Did you know your body is designed to live in a “rest & digest” state most of the time? Otherwise known as our Parasympathetic state which is part of the autonomic nervous system. As the name says, this system is automatic, it isn't a conscious part of our nervous system we can control and it is responsible for our natural functions including:
-A slow & steady heart rate
-Contraction of the bladder
I hope you’d all agree with me when I say we would like the above to be functioning well in a relaxed way? Lets reverse this and imagine all the above switches off or is greatly reduced a lot of the time- so your digestion slows, your heart rate is pumping like crazy and your blood pressure is high, your breathing is short & shallow (and panicky), your pupils are dilated and dry and you’re struggling to go to the loo. Does this sound familiar to anybody? Does it sound pleasant?
This is your sympathetic nervous state which is more of a “fight or flight” state, which is great when we lived in caves and you were faced with a sabre-toothed tiger- I wouldn't care if my food was digesting in that moment, I want all my energy and adrenaline to be working 100% so I can run away from that tiger!!
Now imagine that tiger has come into the 21st century and is now an email notification, or your kids calling you for the 100th time, or your boss asking to move that deadline closer yet again! Can you see how a lot of us are living in that “fight or flight” state?
So how can Pilates help?
I’ve learned not to mess with my autonomic nervous system the hard way- burning myself out and living in that “fight or flight” state for years led me to a ME/CFS diagnosis. So I’ve tried and tested how to get out of that place and live more in a “rest & digest” state that we are designed to inhabit most of the time.
Anything we can do to drop into that “rest & digest” state will leave us feeling more relaxed, it lowers our stress levels and will allow us to live longer and healthier lives.
I bring relaxation into my teaching as much as I can, especially with people who are feeling stressed. Slowing your breathing, allowing you to arrive into your body and out of your head, and being conscious of the present moment will all bring you into that Parasympathetic state.
Plus if we are moving and learning new patterns in your body, we don't want to be training stress into those new patterns! Remember those “aha” moments when you’ve really felt something in Pilates? I bet you they always come when you are fully present, aware of your body, and relaxed!
The more you train calm into your body, the more resilient to stress you become and the better you can cope with the everyday stress of life!
Still feeling overwhelmingly stressed? Other things that can help reduce these:
Regular calming exercise such as Pilates or Yoga that you enjoy
Good sleep hygiene (going to bed at the same time each day & no screens in the bedroom!)
Nutrition- getting as much healthy fruit, veg, protein & carbs into you daily
Getting out into nature regularly
Reducing stressors in your life
Talking therapy (therapy can be life changing, you don't need a huge problem or trauma to go and speak to somebody!)
For more information here is a helpful article