As a Pilates practitioner and instructor, I care about the perception of wellness, the reality of our health, and the fabric of our societies. Because of this, I felt compelled to discuss how to be the architect of your health and get your mind on board with your body in this new year. Our digital networks are expanding our virtual worlds, while the civility and relationships within our physical societies are crumbling. We need awareness now more than ever, and I firmly believe that mindful movement, like that of the Pilates method, can help. This year shed the heaps of stress and turn to a new chapter for a happy and healthy way of life.
Mindful movement is a gateway to the kind of health awareness and happiness our communities need. A loss of connection to emotions, bodies, and relationships has left individuals disconnected from the real world, all while “liking,” “double-tapping,” and “sharing” the perception of our reality. Shoshana Zuboff wrote on this physical disconnect versus social-media-savvy in her article “In The Grasp Of Big Tech,” published in Fast Company. According to ongoing studies on the relationship between social media use and mental health, individuals can experience heightened feelings of insecurity, envy, depression, social isolation, and self-objectification. She goes on to illustrate that “social media introduces an unparalleled intensity and pervasiveness of social comparison.” (Zuboff, Shoshana. “In The Grasp Of Big Tech.” Fast Company, March/April 2019, pp. 16-18.) This hyped-up state of being, this social-comparison mindset fueling body self-criticism and distancing ourselves from our emotions, thoughts, and actions, is now a genuine part of our communities. Mindfulness comes out of your daily or weekly Pilates practice where you attain subtle shifts of body recognition through mindful movement, experiencing first hand the slow rise of mental acuity to the world around us.
Mental health and physical health are not separate; together, they build a positive self-image, feelings of personal achievement, and help to maintain a presence of mind. Stress, even daily stress like navigating unforeseen traffic on your way to work, will have a toll on our physical health. We are entering an era of chronic diseases as a result of unchecked stress that will compound over time and create a cascade of neurohormones in the body. Dumping of cortisol, adrenaline, and glycogen, spiking blood sugars, increasing cravings for sugar, and causing your body to live in a constant state of sympathetic overdrive will put it in fight or flight mode.
Stress on the mind is pressure on the body. I’ve experienced this firsthand as a Type 1 diabetic who’s daily blood sugar readings are a genuine window into how well my body is dealing with external stressors, whether mental, emotional, or physical. Authors Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski describe coping with such stress in your body as the stress response cycle: we experience stress, we physically absorb it; thus, we need to eliminate it physically. By completing this cycle through physical movement, like that of Pilates, your body returns to a parasympathetic state, the rest and digest state of being, so it can start healing itself. “Physical activity is the single most efficient strategy for completing the stress response cycle.” Nagoski Ph.D., Emily, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA. Burnout; The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Ballantine Books New York, 2019. Stress does not discriminate between mental and physical. We cannot look at physical wellbeing without considering our mental fineness. Pilates by design, one exercise stemming from another, stresses a gradual growth to whole-body connection, that without mindfulness, you cannot achieve. Pilates, as a method, systematically moves us back to seeing ourselves in our present moment with strength, confidence, and a stronger sense of self.
At its core, the Pilates method is a mindful form of exercise that focuses on developing a whole-body connection. As a student of the technique, it has a high capacity to teach empathy, not just for ourselves but for the community around us, that we may look with kindliness on our growth and continued journey through the method, but also towards others and their growth and mission through life. A revelation to me, as an Instructor, the beauty of the human body, in all its perfection and frailties. It is my mission to guide students through the cycle of eliminating stress, working it out of the body, so it isn’t causing themselves or anyone else harm. Whatever method of healthy movement feels right to you: do it, and we need to support our neighbors doing it too. Please respect that and give them the encouragement and the freedom to do so. If we want to continue to see our communities as a venerable place to live, we need to value the process of eliminating accumulated stress, which is physiologically altering our state of health and deteriorating the fabric of our communities. Be the community that values kindness, love for oneself, and compassion for others. Invest the time and resources to work through the cycle of stress and the trauma it’s putting on your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
The second best way to work through stress, according to the Nagoski sisters?
Physical affection. So hold your loved one a little longer this year and let them help you feel whole again.