Can Pilates Make You Happy

We’ve always known that moving makes us feel better. For cardio lovers, it’s the endorphins generated by the run. For yoginis and other MindBody practitioners, it’s the mental and physical “release” they feel with the practice.

Intuitively we know our emotions affect our motion – we dance when we’re happy and curl up in a ball when sad. But Western cultures have traditionally treated the mind and body as separate entities – our thoughts, moods and emotions are felt to be unrelated and apart from the physical body.  Not so in Eastern cultures that have ancient traditions for balancing the energy within us.

Emerging research suggests that the link between our physical and emotional bodies is driven through the fascia or soft tissue elements.   A three-dimensional web of sensing, tensing connective tissue, fascia runs through and around all tissues of the body. One of its’ big jobs is to function as a “communication superhighway”.

Enriched in sensory receptors, fascia speeds constant communication to the brain so we know where we are in space, whether anything hurts and how we emotionally feel in that moment. Three different types of sensory receptors relay information to get the job done.

Proprioceptors tell us where we are in space. Receptors sense pressure, tension, contraction, vibration and shear which in turn helps the brain fine tune movement – great proprioception, we move with ease and grace.

Nociceptors transmit pain.

Interoceptors transmit to the emotional part of the brain (insular cortex) and include sensations such as warmth or cold, hunger, thirst, itch or tickle, sexual arousal, distension of the stomach or bladder, breathlessness or palpitations.

As many of us can attest, Interoceptors are prevalent in the gut and are thought to be the culprit behind the gut-brain axis – stress that plays out in your digestive system. Myofascial interoceptors contribute to the movement – brain axis whereby specific movement modalities can affect emotional tone.

We cannot separate the mind from the physical body. What happens to the mind is cleared through the body. Every thought we have transmits electromagnetic impulses down the spine, and releases secretory droplets of neuropeptides coursing through the body. If the emotion is cleared – you are angry and then you resolve your anger – no harm done; the body relaxes.

But if you hold onto a negative emotion – fear, anger or sadness – the mind keeps bombarding the body. Areas of stress and abnormal tension develop – first in the muscles and then in the fascia.   Chronic tension in the musculoskeletal system will cause fascia to remodel over time to adapt to the aberrant postural holding patterns.

Muscle memory is more appropriately termed fascial memory. It is the final repository of emotional stress. “Clearing an emotion” needs to be done physically at the fascial level and mentally in the emotional habits we groove over time. Each is intertwined – as we work to unstick gummed up fascia the mind changes the groove of an unhealthy thinking pattern little by little.

Any number of MindBody movement modalities can be used to build a practice designed for fascial fitness. This article deals with Pilates.

Fascial training restores elasticity by 1. Increasing hydration (no – drinking water doesn’t help) and getting rid of toxins, 2. Improving “glide” of tissue structures by clearing stuck areas due to inflammation and 3. Developing more “crimp” to improve force transmission and prevent overuse injury.

Short term – meaning one to a few sessions, Pilates improves fascial hydration. Water in fascia is referred to as “bound” water not free to flow. The tissue has to be stretched or compressed to push the fluids (containing waste) out of stressed fascia allowing healthy fluid (from plasma) to flow in. The Pilates repertoire is ideally suited to keep your fascia happy and hydrated.

Long term – meaning a regular practice several times a week, Pilates restores postural integrity. Areas of stress and overuse or deleterious holding patterns from emotional trauma result in inflammation causing fascia to get stuck and lack glide. Over time the fascia remodels itself creating imbalances in the body and restrictions in range of motion – often accompanied by pain and stiffness.

Specific techniques like jump board with light springs provide the rhythmic plyometric work out needed to develop crimp or the ability to withstand force transmission and prevent injury from overuse.

All this adds up to more elastic fascia – the element that moves you with ease and grace. By products are less pain and stiffness and improved feelings of well – being. Yes – Pilates works.


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