Incorporate Pilates, yoga or meditation into your wellness routine to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Read more below.

Americans are no strangers to stress. In fact, the United States ranked as the world’s fourth most-stressed country in 2019. 1 As a nation, we have a reputation for working too much, viewing self-care as a luxury and not prioritizing mental health.

Unfortunately, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, our stress levels have only risen. According to the American Psychological Association, almost 8 in 10 Americans say that the coronavirus pandemic is “a significant source of stress,” with feelings of uncertainty, the current political climate and fear of contracting COVID-19 as the most frequently reported stressors. 

Stress is a natural response to life’s experiences. When you’re feeling pressure at work or you’re dealing with a conflict with a loved one, the nervous system releases stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and turns on your “fight or flight” mode. Once the fear or “threat” has subsided, stress levels usually return to normal. If this does not happen or if the stressor continues to be an issue, chronic stress may set in. 

While not all stress has a purely negative affect, it is important to realize the impact chronic stress can have on your overall health and well-being. Stress has the power to compromise our immune systems and is “a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.”2

While the statistics paint a pretty grim picture, there is good news: we can learn to cope with stress and effectively reduce our stress levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created an entire list of healthy ways to cope with stress, which includes meditating, exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep. 

Over the course of this article, we will be discussing the effectiveness of mindfulness and mindful movement as healthy coping strategies for stress. FFC Regional Pilates Manager Kristin Strom and FFC Exclusive Group Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer and Pilates Trainer David Bohn share their experiences using mindfulness to combat stress and offer easy-to-follow 10 minute routines you can use to incorporate mindful movement into your daily routine.

Pilates

Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. 

Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates founded Contrology (now known as Pilates) in the 1920s as a way to balance the body, mind and spirit. Dissatisfied with the effects of the “modern lifestyle” on his health and well-being, Pilates designed a set of exercises intended to correct muscular imbalances and improve strength and flexibility, while keeping a focus on breath. 3

Nearly 100 years later, Pilates has become one of the most popular group fitness modalities in the US. Publications like Livestrong and Well + Good have written articles surrounding the growing popularity of Pilates and its more contemporary approach, Megaformer classes, in 2020. So why all the hype? 

Pilates is considered a low-impact workout that is highly rewarding. The exercises used in a Pilates session target several muscle groups at once, with an emphasis on controlling the deep abdominal muscles and muscle close to the spine (the core). A regular Pilates practice will improve flexibility, balance, range of motion and posture, and it may even relieve aches and pains. 4

Related: Looking for more info on Pilates? Check out all of our Pilates articles here!

While these physical benefits may be the main attractor of Pilates, the mental health implications are equally impressive. Pilates, at its core (pun intended), is about connecting breath to mindful, intentional movement. The practice forces its followers to slow down, tune in to the body and clear the mind of any distractions, making it both a workout and a study in mindfulness. 

The low-intensity nature of Pilates makes it a wonderful exercise choice for all ages and abilities, but for more serious exercisers, the term “low-intensity” can sometimes be misconstrued for “easy workout.” This certainly isn’t the case for Pilates, and there’s scientific proof that throwing in a low-intensity class every now and then is good for the brain.

The Journal of Endocrinological Investigation conducted a study in 2008 regarding the effect of exercise intensity on cortisol levels and found that “low intensity exercise actually resulted in a reduction in circulating cortisol levels” whereas moderate to high intensity exercise raises those levels of stress hormones. 

Kristin Strom, Regional Pilates Manager for FFC, has been practicing Pilates for more than 20 years. When Chicago’s shelter-in-place order went into effect in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Strom was experiencing stress and anxiety and was having trouble sleeping. In order to avoid “spiraling into a depression,” Strom decided to challenge herself to move her body mindfully every day at 7 AM with Pilates. 

To keep herself accountable and to share her love for Pilates, Strom decided to stream her Pilates workouts on Facebook. At the time of this writing, Strom is on Day 143 of her “Pilates every day” movement. 

“When you do something every day, you can really feel the progress and track your progress, which makes [the effects of Pilates] feel so much more real,” Strom said. “When you keep your exercise consistent, you can really notice the nuances in your body. It’s really important to know your body– this is where you live, this is your home.” 

Strom received messages from those who take her classes on Facebook celebrating the fact that they can touch their toes for the first time in years, perform a push-up on their toes or have alleviated stubborn back pain by consistently practicing Pilates. Equally rewarding are the messages she receives from folks who have thanked her for helping them establish an exercise routine and create some semblance of structure and accountability.

