Former Head of Dynamic Reformer Pilates Johanna Francis shares her personal account of how the involving and intricate practice of dynamic Pilates has helped her cope with anxiety.
I’m Johanna, and amongst being many things (a Personal Trainer, 80’s power ballad aficionado, Pilates instructor, ice-cream fancier) I’m also someone living with anxiety.
My first attack happened in December 2013 and was so severe I was taken to hospital because I honestly thought it was a heart attack.
My experience is one of thousands that happen every day, and amongst lots of remedies, one that is really held head and shoulders above the rest is mindfulness and exercise.
Mindfulness is a word that has been in the press a lot recently – and there’s an assumption that it’s primarily for people with passion for ricecakes and herbal tea. But (whilst I do enjoy both) I can assure you it’s for everyone! Quite simply – it’s learning to be present in your mind and body as a way to help try and prevent your anxiety to take you over.
For me – doing this through exercise helped me to start getting my life back again. When my diagnosis was first given I honestly didn’t believe it. It took three ‘second opinions’ before I accepted it. I didn’t want pills and my (fantastic) Doctor didn’t want to give them to me.
She prescribed exercise, breath work and mindfulness. During the 6 weeks that I took off work, my first ‘dosage’ was Pilates at home. I would focus on one exercise/movement at a time and count in and out with my breath. Every time my mind wandered off – I would have start again. It was not punishment to do this – rather a method to become more connected with myself and my current state.
For a lot of people, myself included, anxiety and the attacks that come with it can strike anywhere, anytime and completely without any rational explanation. Some are mild (I’ve experienced them whilst teaching class) while others are so severe that they can make your heart race to the point that you’re rendered speechless, or worse, pass out.
I know – sounds fun right?!
With this in mind – the more in control I can be of my mental awareness – the more likely I can rationalise and work through an attack when it approaches and potentially stop it taking complete control.
Exercise is fundamentally moving your body along with breath, and whilst practices like pilates do feel amazing and can be relaxing, you are doing multiple things at the same time.
As Ten’s Marketing Director (and Pilates regular) said to me the other day: ‘The technique requires so much control, precision and focus, you literally don’t have any headspace left to worry about anything else!’
I have a very close relationship with my clients, and when talking about this article with them – one of them said something that really stuck with me:
‘Desperation is not a driver for physical or mental health’
Ultimately, Pilates can help people alleviate anxiety and daily stresses because it rewards (rather than punishes) you for your practice. It’s not about perfection. Yes, you’ll see amazing changes, but the mental connection/control it can provide is, for me, unrivalled..