Chiropractors, like all health practitioners, strive to provide their patients with the best possible care.
But to do so, you have to be at your best. And to be at your best, you need to take care of yourself.
Mind-body techniques are one way to relax and unwind from the daily challenges of treating clients. Two of the most popular options are yoga and Pilates. But which one offers the most benefits? The answer may depend on what you need.
Connect with your core
“Many people in health professions put their bodies in compromising positions to work with clients,” says Karen Clippinger, MSPE, a professor of anatomy at California State University at Long Beach, who teaches Pilates. “Practitioners need methods for keeping themselves healthy.”
A growing number of chiropractors, physical therapists, and other health workers are discovering the benefits of Pilates. Developed by Joseph Pilates during the 1920s, the Pilates method consists of a series of physical exercises that are performed with precision and control. (Pilates called his technique “contrology.”)
The key to Pilates is core stability, Clippinger says. People often think of the “core” as consisting of the abdominal muscles, but they are only one component. Your core also includes the muscles of the lower back and pelvis.
Pilates may be especially good if you have back problems. When your core muscles are weak, your spine is prone to injury. Studies show Pilates strengthens your abdominals and back muscles, while improving postural alignment.1
Strengthening and stabilizing the lumbo-pelvic region helps support the spine and may ward off back pain. The exercises can also improve coordination, proprioception, and body awareness.
Another important element of Pilates is focus, “You become more aware of your body, which can have a profound effect on how stress affects you,” Clippinger says. Paying attention to movement can give your mind a rest. The use of specific breathing patterns in Pilates also helps join body and mind, aiding stress reduction.
Classes are taught on a mat or using equipment. Clippinger recommends starting with a private, semiprivate, or small equipment class, especially if you have an injury.
A drawback of individual instruction is the expense; however, some studios offer smaller classes for people with back problems or other conditions. “Specialized classes cost less, but still allow for a more individual approach,” Clippinger says.
Pilates has evolved over the years, and today there are several styles being taught. To find a qualified instructor, start with the Pilates Method Alliance (pilatesmethodalliance.org), a professional organization that certifies teachers.
The rise of yoga
Yoga is another option, and one that is rapidly gaining popularity in the U.S. According to a 2016 report by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, the number of yoga practitioners has risen by 50 percent in the past four years. When the last survey was done in 2012, slightly more than 20 million Americans said they practice yoga. Today that number is approaching 37 million.
The reasons why people are drawn to yoga range from stress relief to flexibility to overall well-being, according to the study. Some people claim that yoga has helped them lose weight, while others say they feel stronger and healthier in general. So, what does yoga really do for the body and mind?
Yoga’s flowing sequences with Plank poses can increase upper body strength. In one study, healthy adults (49 men and 30 women) were asked to practice Sun Salutation poses six days a week for half a year. After six months, both men and women were able to bench press significantly more weight and perform more push ups. There is little evidence that yoga decreases body fat, however.2
A few studies also suggest that yoga is good for your heart. Certain styles, such as Ashtanga or Power Yoga, consist of continuous flowing movements that can certainly make you sweat. Some claim that a 90- minute class provides enough aerobic activity to improve cardiovascular fitness, but scientific evidence is inconclusive.
Yoga may not count as cardio, but deep breathing and meditation can help quiet the mind. Research confirms the physiological effects of yoga. Studies have found that certain yoga poses can reduce levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. In addition, the techniques practiced in yoga can be used to deal with stressful events.
Beyond their therapeutic effects, both yoga and Pilates offer additional benefits. Research shows that people who practice yoga are more likely to exercise regularly, for instance.
According to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey, about 60 percent of yoga practitioners say yoga motivates them to exercise more, and 40 percent report eating healthier foods.3
Nevertheless, adopting any new exercise regimen takes an effort.
“It’s easy to not take enough time to take care of yourself,” Clippinger says. In a fast-paced world, the importance of self-care is often forgotten.
Mind-body approaches offer a unique advantage, however. By combining a multitude of benefits in one system, the techniques are time- efficient. For a chiropractor with a busy practice, that may be the best benefit of all.
Stephanie Kramer is a freelance writer and translator. Her writing on health, wellness, and the performing arts has appeared in Dermatology News and other publications.
1 Kloubec J. Pilates: how does it work and who needs it? Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal. 2011;1(2):61-66.
2 Bhutkar MV, Bhutkar PM, Taware GB, Surdi AD. How Effective Is Sun Salutation in Improving Muscle Strength, General Body Endurance and Body Composition? Asian Journal of Sports Medicine. 2011;2(4):259-266.
3 Stussman BJ, Black LI, Barnes PM, Clarke TC, Nahin RL. (2015). Wellness-related Use of Common Complementary Health Approaches Among Adults: United States, 2012. National health statistics reports, No. 85. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.