Nick Johnstone: Blue notes

For nine months, I have been fanatically committed to doing four Pilates workouts a week. Like yoga, Pilates is a contemplative exercise, one that works mind and body. Throughout this year, as I've struggled to halve my daily dose of antidepressants, Pilates has been a major factor in helping me settle at 75mg Effexor XL a day.

Last week, only having time for one workout, I discovered just how vital Pilates is to my mental wellbeing. I felt my mind speeding up. Thoughts got fuzzy, and I stopped thinking clearly. I found myself obsessing about random things. The annoying neighbour with the new, seven -trillion-decibel home-entertainment system. The letter from the credit-card company telling me that the APR on my card had tripled overnight. Oh, and death.

Having just become a father, my will needs amending. Revisiting the details, I started wondering if it was really such a good idea to have a clause stating that I want my ashes scattered in Naples? Two years ago, that made perfect sense. Eternal pizza, coffee, sunshine. Suddenly it sounded impractical. In my prayers, I always hope that my wife and I will die simultaneously, cuddled up under a fancy Missoni duvet that we've blown our retirement nest egg on. If that's the way we go, will our daughter really want to fly out to Italy to scatter dad in the Bay of Naples?

Realising that my mind was spiralling into a morbid, anxious spaghetti, I took the phone off the hook, and unfurled my garish blue mat and popped a Pilates DVD in the machine. An hour later, the tension was gone; the sadness and lethargy too. I had energy! Felt excited! Ready for anything! The neighbour? Bring on the action movies at a window-rattling volume. The credit-card headache? Get a card with a 0% balance transfer rate. The will? Put some money away to cover the cost of the "Dad's Snuffed-It Trip". Label the funds "The Ashes to Ashes Tour". Just like that, life was manageable again.

So why is Pilates so effective in containing my depression and anxiety? To find out, I popped the question to Moira Merrithew, master trainer and co-founder of Stott Pilates. Here's what she told me: "When someone is depressed or anxious there is a feeling of losing control of their life or certain aspects of their life. We can also lose touch of our bodies, shutting out our physical side. Pilates, a mind-body exercise, puts people back in touch with their bodies, creates body awareness and educates them on how they can move to feel good about themselves and eventually more confident. The movements tend to have a similar effect as a body massage, while helping people gain the control and body awareness they may have lost. Pilates also has a meditative quality which helps calm the mind and reduce stress. Muscular tension is reduced and muscular strength is gained. Students leave a session feeling energised."

I put the same question to Alycea Ungaro, the owner of Real Pilates NYC and author of Pilates: Body in Motion and The Pilates Promise. Her take? "Pilates can be a mental and emotional respite for those suffering from depression, anxiety or everyday stress. Pilates forces you to focus inward for the duration of the workout, by concentrating on the detail, form and execution of each exercise. Pilates can rejuvenate the mind and restore the spirit. I sometimes think the benefits are almost in line with those of meditation.

'At Real Pilates, we work with individuals who have had bouts of depression and anxiety. These clients walk in with a look of tension, sometimes even despair. They respond in an enormously positive way. Anxiety and depression can be overwhelming. But when you see your own body performing healthy, active and elegant moves, it restores your faith and belief in what you can achieve. A healthy self-image is incredibly positive and enormously empowering. The innate structure of the system serves as a mental nap. If you could put away your problems for a set period of time each day, you would have a fresh perspective when you returned to your daily life."

It's true, Pilates does feel meditative. When depression or anxiety take hold, a paradoxical rot of physical lethargy and mental frenzy sets in. I struggle to concentrate on any thought for more than a second while finding simple physical tasks like making the bed indescribably exhausting. That's why yoga and Pilates work for me - they energise my body and calm my mind.

www.nickjohnstone.com

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.