6 Scientifically Proven Mental Health Benefits of Pilates


Much of the research regarding the mental health benefits have been conducted surrounding Yoga rather than Pilates, but their are many ways in which these two disciplines are similar. So it is these similarities such as the focus of breath and meditation that we will look on some research that is out there.

1. Become more confident.

Through the Pilates Method of Body Conditioning this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind and spirit can ever be attained. Self confidence follows.

~Joseph Pilates

The Power Posture is a controversial topic in the scientific community. It seems the debate began with a Harvard University psychologist Amy Cuddy, who was an author of a 2010 study arguing that body language influences how we feel about ourselves and how others perceive us.

The study showed that subjects who sat with a slumped posture did poorly in interviews and felt worse about themselves. Meanwhile those who took expansive positions such as; shoulders wide, or legs on a desk, performed more confidently and felt better. The study also found that “power poses” increased the subjects’ testosterone levels and lowered their levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. 

Cuddy’s 2012 TED Talk on the subject got her 46 million views and led to the publication of her 2015 book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. 

2. Pilates helps to train your brain.

Learning new activities is a proven brain-training technique. Heidi Johansen Berg and her colleagues from the University of Oxford have discovered that learning new activities increases the density of white matter in the brain (the fibers that let neurons communicate.) If the neurons are formed but they don’t connect then eventually they die without any benefit to brain health so this white matter is extremely important.

Learning a new activity is an important part of brain fitness.

According to Anne Bishop, a Pilates instructor and researcher, learning a new movement or a new modification in a Pilates routine provides just the effect we are looking for by challenging the body and mind at the same time. If you begin to automatise your workout by doing activities such as doing reps at the gym without focusing on your form or flying through the same Yoga sequence every week, you cut the benefit of your workout in half.

3. Pilates helps calm your mind and emotions

You have probably heard a lot about the benefits of mindfulness meditation for your mind and body. To sum them up, meditation:

When practising Pilates, you must concentrate on one thing, your body. You must clear your mind in order to focus on breath, form, posture, coordination and muscle activation all at the same time. You are also usually asked to think of some sort of visualisation as you are performing all of these tasks, such as imagining you’re pelvis is a bowl of water as you perform standing pelvic tilts. Often Pilates classes have a guided meditation at the end as well. Looking at the class as a whole, you can see how you can gain the benefits of meditation through Pilates.

4. Pilates relieves stress tension in our body and helps tame stress

A body free from nervous tension and fatigue is the ideal shelter provided by nature for housing a well balanced mind, fully capable of successfully meeting all the complex problems of modern living.

~Joseph Pilates

Several recent studies have found the positive effects of regular Yoga practice on stress reduction and improved wellbeing.

Physical activity metabolises the buildup of stress hormones but we usually don’t have the opportunity to relieve this stress, let’s say, when our boss yells at us at work so we just hold onto the stress.The result? Stress hormones settle in our body causing hypertension, muscle spasms and pain.

Pilates relieves tension built up in the muscles through gentle stretching and gradual conditioning. Fascial release techniques that many Pilates instructors use in their classes today will help you loosen tight muscles that are not responsive to passive stretching. When you get stress out of your body, you also get it out of your mind.

While it’s important to release stress out of your body, it’s even more important to prevent stress from entering your mind. Addressing the cause of stress (the way you perceive situations and respond to them) you won’t be able to have lasting stress relief.

There isn’t much research about the benefits of Pilates to tame stress but Yoga has been proven time and time again to be a powerful stress reliever. While Yoga and Pilates have their differences, they still share several similarities as they are both a mindful movement practice not just as a fast-paced cardio workout.

5. Pilates lets you control your emotions.

Breath is one of the six fundamental Pilates principles. Learning to control your breath is probably the biggest benefit of Pilates since we often produce shallow breaths. The techniques that you learn in a Pilates can also be used in different life situations to calm your mind or get through a stressful situation.

Our emotions and breathing are closely connected. A recent study by Pierre Phillipot (as cited by Psychology Today) showed that different emotional states are associated with distinct breathing patterns. Think of how your breathing changes when you face something frightening as opposed to something pleasant. The study found different breathing patterns evoke certain emotions. You can basically breathe yourself into calmness or anxiety.

6. Mindful Movement helps release emotional tension.

Our personality can be determined by some professionals by simply looking at your posture and observing your movement. Over time we store our emotions and anxieties in our body. We clench our jaws when we want to yell, slouch when we feel inferior or shy, and tighten our hips to suppress emotions of sadness and fear.

Pilates practice lets you release your muscles and gain control of the deep core muscles that tend to be closely connected to your emotional baggage. When you release muscles that hold your emotional tension you also let go of the emotional baggage that you’ve been carrying around.

So, If you have been thinking of taking up Pilates already knowing some of the physical benefits, hopefully you have 6 more reasons to begin. At Scotland All-Strong, we offer 6- 12 week class passes in a small group setting. Click here to visit our booking site. My name is Jessica and I hope for the opportunity to be part of your Pilates journey. See you on the mat!