Yoga and Pilates are known for: reducing stress, creating core strength, flexibility, increased blood circulation, lowering blood pressure, weight loss, improved coordination, injury prevention, improved muscle tone, back health, decreasing joint pain, improving your overall well-being, and so much more. No one can dismiss the powerful benefits that Yoga & Pilates have on the body. One of the benefits commonly overlooked, yet stands out to me, is the benefit they have on the mind.
Maybe you have heard of the term “mind-body” exercise. But what does that mean, and how does it relate to Yoga and Pilates? Plato said, “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means man can achieve perfection.” Today’s culture seems to separate the mind and the body. We exercise for the physical body and study for the mind. But, did you know that exercise can improve test scores and boost memory? That exercise not only trains your body to run like a well-oiled machine but your mind as well. Mind body exercises, like Yoga and Pilates, promote mindfulness through focus, concentration and breath work. When teaching Pilates, I begin each workout with the following statement: “let’s begin by clearing the mind of all the outside thoughts, focus on the breath and flow of the movement”. This statement ensures the proper mind-body connection. The combination of slow, controlled movements and/or poses with breath work and visualization, help to balance and combine the physical body and the intellectual mind.
Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between exercise and brain function. The typical human brain is estimated to have 15-33 billion neurons. Neurons are the core component of the nervous system, spinal cord and brain. Not so long ago neuroscientists believed that the brain stopped producing new neurons, or transmitters, at birth. Now they know that neurons are continuously being formed throughout life and depend on your environment and exercise. During aerobic exercise, your muscles use oxygen at a higher rate, and the heart pumps more oxygenated blood to the brain. The added blood flow to the brain increases the micro blood vessels there. Theses blood vessels are associated with new cell growth and connections, and the research has found that this new cell growth happens in the parts of the brain where we think and remember. That’s why people who exercise have more energy, focus and concentration. They feel more alert, and have a great feeling of overall well-being. “Not mind or body, but mind and body.” Joseph Pilates.