Pilates for Anxiety and Stress Relief: How and Why It Works!
Have you ever tried practicing Pilates for anxiety and stress relief?
There’s actually a reason why I’m asking. Things are a bit chaotic right now, leaving us all unsure about what to expect from one moment to the next. And that’s likely leaving you feeling a bit overwhelmed, right?
I originally began going to my local Pilates studio to try to get in better shape, strengthen my core, improve my posture, and help relieve some mild back and hip pain. And while I achieved my goals, I was surprised at how much the breath work helped to relieve my stress.
Now, anytime I’m feeling overwhelmed, I turn to Pilates for anxiety and stress relief. And, believe it or not, I’ve found it incredible beneficial for not only reducing stress but also providing a nice energy boost. Today, after years of practice, I happy to report that I feel stronger and calmer than ever.
So, I decided to dig a bit deeper into how and why Pilates is so great at relieving stress and anxiety by speaking with my personal Pilates instructor, Heather Lewis, owner and founder of Maximum Pilates. Take a look at what she had to say below and learn all about using Pilates for anxiety and stress relief.
Using Pilates for Anxiety and Stress Relief
If you aren’t familiar with Pilates, it’s a low-impact workout that focuses on improving strengthening your core (your abdomen, hips, thighs pelvic floor, and back) while also promoting alignment and flexibility.
In fact, your core muscles are responsible for helping to keep you upright and actually help to prevent bodily injury.
Pilates is a progressive exercise that can be done at all fitness levels. So, you don’t have to be a ballerina or super athletic to begin reaping the benefits of this amazing workout.
It can be performed on a mat or with a machine called a reformer and often uses tools, such as rings, balls, and bars to assist with proper alignment. It combines deep breathing with stretching to promote both the health of both your mind and body.
Believe it or not, there’s actually quite a bit of scientific evidence that Pilates is a highly beneficial exercise. Not only is it gentle on your joints, but it also offers many health benefits for common concerns.
In fact, Pilates has been shown to improve sleep quality and significantly reduce anxiety, depression, and fatigue in postmenopausal women.
According to a 2019 study, 110 women aged 60 and over were divided into two groups—one group who participated in Pilates and another who didn’t. The researchers found that Pilates group experienced significant improvements in both sleep duration and disturbances.
Moreover, they also experience improvements in depression and substantial improvements in anxiety. Finally, the Pilates group also reported feeling less fatigued after completing the workouts. 
In another study, researchers examined the effects of Pilates on college students. They found that Pilates improved the students’ self-efficacy and sleep quality. Furthermore, it significantly improved their moods. 
Finally, in a 2013 study, researchers found that sedentary individuals who participated in a 12-week Pilates program experienced significant improvements in reported sleepiness and quality of life. 
A Q&A on How Pilates Benefits Your Health
So, given the incredible findings we reviewed above, I spoke with my Pilates instructor, Heather Lewis, to see if the studies line up with what she sees in her studio. Here’s what she had to say in relation to Pilates for anxiety and stress relief—and so much more!
Question: What are the biggest health benefits you’ve personally seen or experienced from doing Pilates?
Answer: I am continually inspired by the changes that occur when an individual becomes involved in mindful movement. In a general sense, this form of activity encourages an internal dialogue between the mind and the body.
Of course, it manifests in very personal ways for each of us. Usually, people begin to make subtle changes in their lifestyle choices. Most of my clients continue to be empowered to make better choices as they become aware of the mind-body connection.
It’s very rewarding to be witness to these quiet evolutions.
Question: What are some of these evolutions that you see?
Answer: Some great examples of lifestyle changes I’ve seen include:
- Changes in diet
- Changes in body silhouette or losing weight (which is always a favorite)
- Greater posture awareness
- Increased hydration
- Awareness of physical proprioception and improved coordination
- Pain relief—without surgery or drugs, which is a real game changer
- Improved digestion
- Better organ function
- Improved breath awareness
- Increased ability to manage stress
- More interest in socialization
Question: What are your thoughts on using Pilates for anxiety and stress relief?
Answer: Joseph Pilates said “Movement heals.” I think that when people participate in Pilates, they feel empowered to make physical changes. And that nurtures the ability to make cognitive shifts, which enables them to decide what they can control and what they let go in life.
I always tell my clients, “When you come into the studio, leave all your problems outside the door. They will be waiting for you when you leave. And, at that point, you will have a clear head to better manage them.”
That being said, the supportive environment of the studio lends itself to discussion and feedback about all kinds of life issues as we move through classes.
Question: When it comes to using Pilates for anxiety and stress relief, are there any specific routines or moves you’d recommend?
Answer: The simplest one that comes to mind in this context would be the roll up. It is a basic study of flexion and extension along the spine.
Now, not everyone can perform the exercise in its ideal form, but there are many variations to make it easier, depending on your situation.
The idea is that you are massaging your spine as you roll up one vertebrae at a time from the floor.
So, you begin lying face up on the floor with your arms stretched overhead. Bring your straight arms in front of your shoulders and very slowly curl your head and shoulders off the floor and continue to roll up to a seated forward bend.
Remember to go slowly. The goal is the press your thighs against the mat to assist in slowly rolling up to a forward bend.
Next, reverse that by curling your tailbone towards your feet as you release one vertebrae at a time down into the floor until you are once again lying face-up on the floor. Once again, engage your thighs to assist you.
Conversely, you can begin it in a seated position and do a roll down, as shown in this video I’ve recorded for you.
If you’re looking for something a little less or more challenging, check out Heather’s variations in the video below. Here’s a quick overview of the different variations you can do:
- Several scientific studies have shown that using Pilates for anxiety and stress relief is incredibly effective.
- Specifically, Pilates has been shown to improve sleep quality and significantly reduce anxiety, depression, and fatigue in postmenopausal women.
- The simplest stress-busting Pilates workout is centered around the roll up or roll down move.