Not sure whether to practise Pilates vs yoga ... or do both?
Rachel Spain explains the subtle and the not so subtle differences.
Both offer flexibility, enhanced strength, muscle tone and give you that feel good factor, so what’s the difference?
As a Pilates and yoga teacher I probably get asked this question at least once a week! Put simply and in a nutshell, Pilates is a form of exercise with emphasis on breath to improve posture, core strength, flexibility, proprioception (physical awareness) and wellbeing.
Yoga (for dedicated practitioners) is a way of life, in which one small section is dedicated to physical fitness, resulting in all the benefits that we receive from Pilates.
In the West, we tend to start yoga on the mat for the physical benefits, sometimes for health reasons and now more commonly for vanity and trend.
The Eight Limbs Of Yoga
With regular dedicated asana (postures) practice, you soon realise there is much more to yoga than just the physical element.
Following the eight fold path from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, we work through:
- Yamas and niyamas (our attitude to the world we live in and our personal disciplines and practices)
- Asana (postures)
- Pranayama (breath to channel prana or life force)
- Pratyahara (withdrawral of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation) and
- Samadhi (at one with the divine, one pointed concentration, pure conscious bliss).
Following this path, as we let go of the stuff that no longer serves us and begin to manifest strong, positive qualities and ethics, we may experience deep emotional, mental and spiritual changes and shifts.
The physical (asana) practice helps to remove unwanted tension in the body eventually releasing tensions in the mind.
For example, as we move from posture to posture in Vinyasa Flow yoga, you have little time to focus on anything but the posture and the breath.
This results in a feeling of clarity and calm in body and mind. As we drift into savasana (corpse pose/relaxation) we are able to focus the mind on one thing i.e. a visualisation or a mantra.
Reaching this state brings clarity to our lives and we are able to make better decisions and react to difficult situations in a better way than we might have done before.
Yoga teaches us to find our highest potential in all elements of life. All yoga is fundamentally the same, the asanas are the same, the pranayama is the same, the intention is the same – the different styles are just different approaches to reach that state of yoga.
Depending on what style of yoga you take, a class will generally involve, setting an intention, chanting, mantras, offering your energy to another (selfless practice) pranayama and asana.
Classes can sometimes be themed and focus on a chakra (energy centre in the subtle body) or a yoga sutra or an inspirational quote.
Some styles of yoga will just concentrate purely on asana and the study of the other 7 limbs of yoga should be taken outside of asana practice.
The asana practice will also stretch the body in all directions moving deep into forward folds, heart opening backbends, detoxifying twists, challenging arm balances and calming inversions (turning upside down!)
Pilates was developed in the early 20th century by the inspirational Joseph Pilates, a former boxer and gymnast. There are six principles of Pilates that make it more than just your normal gym workout. They are:
Pilates teaches you how to breathe in such a way to connect the deeper internal muscles whilst relaxing bigger outer muscles that hold unwanted tension. And you will inhale through the nose, and exhale out through the mouth.
Pilates is a real, mind-body experience that takes consistent, regular, dedicated practice and concentration. It is a successful and effective way to recover from injury and rebuild strength and fitness safely and effectively.
Pilates can be practised on the mat and also performed on Pilates machines/equipment. In a class you will generally run through a series of specific and very precise exercises to work the body from the inside-out.
You will stretch your body in all directions with deep concentration on the breath, posture, abdominal and core muscles (deep internal muscles that support the spine and skeleton).
I experience huge benefits and joy from both practices. For me personally, Pilates is a strong solid foundation to move deeper into my yoga practice.
The detailed anatomical awareness you gain in Pilates is essential for everyday life and for the deep challenging asanas of yoga. The benefits from both forms are truly amazing, transforming and life changing.