The Science of Stress Relief: How Pilates Can Help You Unwind

The Science of Stress Relief: How Pilates Can Help You Unwind

Almost all of us experience stress in some form. Whether we’re scrambling between meetings, cranking on a work deadline, or worried about family obligations, stress inevitably creeps into our lives. We may write it off as just a fact of life, but it could be doing actual harm to your short-term and long-term health.

Stress isn’t just a feeling. When you’re stressed, your body releases stress hormones that raise your blood pressure and elevate your heart rate. You may feel lightheaded or dizzy as your body goes into fight or flight mode. You could experience muscle tension, hyperventilation, as well as gastrointestinal distress, like the sensation we often call “butterflies,” or vomiting or diarrhea. These sensations can be uncomfortable, as well as be frightening and disruptive in the moment.

But it gets even worse over the long term. Those experiencing stress symptoms consistently can end up with serious health issues including heart attack, chronic pain, diabetes, stroke, and hypertension.

That’s why stress-induced health issues are not something to take lightly. They can critically impact your health, which is why it’s important to take proactive steps to reduce stress in your life now, and integrate calming and restorative mind-body practices that help you release built up stress over time.

Pilates is scientifically proven to reduce stress, and finding a regular practice can help you consistently release stress and tension from your mind and body while finding a more balanced approach to moving through your day. 

Here are 6 reasons you should start practicing Pilates to help you unwind, as well as an easy sequence to help you get started today.

6 Reasons Pilates Helps Reduce Stress

Pilates Takes You Out of Fight or Flight Mode

When you slow down on the mat or the Reformer, you’re removed from fight or flight mode. You’re in a safe space, your cortisol or stress hormone lowers, and your body’s overall stress decreases.

Pilates Builds Your Body Awareness

When stress becomes your baseline, it’s hard to know what a stress reaction within your body is. By practicing Pilates, you reintroduce body awareness and your ability to recognize and understand the sensations within your body. You know when your heart is racing or your muscles are tensing because you become attuned to knowing these signs, and so you can better pause and support yourself in the moment.

Breathing Improves Circulation and Reduces Tension

As you work through each movement and breath in Pilates, you’re also improving your circulation and reducing tension, which are both symptoms of stress. By reducing the symptoms, you’re allowing your mind and body to rest and reset, while simultaneously reducing the actual stress. 

Pilates Helps You Release Tension in the Body

While Pilates for stress relief is typically more focused on stretching and unwinding, you also have an opportunity to release tension through some of the more explosive Pilates moves. Think of doing these kinds of moves like the Pilates equivalent of a hitting a punching bag: The quick burst of physical energy explosion releases muscle tension, helping you flow into the stretches later.

Pilates Releases Endorphins

As we all learned from Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, when you move your body, it releases endorphins, which in turn make you happier. This helps you reduce stress by meeting it with the opposite emotion. 

Pilates Helps You Better Regulate Your Emotions

Through breathwork, you gain more control of your feelings and your emotions. You are then able to channel that outside of class and continue to regulate emotions and reactions in your daily life, letting stressors roll off your back rather than letting them get to you. 

Even Celebrities Swear By Pilates for Stress Relief

Celebrities are known for practicing Pilates regularly, with Kate Hudson and Lady Gaga being two of the most famous devotees. But some celebrities have touted its stress relief benefits when describing why they return to the mat or the Reformer regularly. Jennifer Aniston has referred to practicing Pilates as a moving meditation, while Meghan Markle goes to a Pilates studio known for its commitment to holistic health.

Try this Calming Pilates Sequence to Combat Stress

When you’re practicing Pilates specifically for stress relief, you’re going to focus on different movements than you might if you were dedicating your workout to strengthening. To reduce stress and unwind, you’ll move through these seven relaxing stretches that help you shift your focus back to your body and your breath. As you work your way through this sequence, you’ll feel your muscles start to relax, your heart rate slow down, and your breath deepen.

  1. Neck Stretches: In a seated position, relax your shoulders and carefully lean your head to each side, feeling the stretch along your neck.
  2. Side Bend with Arms: Next, take the movement a bit further by involving your arms, bending to each side.
  3. Spinal Circles: While still seated, move your torso in an exaggerated circular movement, working through your spine.
  4. Roll Down: Carefully move into a C-curve and roll yourself down to the ground.
  5. Leg Circles: Lying on your back, lift one leg into the air, then move it in circles across your body. Repeat on the other side.
  6. Bridge: With both feet flat while laying on your back, peel your torso off the floor, creating a bridge position. 
  7. Supine Twist: On your back, bend your legs, then lower them all the way to the floor on one side. Rest your arms on the floor in a cactus or T-shape, then send your gaze to the opposite direction of your legs.

Once you’ve completed the sequence, you can end with a few minutes of dedicated breathwork in a seated or lying down position. Take a deep breath and feel the difference in your body and your mind.


Do you use Pilates to help reduce stress? How has it made an impact on your day-to-day mindset? Do you have a go to Pilates sequence you use to help you unwind? Let us know in the comments!


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