If you’re anything like me, you deal with a lot of stress, daily. I found ways to handle stress and anxiety naturally, even in my most anxious moments, and I’m excited to share them with you.
As part 2 of my 6 part Pilates Series, I want to talk about all the ways Pilates has helped my body and mind. Last week we talked about how Pilates has helped my body and reduce pain, and so I wanted to talk about how it has helped my mind this week.
Below you’ll find some “home exercises” to help quiet your mind and find a way to relieve stress and anxiety, quickly, at home. You’ll even see a video from one of my favorite instructors and be guided through a quick 1 minute activity you can do anywhere to reduce stress and clear your mind.
Plus you’ll hear first hand how I learned how to handle stress and anxiety during my book release, media tour all while balancing it with family and a painful nerve disease.
Why I love Pilates for Stress and Anxiety Relief
Pilates uses intentional, fluid movements of the body to gain strength and flexibility. These intentional movements can also help you find stress relief. It’s great for the mind and the body, below I’ll talk about (more like gush over) why I love Pilates to reduce stress and anxiety.
Shut Off Your Thoughts
Pilates is certainly a challenge for your body, but it’s also a challenge for your mind. You have to be present and listening intently to your instructor, and if you get a good one you’ll love doing just that!
There is a lot of choreography, and verbal cues from your instructor, and to get the best workout you want (and also so you don’t slow down the entire class) you can’t let your mind wander, but it’s easy because you’re already challenging your brain.
I love that in Pilates, I easily shut off my wandering mind and listen intently to the teacher. There is too much going on and I naturally push everything out of my mind for one glorious hour. Ever want to turn off your thoughts? Try Pilates!
So you’ve done your class, and for a full hour you didn’t have the time to think about your problems… but now, as you’re walking to your car is the most important moment.
Really listen to your brain, let it come naturally. Often after you have stopped over analyzing something you “awaken” with new mental clarity on the subject. Kind of like when you “sleep on it” and wake up with a new perspective.
You may find that you don’t even think of what’s been causing anxiety as you walk away, try to let it go in that moment. Perhaps it was an argument you had earlier in the day, you can stop thinking of the perfect comeback and just move on with your life.
You’ve probably heard of “runner’s high” by now, and it’s recently been proven, exercise does release endorphins giving you a natural “high.” So does meditation and controlled breathing exercises… ding, ding, ding, Pilates hits on all 3.
Now I’m not that gal who’s always is looking for the next thrill seeker high (not knocking it, you all kick butt) but in times of stress and anxiety, flipping that switch in my brain helps reduce stress.
Endorphins trigger positive feelings, and can help create a more positive outlook on life. So when in doubt, move your body babe! Get your body moving and let your body help your brain out a little.
Feel Strong and Confident
In Pilates I’m constantly challenging my body and with that gaining strength. I feel invincible after mastering a new exercise or kicking butt in class… like nothing can stop me! Something like that is very important in my line of work.
When your body feels strong, you feel confident and that confidence can help you make a tough decision or carry out a task you’ve been dreading.
Often when we’re stressed we put ourselves down, which causes more stress and anxiety, break that cycle and do something that makes you proud, confident and strong.
My Stories of Stress Relief
I certainly do not want to compare my stress to any reader’s stress, I’m 100% sure many of you have more stress in your life than I do. But I do what to share with you, and hopefully inspire you to try some of the methods that work for me. And with that I will recap my last year, and how I coped with a book release and all the stress that goes with it.
I would also love to hear your stories and what works for you in the comments section.
I must start by telling you that not all stress is negative, by far one of my greatest joys and accomplishments in life was the release of my first cookbook Lose Weight by Eating. But with that, the fear of failure, of bad reviews, unhappy editors and poor sales numbers haunted me for months before it was released.
The week that the book came out was especially stressful, I didn’t sleep more than 12 hours in 7 days. Not because of workload, because of stress induced insomnia, something I’ve struggled with all my life.
I found the only thing that helped, was Pilates, so I went every day for 2 ½ weeks! It gave me a full hour that I couldn’t think about sales numbers. My instructor always did a minute of meditation (see below for a video) at the end of class and I looked forward to it everyday.
I would walk in class, quiet as a mouse (so not me!) and get through the class and sneak out. My instructor Melissa said she knew the book was doing well when I came in as my usual bubbly, chatty self a few weeks later.
Pilates got me through that tough time, after a week I was sleeping again and a week later we sold out on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Walmart and Target. I’m currently working on a second book, and will be heavily leaning on my pilates classes to get me through my own fears and stress when it’s released in a few months.
Again, sometimes thrilling and positive life experiences can still cause stress and anxiety. The media tour for my cookbook Lose Weight by Eating is another prime example!
So flying to New York to film on the Rachael Ray Show is so exciting, how could it possibly be stressful? Well, what if I fall on stage, what if I freeze up due to the studio audience (I have a fear of public speaking).
What if Rachael doesn’t like me? What if my publishing house is unhappy with my appearance?
I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes, saying “oh this girl and her silly problems” I’m not saying these were problems, but that doesn’t mean that this experience wasn’t stressful.
This happened again and again for different shows I was lucky to be a part of, lucky… very lucky and knowing that and not wanting to blow it, caused more stress. I was a mess, but I kept at it, facing my fears, and thankfully this is when I started carrying the smallest piece of Pilates equipment I could find… resistance bands.
