Your productivity and performance are inextricably linked to how stressed you are. Working in a high-pressure environment is extremely stressful and can create an acute stress response in our nervous system called flight or fight mode.
For our ancient ancestors, the stress response was very useful to flee predators as it releases adrenaline and cortisol. Furthermore, these are still highly beneficial for us now that we have swapped the prairies for the office with deadlines and showstopper presentations. Without these hormones, we wouldn’t be as sharp and on point. However, the benefits do not outweigh the risks when we become stuck in the stress response.
Weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, insomnia or difficulty sleeping, mood irregularities, and low energy levels are some symptoms of being stuck in an acute stress response. To get out of it, we need to lessen our stress stimulation, quieten down and relax to allow our rest digest mode to kick in (our nervous system’s antidote to fight or flight). This is where Pilates and its effective breathing techniques can be a game-changer.
Pilates is a wonderful form of mindful movement, which can also be extremely meditative. The focus is all on your alignment and breathing, meaning that you can mentally disconnect and escape as you follow the instructions – thinking deeply about how your body is moving, leaving little room to think about anything else.
The breath work, which involves deep breaths, allows your nervous system to quieten down, lowering cortisol and releasing tension and stress. This brings calm and clarity, and many people say how well they sleep after a session. Pilates goes even further as it allows you to undo all the aches and pains you get from sitting at a desk all day long, so it is a win-win situation for you.
The more you move, the more fluid your body becomes and, in turn, the less stressed and rigid you are. The more you switch on your rest and digest mode, the better you are able to regulate your fight or flight. But you can’t do that if the scales are tipping more towards fight or flight and you aren’t doing enough to disconnect and relax.
Here is a quick breathing technique, which can help you when you feel your fist clenching and your heart racing. You can also check out these free videos.
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Try spending 3 minutes of your day sitting using the following technique:
- Sitting comfortably on your sit bones lengthen the spine with your arms resting on your lap. Contemplate how you breathe and where you usually breathe (up in the shoulders, or are you a breath holder?).
- Try to breathe downwards towards your pelvis, letting your belly expand. You can even place your hands on your belly. There is no need for any core engagement here.
- Imagine the breath now surrounding your organs travelling to your brain like a mist fuelling your body. Choose the colour of the mist to signify vitality and sense the breath in mist form enveloping your whole body, expanding your ribcage 360 degrees – like a balloon expanding from within. Let the mist travel to your brain and up and down your spine.
- Pause in any areas of your body where you feel tension and let the mist hover in that area, bringing warmth and release. Keep allowing the mist to circulate through your body.
Doing Pilates gives you head space and the ability to listen to and read the signals when your body is on high alert. You don’t need an hour of Pilates a day; think more simply 10-15 minutes. That’s all you need to start making real, long-lasting changes to your stress levels and, in turn, overall well-being, productivity and performance.
About the author
Anaya has over 15 years of experience teaching Pilates to a wide range of people – from professional athletes and teams who want to prevent injuries and increase performance to everyday folk who want to simply decrease pain and have better posture.
Coming to Pilates through a serious back injury, she knows first-hand the power of Pilates and how it can complement those in rehabilitation. This personal experience has given her a thirst for learning about anatomy, rehabilitation and movement. It has led her to further her knowledge in other movement practices and anatomical courses, such as human dissection – keeping abreast of the latest and most relevant scientific papers.
In 2021, she set up Men Do Pilates (the first online Pilates Platform solely dedicated to men) to make Pilates more accessible to men with her effective, enjoyable and expertly taught Pilates.
Find out more about Anaya Grover and Men Do Pilates here:
Website: Men Do Pilates