We’ve all experienced stress in one form or another, and in the midst of it, things can often seem overwhelming. While the last thing someone feeling tense usually needs is another person telling them to “just relax,” there are several simple methods for reducing stress — through breathing, stretching and moving — that are extremely useful.
As a mind-body practice, Pilates is focused on boosting overall wellness. It’s vital to remember this at a time when so many feel the urge to prioritize outward-facing results over inner calm and mental wellbeing. To help with swinging that balance back to the “mind” side of mind-body, here are five of our favorite exercises, stretches and methods to aid your clients in melting the stress away.
Take a breath
Merrithew® Master Instructor Trainer Moira Merrithew considers breathing to be one of our most important areas of focus not only for reducing tension, but also increasing a person’s movement potential. According to Moira, “Whether we’re decreasing stress and downregulating the sympathetic nervous system, or preparing the body for a more strenuous activity, manipulating the breath pattern can help us achieve our goals.”
In this video, Moira’s fellow Master Instructor Trainer Kim Kraushar points to three key concepts of healthy breath work, or as she refers to it: “nutritious breathing.”
- Breathe in and out through the nose with mouth closed, jaw relaxed and tongue resting on the roof of the mount right behind the teeth.
- Breathe slowly: between 10 and 12 breaths per minute.
- Breathe less. Breathing more than we metabolically need can negatively affect our bodies just like eating more than we require.
According to Kim, “When you consciously alter your breathing, you can influence many other systems in the body, like heart rate, blood pressure, hormone production and more. The breath is the gateway to the autonomic nervous system.”
Better than a foot massage
There are few things in life as relaxing as a foot massage. Unfortunately, trying to massage your own feet is a bit like trying to tickle yourself. It just doesn’t have the same effect.
With the use of a Flex Band®, however, you can stimulate the arches of the foot and affect the plantar fascia by simply standing on the band with one foot and pulling it in a back and forth motion. This technique gives all the benefits of a foot massage with the added benefit of a soothing repetitive action.
Lead Instructor Trainers Sarah Jarvis and Rie Sakamoto demonstrate the exercise in this video along with a few other movements from our ZEN•GA® repertoire that have some added stress-relieving benefits like releasing stiffness in the hips, increasing flexibility and working on balance.
Did someone say balance?
When we discuss balance in terms of Pilates, it can be in reference to either the mind-body connection mentioned at the beginning of this article or the practical approach of improving one’s ability to evenly distribute their weight so they remain upright. However, between these two seemingly separate aspects, there is a link.
Lending credibility to the quote, “Bring the body and the mind will follow,” a focus on balance and stability has a wonderful way of making you feel more secure and confident. Master Instructor Trainer Laureen Dubeau and Lead Instructor Trainer Rie Sakamoto show us in this video a balance challenge from the Total Barre® repertoire that provides a great, deep stretch in the calves while also working on strengthening the abdominals.
In addition to being a great stress-reliever, the exercise also serves as an ideal movement to add to any active-aging program.
Strengthen and stretch
When the weight of the world is on your shoulders, it might seem like the idiom is more than a mere metaphor. Stress that accumulates over time can slowly but surely affect your posture and literally bring you down. Even more concerning is that this can create a vicious cycle wherein the bad posture then increases the stress that was initially felt.
That’s why the suspended dog plank is one of the best stress-relieving exercises in Merrithew’s ZEN•GA modality. As demonstrated by Lead Instructor Trainer Sarah Jarvis and her student Rebecca in this video, the exercise — performed on the V2 Max Plus™ Reformer with a Vinyasa Triangle™ — helps elongate the spine while also promoting strength and stability in the torso, hips and core.
In a sense, the suspended dog plank helps stretch out the stress like it was a muscle knot, dealing with whatever is weighing heavily on your mind at the time while also possessing the potential to avoid feeling the full impact of future stress.
‘The principle act of courage is to endure’
We’ve all heard of a runner’s high. While there’s some dispute as to whether such a thing actually exists, there is a proven link between moderate training for endurance sports — running, cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, etc. — and mental wellbeing. It’s probably not without coincidence that to perform at their best in endurance sports, athletes put many of the stress-relieving practices previously mentioned — like breathing, posture and balance — into action. As such, Pilates can be used to get the most out of this major stress-reducer.
In our STOTT PILATES® for cyclists blog series, Master Instructor Trainer Moira Merrithew looks at breath work, bike fit and posture and alignment to help get the most out of cycling.
Of course, cycling isn't the only endurance sports. In this video, Master Instructor Wayne Seeto shares an incredible land-swimming exercise using a Halo® Trainer Plus, Stability Ball™ and Toning Balls™. And finally, for the runners, this exercise demonstrated by Lead Instructor Trainers David Taylor and Bianca Bolissian works the lateral rotators, which is important for runners who often focus only on forward and back movements of the legs.
For those not into endurance sports, Moira has also designed several exercises in this video to increase better movement on the golf course. However, depending on ability, those looking to alleviate stress might be better off staying far, far away from the links.
Whether you need to relieve stress or just get in a good workout, Merrithew Connect™ has customized programs for every age and fitness level. Join now and receive a 14-day free trial.