I talked to my Pilates Instructor and she gave me a few exercises I could do in a hotel room, I bought some of the meditation cards she passes out at the end of class, and I got her cell number and (poor Melissa!) I texted her from time to time, usually fun photos of me with Bob Harper. But I felt connected to Pilates and my studio, and paired with some light exercise in my hotel rooms I got through it.
Now I can’t wait to get back on a media tour, but I will absolutely be bringing my resistance bands and meditation cards with me!
Moving to a New State
We decided to move to Idaho from California, we longed for seasons, new outdoor activities, and because both my husband and I work from home, we were able to pick up and move.
So, yeah, I didn’t realize moving would be so difficult. As a former apartment property manager I was a pro at moving, packing and hiring the right crew. But when you have to drive all your stuff, your family, your pets for two days, across country, you have to seriously downsize and scrutinize every little thing, not just toss it all in a box and order a larger truck.
Plus, we were moving our daughter out of the only house she had ever known, in truth she was a real trouper, and is so much happier now. But you get that “mommy guilt” and that causes more stress.
Before we moved I found a Pilates studio, and when we arrived I had only missed 3 consecutive days. But before I could start at the new studio, I had to leave my old studio. To be honest when we weighed the pros and cons of moving, we almost didn’t move just because of my Pilates studio.
The studio I was training at was the place I overcame chronic pain, I was terrified to leave the only place I knew would keep me out of extreme pain. I cried when I told the studio owner, and the day I left I drove to the studio and we hugged and cried as the class she was instructing watched.
There were a million other stressors in my life, none really worthy of a few paragraphs, but you know work, family, deadlines and running a business.
Pilates helps me stay balanced and clear minded through all the daily life stress. On average I get to a class 2-3 times a week to keep my stress levels down. I always find after a class I work harder and more diligently, my work is better and I don’t let the little things get to me as much.
I still have a bad day here or there, and that is usually on a non Pilates day. Thankfully I have learned so much from my wonderful instructors that I can use some of their stress relief and mind challenging activities at home.
In the next section I’ll review my two favorite “at home” one minute activities I’ve learned in class. Funny enough (just realizing this now) these are the things my instructors have us do at the end of class… maybe that’s why I’m so clear headed as I walk out.
Home exercises? Well, more like home activities, but as these are taught in Pilates classes we will call them exercises so you can check that off your “to-do list” today. You’re welcome (wink, wink).
Not every class I’ve been in has used these methods, each instructor ends a class or guides you through a meditation/mental exercise they personally enjoy the most and find the most value in. Below are a few from my favorite instructors.
Melissa Barton’s classes always calmed me during my most stressful moments, I loved her cool down meditation so much I asked her to share it with all of us. So I would like to introduce you to the woman who changed my life and helped me overcome chronic pain and constant stress.
Take it away babe…
Erin’s Balancing Act
Erin Scuglia is adorable, often when I’m in class at her studio, she’s teaching kids in private one-on-one lessons (more on her work with kiddos coming up in a future article) tandem to adult classes. She is playful and helps challenge their brains in new ways.
Her cool down always ends with a “balancing act” which not only challenges your body, but also your mind. Try her one minute balancing activity anywhere, all you need is the back of a chair!
Start barefooted, or in socks, gently place your fingertips on the back of your chair, just so you can balance. If you need to put your palms on the chair, do it. Get comfortable.
Raise up onto your toes, like you’re wearing high heels. Go up and down slowly counting to 3 going up, and count to 3 going back down, the time it takes you to go up should be the same as the time to go back down. Do this three times.
Close your eyes and touch the back of the chair with just one finger, repeat the earlier up and down three times slowly.
Keep your eyes closed and hover your hand/finger above the chair, just so you have it there if you need it (I always do) and repeat the up and down 3 times. You’re looking to challenge your stability here, if you need, place your hand/finger down to help you as you’re doing it.
That’s it… I know it’s simple, but it challenges your brain in a new way and helps center you.
Simple Poses for Stress Relief
Finally, some easy yoga poses to help center and balance you. Yep, you use lots of yoga in Pilates!
This is so easy you may laugh. Basically you lie on your back, arms at your side, legs straight and lie there like, well like a corpse. (Insert “case of the Monday’s” joke here)
Anyone can do it, while you’re down there make sure your spine is in alignment, start from your head and check in all the way down your neck and back, relax your muscles in your neck, back, hips, legs, feet. Feel your body relaxing from head to toe. Close your eyes, and just lie there. Try to clear your thoughts, listen to your breathing and envision breathing air into any spots of tension on your body.
Do this for 1-5 minutes.
Kneel down, sit on your feet. Slowly and gently hinge forward until your head reaches the floor while staying in your kneeling, sitting on your feet position.
You have several options for your hands, do what feels most comfortable for you. Place your hands and forearms on either side of your head. Next option, stretch your arms out on the floor above your head. And finally, my favorite, slide your arms back, alongside your hips, palms up.
Relax, listen to your breathing and try to empty your mind. Relax your body starting at your head, down your neck, back, hips, legs and feet. Envision breathing air into any areas of tension or pain in your body.
Do this for 1-5 minutes.
Pilates has gotten me through some of the more stressful times of life, and it can for you as well! Try some of the at home “exercises” or take a class, I’m sure you will love it as well!