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Clinical study shows Pilates is good for you

Handspring Publishing is delighted to post a guest blog by Tracey Mellor, Pilates Instructor and Studio Owner. We are grateful to Tracey for writing this piece which is full of insight and offers links to more in-depth studies relating to Pilates. Tracey’s own blog can be found at http://traceymellorpilates.blogspot.co.uk.

As a Pilates instructor and Studio Owner, it’s always very satisfying to read a published clinical study proving that Pilates is good for you. You get that nice warm feeling, that you have been teaching the right thing all along -after all, no-one can argue with research!

The study I am referring to is published in the latest Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2013) 17, 5-10: ‘Effect of Pilates on Sleep quality and quality of life of a sedentary population’ Leopoldino et al.

This piece of research concluded that for a group of young, healthy people, who live sedentary lifestyles, attending a Pilates mat class twice a week for 12 weeks showed an improvement in their sleep patterns and left them feeling better. Research like this, not only brings credibility to Pilates as a movement system, it also shows that Pilates can have clinical applications.

This morning I took this piece of research into my Mat Pilates class to pass on the good news. The age profile of my class is very different (over 40yr olds compared with 18-30yr olds in the study), but they all agreed with the conclusions. I did suggest that we try to re-create the researcher’s class, but one look at the exercises in the study, put a stop to that idea!

We continued with our rather more age appropriate class, satisfied that we could now prove we were doing ourselves some good, as well as feeling better.

Bringing the research into class did provoke a discussion about sleep patterns and a link between sleep and Pilates, which many had not made before. Improvement in sleep patterns is not one of the normal advertised benefits of taking a Pilates class.

However I have had comments in the past, particularly when teaching in the evening, that class participants slept rather better after the Pilates class than on other nights of the week.

As Instructors we are often asked ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions by class participants when they have noticed a benefit to them of doing the class. I too, am always looking for answers. Sleep improvement is one of the observed results and I have been asked how and why Pilates has a beneficial effect on sleep quality.

I had put this down to the concentration required to execute the exercises safely and effectively. This Mind-Body aspect of a Pilates exercise class is often overlooked as a benefit.

Clearing the mind of everyday thoughts, worries and future planning is a form of meditation, it allows the body to move freely and unencumbered with brain chatter. A rested mind and an exercised body is perfect for a good night’s sleep- I had no proof for this, but it seemed a reasonable explanation.

These big questions of how and why sleep patterns and quality of life improved are not addressed in the study, just that Pilates did improve them.

So do I have an answer to the question of how and why Pilates improves well-being? Perhaps it’s just that the human body is designed to move and Pilates is a movement system which uses the whole body’s myofascial network.

Research into the body’s fascia network is still in that exciting first flush of discovery. We do not know what effect actively stimulating this network may have, but we do know that the fascial system is very important for movement.

Co-incidentally in the same issue of The Journal of Bodywork and Manual Therapies there is a paper which may go some way to explaining the ‘why’.

In an article by Robert Schleip and Divo Muller entitled Practical Training Methods they provide the scientific foundation for training principals for Fascial Connective tissues. The Pilates movement system fits naturally into some of these principals. I have been consciously layering these Fascial Fitness Principals on top of the Pilates system in my classes and have had some very positive results.

These are two great articles that go some way towards explaining why and how I teach Pilates. Please take the time to read them, and if you are a Pilates teacher, I hope they give you lots of ideas on how we can develop a great movement system into a fantastic one which has proven clinical applications and is fun to do.

Tracey Mellor
January 2013