These days stress could very well be at an all time high. The economy is tanking, and nowhere more than in Central Oregon. If you’re lucky enough to still have a job, you’ve probably assumed responsibilities formerly handled by colleagues who have been laid off. If you—or your mate—no longer has a job or your fixed income has taken a hit, that’s a whole different kind of stress.
Most of us respond to the lack of money and time by cutting out what we perceive as the non-essentials. So we eliminate our physical fitness program right when we need it the most.
Research shows that exercise helps control and reduce stress. Ironically, this natural anti-anxiety prescription may not stem from that heralded endorphin rush that everyone talks about but no one has really proven. Studies now suggest that working out boosts concentrations of a brain chemical called neuromodulator norepinephrine, which is thought to help the brain better cope with tension. But that’s not all. Exercise forces the various systems in your body to communicate with each other as you’re working out. Regular communication between all your these systems enhances your body’s efficiency when it comes to fending off—and lowering—feelings of stress.[cq]
All exercise, however, is not created equal. Movement that helps the spine regain its proper function helps your sympathetic nervous system (which controls the body’s fight-or-flight response and the related release of stress hormones) to function correctly. Imagine that! Your body ‘s sympathetic nervous system could simply be misfiring, causing you to feel even more responsible for how stressed out you feel than the tough times you’re going through. The good news is that while you might not be able to control the state of the union (or the worth of your real estate), you can easily bring your body’s stress response under control by starting an exercise regime like Pilates that focuses on spinal movement.
Indeed, Pilates (pronounced pi-la-teez) is all about spinal movement. This full body conditioning program, which is performed on the mat or on spring and gravity-based resistance equipment, emphasizes opposing movements along with working from your core. So with every exercise, you not only tighten your abdominals, you stretch your back as you pull your head in one direction and your lower body in the other.
Try it once, and you’ll quickly find how much your flexibility increases from one movement to the next, allowing you to stretch further than you thought you could. By the end of a single session, you’ll walk out feeling taller than when you walked in. You’ll probably be right, since you will have increased the space between your vertebrae.
Even better, you’ll leave with a sense of calm that you almost certainly didn’t walk in with, in part because of Pilates’ unique focus on deep breathing. Unlike other fitness regimes, Pilates has you breathe both in and out through your nose. Research shows that nose-breathing not only is healthier for you (since your nose both filters and humidifies the air before it reaches your lungs), it turns off the sympathetic nervous system, thereby reducing hypertension and stress.
So why not stretch yourself and give Pilates a try? You’ll be surprised how good you’ll feel once you shed some of that stress you’re carrying around.
Gabi Davis is the owner of Pilates Connection, Central Oregon’s premier full service Pilates Studio, Bend’s largest public Pilates studio since its inception in 2002.