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by Lisa Courchaine, CAPSW 

Northwest Passage III Therapist 

Ok I admit it, I began practicing Pilates 10 years ago because it was the” hip” new workout, and I was curious what all the buzz was about.  Over time, I have realized the many benefits Pilates has to offer, and recent studies suggest the same.  For instance, in a recent study, college students participated in a 15 week movement based class on Pilates, Taiji quan, or GYROKINESIS.  Results found that overall; these students had increased levels of mindfulness, which were associated with improved sleep, self-regulation, mood, and perception of stress.  Now, first things first, according to Marsha M. Linehan, who brilliantly developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), the core concept of mindfulness is all about being able to pay attention, non-judgmentally to the present moment.

Principles-of-PilatesAfter reading about the study, I was intrigued to research exactly how the movement based classes increased levels of mindfulness.  When looking at the core principles of Pilates, I found numerous connections to the mental health world, particularly DBT, which is the core treatment modality we use with the girls at Northwest Passage III.  The first core principle of Pilates is Concentration, as it requires intense focus on your entire body throughout the entire routine, which is an excellent way to actively distract oneself from intense emotions, as DBT teaches us.  The second core principle of Pilates is Control, as it teaches us that we are in control of our body, and not at its mercy, which aligns with the DBT philosophy of skillfully being able to tolerate distress and regulate emotions, and not being at the mercy of our emotions.  The third core principle of Pilates is Centering, which emphasizes use of the abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks, and inner thighs as the “powerhouse” or source of strength for the exercises, which aligns with diaphragmatic or “deep belly breathing” used in the mindfulness module of DBT.  The fourth core principle of Pilates is the Flow or Efficiency of Movement, with emphasis on smooth transitions from one exercise to the next, which aligns with the DBT mindfulness concept of “radical acceptance“ and being in control over the only thing we can control, ourselves.  The fifth core principle of Pilates is Precision, as it requires few and concentrated efforts, rather than countless and half-hearted efforts, which aligns with the DBT concept of mindfulness and paying attention to the present moment.  The sixth core principle of Pilates is Breathing, which focuses on the increased intake of oxygen to the body (which promotes blood circulation) and to the brain (which lowers anxiety).

It seems as though Pilates naturally incorporates elements of DBT, particularly mindfulness and self-regulation, and according to the recent study, may then lead to improved sleep, which is HUGE in terms of regulating our emotions (being less vulnerable to negative/problematic emotions).

You don’t need money, a gym membership, or fancy equipment.  All you need is a mat and yourself.  I try to teach the girls that taking care of yourself is “cool”, and sometimes comment on how much suffering I could have avoided as a teen, had I known about DBT.  Pilates is one of many ways to incorporate DBT and mindfulness into our lives,  we just have to be creative and willing.  One thing I’ve come to know for sure, is that it will always be “hip” to take care of your body and mind.  Keep calm and DBT on.

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