Too much work, not enough (if any) work, working from home – we’re living in unprecedented times, and they’re stressful.
Not being able to connect with friends and family as we normally would, the mountain of anxiety caused from the pandemic, which has made many of us experience feelings of loss, loneliness and general low mood. There is (finally) a light at the end of the tunnel, but too many of us are feeling stressed right now.
The connection between the exercise mat and your mental health is real, says fitness expert Laura Williams. Research has shown time and again that exercise can play a significant role in helping manage anxiety, boost mood and increase resilience via numerous, complex processes.
“Pilates ticks many of the mental health boxes,” says Williams. “For a start, the concentration required to get the simplest-looking moves right will help keep your mind occupied and help you switch off.”
And the slow, precise movement is surprisingly soothing: “As you focus and use limbs at a slower pace, your breathing tends to slow too, which has a big calming effect,” she adds.
“And let’s not forget that core focus: some of these moves require serious abdominal control, which will soon distract you from other concerns.”
These five go-to, mind-soothing moves work wonders for strengthening, stretching and switching off.
1. Shoulder Bridge
1. Lie on your back with your legs bent.
2. Lift your hips and back off the mat and come up onto your shoulders.
3. Advanced version: extend arms behind you as you come up onto your shoulders. Extend one leg out in front of you and lower towards the ground, twice.
4. Repeat five times.
2. Single Leg Circle
1. Lie on your back with one leg resting on the ground and the other extended above your hip.
2. Sweep your leg out to the side and circle back to the starting position.
3. Do five circles in each direction. Change sides.
4. Minimise movement in the torso: use abdominals to keep your back flat.
3. Kneeling Side Kick
1. Resting your weight on your left leg and left arm, place your right hand behind your head.
2. Extend your right leg out at hip height, and sweep forwards before pulsing for a count of two.
3. Sweep your leg back behind you and pulse for a count of two.
4. Do eight kick cycles in total, before switching sides.
4. The Saw
1. Sitting upright with arms outstretched, rotate your upper body to the left.
2. Sweep your left hand to right toes, before returning to the centre.
3. Repeat on the other side.
4. Perform five ‘saws’ to each side.
5. Hip Twist
1. From a seated position, extend your arms behind you and your legs out in front of you.
2. Sweep your legs around and down in a circular movement, switching direction at the top.
3. Do a total of 10 circles.
4. Modified version: bend elbows, placing more weight on the arms and shoulders for support.