There is a tremendous amount of interest these days in doing yoga and Pilates together. Both are very sophisticated systems of integrative exercise with a lot in common. Both follow similar principles throughout each exercise: centering, concentration, control, precision, breath and flow. Pilates and yoga are also quite different from each other, and it is in the differences that we find many of the complimentary aspects of the two that make them such a great team.
In a very general view, Pilates focuses more on strength and hatha yoga focuses more on stretch. There are certainly exceptions to this statement as Pilates does include stretching, in fact, Pilates is known for creating length in the body, and doing yoga does develop strength. The difference is emphasis.
Many people are finding that the core strength and functionality they develop in Pilates support them well in the daily activities and sports they engage in. For those who also do yoga, Pilates gives them the stability that they need to control and expand their yoga poses safely. Conversely, the expansive stretching in yoga provides a wonderful balance to the typically more core oriented Pilates exercises.
Working with the breathing is important to both Pilates and yoga. Breathing is the great energy source of the body and in both systems one is encouraged to develop conscious breathing, using effective and efficient breaths to enhance the depth and movement of the exercise.
Yoga has a long tradition of working with breathing. There are specific breathing techniques that are used while performing the yoga asanas (poses), and also yoga meditative practices that are based on breathing. In Pilates, breathing is coordinated very specifically with the motion of the exercises.
Joseph Pilates, the founder of the Pilates Method studied yoga, and was very much concerned with breathing. He encouraged his students to use breathing as fully as possible, expanding each breath into the back and expelling the air completely to support flowing movement. In both yoga and Pilates, working with breathing links the physical exertion with attention of the mind, creating grace and flow in the movement, and providing a vehicle for centering the presence of the practitioner.
The Differences between Yoga and Pilates
The primary difference that I experience between yoga and Pilates is that yoga tends to move towards extreme flexibility (splits) and extreme strength (hand stand) and Pilates exercises target a more functional range of movement.
Because yoga movements tend to be larger movements than Pilates exercises, yoga postures target more mobilizer muscles and Pilates targets more stabilizer muscles. Stability is needed before there is mobility, especially under tension.
The Pilates process has a definite teaching method and system, where as yoga encourages a commitment to practice so that the movements become more and more familiar to the body.
Benefits of Yoga and Pilates
The benefits of pilates and yoga are extraordinary. They are both known to support the development of long, strong, graceful bodies that move efficiently without creating bulky muscles. Both disciplines are integrative; associated with stress reduction and increased well-being. Both yoga and pilates are used as rehabilitative systems. They can be adjusted for a wide range of people and fitness levels, and both support the achievement of very high levels of body/mind/spirit fitness.
When people think of yoga and Pilates, they sometimes think that yoga is "spiritual" and Pilates is not. Yoga does offer a long history of being associated with spiritual practice, or of being a spiritual path unto itself. While I wouldn't put Pilates in as directly a spiritual context as yoga (one is unlikely to find meditation or chanting in a Pilates class), I would suggest that for those seeking body/mind/spirit integration, Pilates can be a very satisfying discipline. Joseph Pilates studied yoga and meditation, as well as ancient Greek philosophy, and it is clear from his writing and the principles he infused in his work that he was very interested in higher ideals.
Pilates vs. Yoga
So which to do? The happy answer is: Do both! Find out for yourself which discipline is right for you. It might be that devoting yourself fully to one or the other feels best, or perhaps developing stability and strength in Pilates will lead you to increase your range of motion even further through yoga.
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