that requires your full attention, such as Pilates. This type of activity can give you a mental break by requiring you to be fully ‘in the moment’ both physically and mentally, leaving little time to think about your to-do list.

4. Try a relaxation technique.

Below are some 5-minute relaxation techniques that can be practised any time or place which you should find rejuvenating:

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Put your hands on your abdomen and as you breathe in, let it expand like a balloon filling with air. As you exhale, slowly let the air out. You should feel your abdomen rising and falling as you breathe.
  • Try to raise your shoulders up to your ears for 5 seconds, and then let your shoulders drop. Then, one at a time, rotate each shoulder backward 5 to 10 times, and then together rotate them forwards 5 to 10 times.
  • In a relaxed position, close your eyes and breathe naturally. Think of the number one as you inhale.  Continue this for at least five minutes but try for 10 to 20 minutes. Any time your mind starts to wander, gently pull it back to thinking of the number one.

Rebecca Loyche