Pilates for the Mind

It was on one of those days when I glanced in the mirror, and felt uncomfortable with what I saw. "Oh dear!" I saw myself looking a little baggy here, and a bit saggy there. “Hmmm” I thought, “it’s time to get back into shape”.

I joined a local Pilate’s group, where a small group of people were trimming and tightening tummies, and lots more besides! The exercises were unfamiliar at first, but with practice, I got the hang of how to do it. 

As I walked home after last week’s session, I wondered if it were possible to apply the Pilates principles to my mind and brain. After all, the brain is like a muscle, although of course it is made up of extremely complex brain tissue. The more we use and exercise our brain, the stronger it becomes. And, when we don’t use it we really do lose some of its functions! So, I wondered, how can we exercise our brains?

We all know that emotions in others trigger (sometimes different) emotions in ourselves. Feelings can be difficult to manage when they suddenly flare up inside. And here’s an interesting statistic, an emotion rarely lasts for more than 90 seconds if we are curious and interested in it!

Imagine striking a match. There is the scraping friction, the sudden spluttering flame with its peculiar smell, and the steady burn as the flame makes its way along the matchstick. Now, think of an emotion like resentment. Feel how the resentment flares inside; sense its energy and heat. Your body (possibly around your neck or face and down your back) feels hot. Your hands might want to curl into fists, and your feet might want to kick out. Resentment can burn on for days, years even. It can be fuelled with the oxygen of grudging thoughts, a determination to cut off all contact with the person who caused the hurt, and even by enjoying the thoughts of revenge. The problem is that we can scorch ourselves inside. Smouldering resentment and bitterness compromises our immune systems so that we get infections, colds and even arthritis more easily. Sleep patterns are disturbed, digestive systems suffer, and relationships with others and with ourselves, become difficult.

So how can we manage these emotions safely? Counting to 10 slowly really does help, but don’t just count. Pay close attention to your breathing and use calming words like “be still” as you breathe in and “relax” as you breathe out. Don’t just sit there brooding, do something active and satisfying. You’ll sense your thinking becoming calmer, you’ll feel more in control and as you feel your body relaxing, that resentful flame starts to dim and go out. The painful situation will look different.

Here’s another helpful exercise. Choose a good feeling, like feeling loved, successful, or satisfied. Notice how your body carries these feelings and what happens as you pay close attention to what feeling good is really like. This exercise is excellent for building resilience and mental strength. Just like beginning Pilates, learning new mental and emotional skills takes time and determination. Athletes keep on practising in order to build their skills and strength, we do the same when we regularly exercise our minds, and take care of our emotions.

 A calm mind and settled emotions mean lower stress chemicals, a healthy immune system, and good self esteem that gives us that feel good factor. There are huge benefits that come with regular emotional ‘mind Pilates’. Have a go and start practising. Enjoy your life, your health your mental abilities!

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