Why Teens Need Pilates (Part 3): The Mind-Body Con...

Why Teens Need Pilates (Part 3): The Mind-Body Connection

Were you aware of the mind/body connection when you were a teenager? What does it mean to you? So many of us float through our lives in auto pilot mode, until aches pains or serious injuries stop us in our tracks. What if we could connect the mind to the body at an earlier age and prevent such aches and pains from developing in the first place?

What does the connection mean? In my opinion, it’s getting the brain listening to the body. You can connect the brain to the body using sensory feedback in a few ways. You can use gravity while standing or you can use sensory props, such as spiky balls, the wall, therabands, overball, mat or reformer to engage the brain. Have you tried balancing on one foot and thinking of a list of jobs to do? It’s impossible! Pilates focuses the mind on the here and now, taking you away from the stressors or worries of the day.

Teens are so overloaded these days with saturated social media feeds and exam stresses, they need and deserve to have a built in method which enables them to focus on their own mind and body and getting the two to listen to each other.

What can Pilates do to help?

The brain needs space to listen to the body. How many of us have jogged with an absent mind on the treadmill at the gym, watching the TV screen? Or crossed the road without checking for cars because we’re tuned into the latest podcast or call? The disconnect between the mind and the body is a real issue.

What are the main things I see?

  • Upper body shallow breathing.
  • Tension points – stress generally presents itself more in the upper body for teens because they are often curled over completing their homework at a desk or on the computer. I also see a lot of physical signs in the form of a stiff and tight neck, shoulders/hip flexors and glutes.
  • Body Language – looking vague/generally lacking concentration and focus.

Here are my top 5 Pilates exercises for engaging the mind and body:

  1. Focus on the breath – preparation

Why is it so helpful?

  • Breathing into the upper body alone creates a vicious circle. The shoulders elevate and the chin pokes forward. Once this pattern of shallow breathing is formed, it’s very difficult to let that go and release it.
  • Pilates encapsulates a method of moving mindfulness to me. The co-ordination of the limbs moving in unison with the breath focuses the mind on the here and now, rather than allowing worries to take hold.
  • Another method of focussing on the breath is box breathing. Simply breathing in for the count of 4, holding for 4 and exhaling for a count of 8 enables you to stay present with the breath. It is incredibly grounding.
  1. Spiky ball – rolling on the feet or against a wall (Bear scratching)

Why is it so helpful?

  • It feels good! I often use this exercise at the start of class, while my teen clients are chatting about their day. It provides a good focus point, because the teens can feel a real difference in their bodies before and after the exercise. It also empowers them to realise that they can help themselves to feel better with small effective techniques.


  • Be careful to roll the ball (if standing) between the medial border of the scapula and the channel between the spinous process. Never roll on the actual spine.
  • Perform small squats up and down the wall rolling the ball in the channel. Staying in a small squat, rotate the body to the right or left depending where the ball is placed.
  • If rolling on the feet for plantar fasciae release, place the back of the arch on the ball, with moderate pressure.
  1. Lying on a foam roller (or a rolled up towel)

Why is it so helpful?

  • Again, it feels good! Lying on a foam roller enables the chest muscles to open and lengthen, which is a good antidote to rounded, tight chest and shoulders.
  • It enables the student to feel the body naturally releasing. This feedback comes back the brain as a positive experience.


  • Don’t let the arms simply flop to the floor.
  • Harness the power of the breath. I tend to teach the arms opening on an inhalation and I get the students to imagine they are pressing the arm between the palms as they close on an exhalation.
  • Add to this sequence by adding in goalpost arms/windmills/circles/halos.
  1. The Mermaid

Why is it so helpful?

  • The ultimate feel good exercise! It lengthens and opens the side body. A perfect combination between the breath and the stretch skywards.
  • It enables the student to fully expand the chest in breathing as well as preparing the body for bending and rotation.


  • Make sure to keep your shoulders down, away from the ears as you extend the arm above the heads.
  • Try to prevent the ribs from flaring, or arching the back as you curve to the side.
  • Aim to keep the sitting bones grounded as the stretch extends and lengthens the torso
  • Some students may need to sit with leg extended in front of them or with both legs folded in front if they have tight hamstrings or hip flexors.
  1. Rocking cat

Why is it so helpful?

  • It opens up the lower spine which is often tight, as well as the obliques when the arms are taken to the left or right.
  • It teaches the student to initiate the movement from the pelvis and sequentially flex the spine on an exhale.


  • Maintain the C-curve of the spine as the student begins to rock back towards the feet and then return to four point kneeling.
  • Make sure the shoulders are not over protracted or elevated

What every teen Pilates class should cover:

  • Breath control is key. Once this is mastered the mind body connection will be established.
  • Help teens to understand how to breathe well and to feel the difference between abdominal breathing and ribcage breathing. I often use a towel or a theraband around the ribs to get the students to feel the “bellowing” of the lungs and ribs as they expand and contract. I also tend to place a bag of pasta or a little sandbag on their tummies when lying, to feel the difference between the rise of the volcano of the tummy when breathing into the abdomen and the drawing down or funneling down of the ribs to the pelvis on the exhale.
  • Sensory feedback is key. Get the student to develop body awareness and proprioception listening out for what the body is telling them. When standing, are the feet rolling in or out, are the three points of their feet in contact with the floor? When lying, which part of their ribs and spine/pelvis are in contact with the floor? Is their back arching, flat into the floor or in the middle of the two?
  • Get the student to think about how their bodies feels before and after an exercise. A body scan if you like. They are more likely to return and want to take class again if they feel lengthened and relaxed by the end.

Above all else, have fun! Use props to enhance the sensory experience and light up curiosity. Establishing good patterns of movement earlier on in life will set the students on a lifelong path to moving and feeling better. What a gift to give to the younger generation!

READ PART 1                                  READ PART 2

Sara Ellis-Owen traded her law practice for a career teaching Pilates in her mid 30s. She’s a based in Bristol, U.K. where she runs a successful equipment based studio, House of Pilates. After witnessing the effects of lockdown on her teens, she created Next Generation Pilates, a bespoke Pilates service for teens. Next Generation Pilates offers in person sessions using equipment and an online course so teens around the world can take advantage of the benefits of Pilates. She holds a Level 3 Pilates certification through Alan Herdman Pilates along with a Body Control Pilates certification to teach Pilates to children through young adults. Sign up for her newsletter at and get a free video with the top three exercises to share with your teens! Or you can follow her on Instagram



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