Because there is more to Pilates than wearing Bala bangles and activewear selfies...
Pilates is a mind-body exercise that can be described as a mix between calisthenics, yoga and Ballet. If you practice regularly, you may have experienced the many associated benefits such as greater flexibility, improved mood and the famous Pilates derriere. Although all of these Pilates benefits are wonderful assets to daily life, what stood out to me most in my many years of “Pilates-ing” is how it transformed my core.
Initially dubbed ‘contrology’, Pilates as a movement practice places a strong emphasis on strengthening the core muscles. It is important to note that our core isn’t just the superficial ‘six-pack’ visible with the naked eye, but is also composed of deeper muscles like the transversus abdominis and pelvic floor, as well as our glutes and hip muscles. These deeper core muscles are crucial for posture, injury prevention and balance, and are not targeted or necessarily activated in your usual ab crunch – you can thank Pilates for that.
One thing you may not know about Pilates is that in the process of strengthening your core, you are also improving your gut health. What a win-win! A healthy gut is essential to your overall well being and is something I am constantly working to improve. A whopping 70 per cent of the body’s immune system is located in the digestive tract, meaning that a healthy gut is likely to correlate with a strong immune system.
But the good news doesn’t just end there. The process of Pilates improving your gut health can also have psychological benefits. Our gut is often referred to as our second brain as it is estimated over 90% of all our serotonin – our happy neurotransmitters – lies in the digestive tract. This makes sense given that the gut is tightly linked to our brain via a mechanism known as the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis allows communication between our gut and brain so that the state of our gut can influence factors like our mood (i.e. an unhappy gut can lead to poor mental health) as much as our mood can influence our digestive system (e.g. think of a time you have gotten butterflies in your tummy when you’re nervous). In other words, a happy gut means a happy mind and vice versa!
So how exactly does Pilates create a happier gut?
IMAGE / @ASTUDIOS
We know that the breath is incredibly important for your health as it oxygenates your body, stimulates fat loss and removes plaque from your arteries. In Pilates, a specific type of breathing known as lateral breathing is adopted which also aids digestion through internal organ massage. Lateral breathing involves inhaling through your nose while expanding the rib cage laterally (sidewards) and exhaling as if you are blowing through a straw, compressing the rib cage and drawing your belly button towards your spine.
The unique twisting and stretching movements in Pilates massages the digestive tract which improves digestion. Twisting movements, such as Criss Cross, energises the abdominal area in several planes helping to stimulate intestinal contractions.
Pilates eliminates toxins through quickened breathing, greater blood circulation and the production of sweat. This flushes out toxins throughout your entire body including the digestive tract, promoting a happier gut.
Reducing Stress and anxiety
Engaging in exercise can decrease cortisol, your ‘stress hormone’, as well as boost endorphins for a happier you. The reduction of stress and anxiety can minimise damage to your digestive system via the gut-brain axis.
Releasing muscle tension
Pilates is wonderful at releasing muscle tension. If you work in an office or are sedentary for many hours of the day, your psoas muscle – or more commonly known as a hip flexor – may become tight. The psoas muscle runs from your inner thigh across the tummy and inserts itself in your lower back. When the psoas is tight, it can cause compression around the core area which can negatively affect your digestion. Through Pilates, the psoas is stretched which releases this compression of the abdomen and provides a massage of your internal organs further improving digestion.
IMAGE / ASTUDIOS
If you are wanting to improve your gut health and strengthen your abs, it all starts on the mat. The hardest part is showing up, but I promise it will be worth it. See you on the mat soon!