After taking my Winter break from yoga; I naively thought I could just rejoin my regular class with no problem whatsoever come Spring - little did I know that my regular class would no longer exist on my return! Some light research later led me to find that there were no other yoga studios in the area offering lessons in the price range that I was willing to pay. So with that in mind, I had to rethink my approach to how I was going to achieve my 'low impact, high repetition' strategy of exercising. I attempted to keep up with my jogging but that too had slowed down over the cooler months and I had also hurt myself - I really was feeling sorry for myself, truth be told. The straw that broke the camel's back - so to speak - was when I started having to pull my tummy in a bit to squeeze into some of my pants. I was like, 'ok, let's get ourselves into gear!' This is when I decided to bite the bullet and join a pilates class - I enquired at a few studios and found one literally down the road from us, so I weighed up the traveling costs vs fees asked and thought it made financial sense
I then had to ask myself what is the difference between these two forms of exercise and here's what I have found out on this particular subject. Bearing in mind that there are so many different forms of yoga and pilates, it does make it difficult to determine definitive distinctions between the two forms of exercise. True, they are similar but there are some differences. Also, I'm no expert on the subject - so this is how I understand it and I'll try explain it the best I can.
The purpose of yoga is to unify the mind, body and spirit - it can be used as a way to help heal the body and to find mental wellbeing. It also gives your body more flexibility and promotes relaxation, even in stressful times - this is the reason why I have always enjoyed practicing yoga - to reduce stress and help me focus. In yoga, all movements are performed on a mat, with the weight of your body used as resistance for the exercise - this takes a fair amount of concentration and focus, with the flow in and out of each pose being fluid in the sense that one movement leads into the next sequence. There's no stopping for any length of time - which is also another reason why I enjoy yoga - there's no time to dwell on that particular day's worries; you're simply too focused on the set to worry otherwise! Each pose focuses on specific target areas and needs, they are not what you'd call 'workout moves'.
On the other hand, pilates - which has many of the same goals as yoga in mind - bar a major difference. In addition to mat work, there are different exercise 'tools' that are used too; in the class I happily attend, we use a combination of the following; an elastic stretching strap, a mini exercise and a balancing ball, a resistance ring and some light weights. In pilates, the entire body gets a workout! The focus of pilates is on the core, so that the rest of the body can move freely - making your body stronger both in and outside. This balance between flexibility and strength results in stronger and leaner muscles.
Listed below are a few points on how the two differ from one another:-
Origin: The practice of yoga originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. It has evolved over the centuries and cultures into many different types: Ashtanga, Bikram and Vinyasa to name just a few. Pilates, on the other hand, is a much younger practice (early-20th century) and was started by an athlete named Joseph Pilates - he created the exercise as a form of rehabilitation and strengthening.
Mind, Body and Spirit: Both yoga and pilates bring an understanding that the mind and body are connected. However, yoga adds an additional element to the mix, the spirit. Exploring spirituality is a part of yoga practice, especially through meditation. Whilst pilates focuses on creating an understanding that the mind and body are connected and how this can help in everyday life.
The Class: There are some styles of yoga that have more of a set plan, such as Ashtanga and Bikram. Essentially the poses, sequences and variations can be combined into a myriad of routines to create a class - so it will be up to the style of yoga you practice and / or the teacher guiding you - another element that is not always brought into a yoga class is meditation; some classes may use a chant or meditation to bring in the focus and dedication at the beginning of the class and to seal in and appreciate the benefits of the practice at the end of class. Pilates classes are a little more structured - because of this - you will more likely know what to expect from class to class but again, it's all dependent on the methods used and your instructor.
The Workout: With both yoga and pilates practices, you will gain strength and flexibility. Pilates classes offer a total body workout but it focuses on aligning the spine and strengthening the core. The exercises done in pilates classes almost always involve regimented movements to gain core and spine strength. Some classes may use machines to gain strength, while others will keep you on the mat and use your body's resistance to gain results. In a yoga class, you will work every muscle in your body equally - each posture is accompanied by a counter-posture to ensure you create balance in your body - while core strength is definitely an important part of yoga, it is more a by-product of it rather than it's entire focus.
Breathing Techniques: Breathing and concentration techniques are important to both yoga and pilates. However, yoga uses breath work on a very deep level; one breathes in and out through the nose, matching these deep breaths to the movements and poses - often, in yoga classes, there will be segments dedicated to breath work. In pilates, you inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.
I have practiced yoga on and off for years; so when I started pilates, I was definitely a little insecure about whether or not I could do it but I am now over a month into my practice and am thoroughly enjoying. It does help having an awesome instructor and fellow classmates - always a laugh to be had, which also makes it fun. Who could ask for more? Exercise and a laugh - perfect!
If you're thinking of giving yoga or pilates a go but can't decide which practice would suit you best? Ask yourself if you want your practice to be spiritual and de-stressing, if so, yoga may be the better option. If your priority is to focus on your core, pilates may be a better fit.
If you don't know where to start, try them both! You will soon know which practice will benefit you most.
Until next time,