This social interaction of this digital community, paired with the physical movement of her practice, has given Strom a sense of purpose in an uncertain time and has helped return her to a normal sleep pattern and lowered anxiety levels. 

If you’d like to join Kristin’s daily Pilates practice, you can find her at Kristin Strom on Facebook and on the Fitness Formula Clubs page on Mondays and Wednesdays. Ready to join Kristin for an in-person class or private session? Reach out at kstrom@ffc.com to schedule your session today. 

If you’re new to Pilates or are looking for an easy way to stay consistent with your practice, try this 10-minute Morning Pilates session with Kristin to start your day off on the right foot. 

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Yoga and Meditation

Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. We let our own natural capacity of healing do the work.

Thich Nhat Hanh

According to MINDBODY’s 2019 Fitness In America report, yoga is the number one group exercise activity across all ages surveyed. The ancient Indian practice rose to popularity in the United States in the 1960s and has since become a mainstay in the US fitness industry with over 300 million Americans practicing yoga. 5 6

Yoga can be defined as a system for uniting mind, body and soul using specific postures and movements. The practice challenges yogis to quiet the mind, focus on the present moment and link breath to movement. Yoga and the practice of meditation share a number of similarities, with many considering yoga to be a moving expression of meditation. For this reason, yoga has long been identified as a true mind-body form of exercise. 

Physically speaking, a regular yoga and meditation practice boasts a long list of benefits, including improved strength and flexibility, weight loss, reduction of harmful inflammation, lowering of blood pressure, increased performance for the immune system and improved quality of sleep, to name a few. The practice has also been linked to longevity and is an excellent source of low-impact exercise for all ages. 

Related: Yoga For Guys 101: As Told By An Inflexible, Weight Lifting Dude

The mental health benefits of yoga and meditation extend far beyond reduced stress levels, though that is a major perk of a regular practice. The two modalities can also bring these benefits to your emotional well-being:

  • It can boost your mood.
  • It can help you control cravings.
  • It can improve cognitive performance.
  • It can make you more compassionate. 
  • It can give you a greater sense of self-awareness.
  • It can improve your focus and attention span. 
  • It can boost your self-esteem. 7 8 9

FFC Exclusive Group Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer and Pilates Trainer David Bohn shared that yoga has greatly improved his flexibility and range of motion. Mentally, Bohn said he experiences a positive mood shift whether he’s taking or teaching a yoga class. 

“If I’m teaching a class in the morning, I can tell that by the time I’m done, I’m much more relaxed, and I’m in a better mood,” Bohn said. “I always feel better when I’m done. I always feel less stressed.”

Starting a regular yoga/meditation practice doesn’t have to become a two hour daily chore. Bohn says that carving out a few minutes in your day for mindfulness still has its benefits. 

“Meditation has helped me with my internal focus and being able to quiet the mind, especially when it’s running out of control,” Bohn said. “Trying to come to a quiet spot and tuning out for 2-5 minutes even can help me to slow my mind and destress.” 

Ready to take class with David in person? Head to FFC.com/group-fitness to reserve an upcoming class with David, or catch him on FFC On Demand

Start reducing your stress levels today by carving out 10 minutes for these yoga and meditation sessions from David Bohn. Unwind from a busy day with David’s Bedtime Yoga Flow, tune in for a 10 minute meditation that can be done anywhere, anytime or do both back to back!  

Sources:

  1. Forbes: Report: U.S. Among The Ten Most Stressed Nations Worldwide
  2. National Institute of Health: Live Event, Stress and Illness
  3. Flavour Holidays: Joseph Pilates: History & Philosophy Of His Revolutionary Exercise
  4. Women’s Health: 7 Pilates Benefits You Don’t Want To Sleep On
  5. Yoga Baron: How Yoga Became So Popular In the United States
  6. Yogi Approved: Curious About The Origin And History Of Yoga? Here’s The Cliffnotes Version
  7. Prevention: 7 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Meditation, According to Experts
  8. Psychology Today: Meditation Can Make You Calmer, Kinder, Smarter
  9. Yoga In London: The Link Between Yoga and Meditation Explained: Benefits, How to Practice Both, and More

Post written by Natalie Casper, with video content from FFC Regional Pilates Manager Kristin Strom and FFC Exclusive Group Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer and Pilates Trainer David Bohn.