Great article from the Pilates Bridge about how you can strengthen your brain through Pilates.
"Pilates is more than just a workout. Any person who’s been doing it for at least a couple of months knows that Pilates doesn’t only sculpt your body but it also clears your mind and gives you energy and inner serenity. But what is so special about Pilates?
12 scientifically proven reasons Pilates is an all-inclusive ticket to your peace of mind
1. Pilates improves your memory and makes you smarter.
Beginning in our late 20s most of us start losing about 1% of the volume of our hippocampus, a portion of the brain responsible for memory and cognitive function. Our brains are literally shrinking.
For a long time scientists thought that we were born with a certain number of brain cells but recently they discovered that our brains could create new cells thus slowing down or reversing brain shrinkage. What will it mean to you? It means better memory, lower risks of Alzheimer’s disease, better learning and problem solving, a higher IQ and more.
Several recent studies have proved that exercise improves neurogenesis – creation of new brain cells – as well as protects existing cells by prompting in increase in B.D.N.F. production – a nerve protecting compound that some scientists call “Miracle-Gro” for the brain. The changes are mostly noticeable in the hippocampus, the region responsible for memories and learning.
Another group of researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reported in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health that people have significantly superior brain function after a mindful movement practice like Pilates or Yoga compared to aerobic exercise.
2. Pilates trains your brain.
Learning new activities is a proven brain-training technique. Heidi Johansen Berg and her colleagues from the University of Oxford have discovered that learning new activities increases the density of white matter in the brain (the fibers that let neurons communicate.) If the neurons are formed but they don’t connect then eventually they die without any benefit to brain health so this white matter is extremely important.
Learning a new activity is an important part of brain fitness. But most of us don’t have an extra several hours a week to learn how to juggle (that is what Heidi Johansen Berg used in her research) or take on a new hobby.
An exercise program however can be just the right way to multitask – benefit our body and our mind at the same time. If you start to automatize your workout (like running on a treadmill while watching TV, doing reps at the gym without focusing on your form or flying through the same Yoga sequence every week) you cut the benefit of your workout in half (not even mentioning that you double the risk of an injury.)
According to Anne Bishop, a Pilates instructor and researcher, learning a new movement or a new modification in a Pilates routine provides just the effect we are looking for by challenging the body and mind at the same time.
3. Deeper muscle activation means better function of the nervous system.
Every time we move we use several specific areas of our brain. The brain then sends an impulse through the spinal cord to muscle fibers (the process is more complicated than that and requires a bunch or words that my spell checker doesn’t even know.)
When you learn to voluntary engage certain muscles (like deep core activation in Pilates) you fire a movement chain that might have been asleep for a long time. Did you know that your core consists of 29 muscles and not just a six-pack? Learning to use them is a cleansing rinse for your nervous system.
A healthy nervous system means better communication between your brain and other parts of your body as well as the release of stress-fighting and mood-boosting hormones.
4. Calm mind and emotions with Pilates.
You have probably heard a lot about the benefits of mindfulness meditation for your mind and body. To sum them up, meditation:
According to Ellen Langer, one of the pioneer researchers of mindfulness,
Though the concept originates in ancient Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese traditions, when it comes to experimental psychology, mindfulness is less about spirituality and more about concentration: the ability to quiet your mind, focus your attention on the present, and dismiss any distractions that come your way.
Pilates lets you concentrate your attention on one thing – your body. Whether you want it or not, you have to clear your mind of any distractions if you are performing Pilates coordination work on the Reformer or if you are just visualizing an inner spring in your core that your instructor is talking about.
Pilates lets you reap all the benefits of meditation without actually sitting still and feeling like you are wasting your time.
You can gain mindfulness benefits only if you are comfortable with what you are doing. Some enjoy the peacefulness of a traditional meditation while others get better results from a mindful movement that cleanses the mind while exercising the body.