Meditation & Motor Learning

Often times when I go through my own Pilates practice, I find myself thinking of about several different tasks at once which typically results in me cleaning the equipment and floors of the studio. Before I know it, my anxiety has dominated the time I allocated for my own self-practice, and I become that teacher of Pilates that doesn’t do nearly enough of the work himself. This can be extremely frustrating and something I am continuously working on.

However, it was not until I began a meditation practice that I was able to create space in my mind to allow anxious thoughts to simply pass by while allowing me to stay focused on the task at hand. In fact, a meditation practice has been shown to contribute to a reducing anxiety and even pain tolerance (1,2,3). Although I do not believe one method works for everyone, individuals with elevated anxiety may find great value in this practice as well as an improvement in their Pilates performance!

We have all witnessed the student that just dropped their kids off at school and is trying to squeeze in a Pilates session prior to their hair appointment and a conference call. They often times rush in, toss their bag in the cubby, apologize for being a few minutes late, and just want to move. In the busy lives of many of our students, it is a victory in its own right that they showed up and took an hour for themselves, but if the anxiety is overflowing during the session it may hinder potential benefits. Can we actually make our students calm down? Maybe, but let us not fool ourselves – sometimes it just is not going to happen. What we can do is plant some seeds and mention the benefits of a mediation practice as well as simple tips on how to start one. We can suggest setting a timer for a set amount of time to simply lay down in stillness, or maybe send them a few of our favorite mediations we found on Youtube (1,2).

This sounds all Zen and good, but is it even valuable?

Well, in addition to potentially mitigating their anxiety meditation has been shown to possibly improve one’s ability to learn a new motor task (1,2,3 ). The research linked suggests it is possible for a student that experiences focused attention mediation following the acquisition of a new motor sequence may have an enhanced ability to retain such a skill.

So, when we are teaching a student the elephant and they simply cannot make a latissimus dorsi connection, and we take them to the Wunda Chair for a spine stretch to do so they may actually increase their chances of retaining this skill if they experience mediation after doing so.

Is this a guarantee? Absolutely not, but if you shoot for the moon you may land amongst the stars. In this case, we may be trying to facilitate a motor learning process, but even if we miss the student may just be able to take a few moments to themselves to meditate while reducing their anxiety in process.


Chan, Immink, & Lushington (2018). States of focused-attention and sequential action: A    comparison of single session meditation and computerised attention task influences on top-down control during sequence learning. Acta Psychologica. 191, 87-100. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2018.09.003

Chan, Immink, & Lushington (2017). The influence of focused-attention mediation states on the cognitive control of sequence learning. Consciousness and Cognition. 55. 11-25. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2017.07.004

Edwards, M.K., Rosenbaum, S., Loprinzi, P.D., (2017). Differential experiment effects of a short bout of walking, meditation or combination of walking and mediation on state of anxiety among young adults. American Journal of Health Promotions. 32. 949-958. doi: 10.1177/0890117117744913

Hoge, E.A., Bui, E., Palitz, S.A., Schwartz, N.A., Owens, M.A., Johnston, J.M.,…Simon, N. M., (2018). The effect of mindfulness meditation training on biological acute stress responses in generalized anxiety disorder. Psychitry Research. 262. 328-332. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2017.01006

Immink. (2016). Post-training meditation promotes motor memory consolidation. Frontier Pyschology. 7. 1698. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01698

Muhammad, W.A., Pappous, A., Sharma, D., (2018). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in increasing pain tolerance and improving mental health of injured athletes. 9. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00722

Yadav, G., & Mutha, P.K., (2016). Deep breathing practice facilitates retention of newly learned motor skills. Scientific Reports. 6. 37069. doi: 10.1038/srep37069

Adam McAtee

About Adam McAtee

Adam McAtee has been teaching Pilates since 2010 and is classically certified through The Pilates Institute of Southern California. With his lust for further education Adam has chosen to pursue a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology Exercise Science at California State University Long Beach in which he is currently enrolled. Adam has spent his years teaching in boutique studios, big box gym, schools, as well as physical therapy clinics. Through the diversity of these settings Adam has expanded on his classical training to include more contemporary as well as therapeutic exercises to add more tools to his tools box. To get in touch with Adam you reach out to his Instagram feed @Adam_McAtee_Pilates.