5 Ways Pilates Can Support Your Mental Health

“If you can relate to overwhelm, anxiety, or perhaps being ‘tired and wired’, then read on for ways in which Pilates as a practice can help you, and support your positive mental health.”

Sarah Edwards is a Doctor of Education and Comprehensive Polestar Graduate of Polestar Pilates UK.

Pilates is often promoted as being great for ‘core strength’ or ‘reducing back pain’, both of which it certainly can do. (I know, as back pain was the main reason I took up Pilates in the first place). Through personal experience and in teaching clients in private and group settings, I now know that Pilates has consistently supported me in managing my own anxiety. The practice can be instrumental in supporting the positive mental health of others.

Prior to teaching with Polestar and while I attended my weekly Pilates class, I was working as a Teaching and learning director in higher education. I completed a Doctorate in Education, raised a family, and I also experienced a number of traumatic experiences regarding my children’s health. Not surprisingly, I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. 

Thankfully, Pilates really brought me out of that very busy headspace and, at times, my overwhelm. My experiences led me to train with Polestar as a Comprehensive Practitioner. I also trained as a mental health first-aider and, safe to say, I haven’t looked back.

Joseph’s Mind-Body Method

Joseph Pilates advocated a mind-body practice much before his time. In many aspects of holistic health, the context of “typical daily life” has changed in drastic ways. Modern lifestyle habits including chronic sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, and even social media use and ‘doom scrolling’, have fuelled the anxiety epidemic. Mental Health disorders, including anxiety, have also increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the context has changed, the practice of Pilates, for the main part, hasn’t.  

How can Pilates specifically help? If you can relate to overwhelm, anxiety, or perhaps being ‘tired and wired’ then read on for ways in which Pilates as a practice can help you, and support your positive mental health.

1. Regular Practice

Pilates as part of your regular schedule will interrupt your overthinking and helps ‘press pause’ on any overwhelm. In our digitized, and always “on call” culture, we need to step away from our devices, and literally and figuratively “switch off”.

2. Break The Cycle

In turn, positive movement experiences can help break the chronic stress cycle. Chronic stress affects the nervous system, and influences related anxiety disorders. Stress can also have profound physiological effects. The long-term stimulation of the fight-or-flight response leads to the constant production and secretion of hormones such as cortisol. Long-term excessive cortisol is associated with a variety of consequences, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

3. Connect With The Breath

Pilates focuses on breath (it’s the first Principle of Polestar Pilates). Focusing on the breath, and particularly an extended exhale can help access the parasympathetic nervous system. This sends signals to the brain that all is well. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “rest and digest” function of the body which is why you can likely hear your digestive system at work once you relax!

4. Practice Embodyment 

A skilled teacher will give you both internal and external cues that allow you to move in a mindful way. When you focus on the internal sense of your body (interoception) you cannot be thinking about your overwhelming to-do list. Teachers who have also embraced an element of psychological fitness training (such as with Polestar) can also help clients come out of their ‘thinking brain’ by stimulating the vagus nerve. This can support reducing stress, anxiety, and even depression.

5. Empowerment

The benefits in strength, posture, and mobility you gain from Pilates can help your self-confidence (we call this self-efficacy) and your self-esteem. Any positive movement experience will release endorphins, and hormones that will reduce pain and stress, and improve your mood.

Sarah Edwards @positivepilateswithsarah is a Doctor of Education (with specializations in Teaching and Learning), a Comprehensive Pilates Instructor with Polestar, and a Mental Health First Aider. She is particularly interested in promoting Pilates for mental health and runs one-to-one, and on-demand classes from her recently completed garden studio in England (gardening being another of her passion projects)!


i Vora, E. (2022) The Anatomy of Anxiety. Harper Collins publishing.

ii Mental Health First Aid England, 2020.

iii The Parasympathetic Nervous System (2022) Brittanica Science. Available at : Sciencehttps://www.britannica.com/science/parasympathetic-nervous-system (accessed 8th August 2022).

iv The Counselling Directory. What is the vagus nerve? Available at http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/member-articles Accessed 24th August 2022.

v As a Mental Health First Aider (1) I am trained to recognize when someone is struggling with an anxiety disorder, depression, or psychotic episode and to signpost them to appropriate help. It is not within my scope to diagnose these conditions.

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.