It’s often considered that yoga and Pilates are one and the same thing. It’s true that the two practices do overlap in many ways, but Pilates is rather like the younger sibling of yoga.
Yoga is an ancient discipline characterised by movement and postures, breath control and meditation. By contrast, Pilates was first practised in the 1960s in New York. The founder, Joseph Pilates, developed the exercise to build up his own body strength and he continued his work rehabilitating injured soldiers. More well known is the fact that professional ballet dancers have adopted this form of exercise as a method of protecting their skeletal system from injury.
Mind, body and soul
A session of yoga, however, aims to bring the mind, body and breath together. On the other hand, a Pilates class aims to strengthen the body via a series of small movements that require activation of the core and back muscles.
“It’s all about improving core strength and stability,” says Pilates expert Rachel Compton. “It’s been used for decades by physiotherapists to assist injury recovery and to prevent injury in the first place”.
The fundamental difference between the two practices is that a Pilates class is designed to strengthen the body, whereas yoga is often used to relax and regroup the mind.
Having said that, focus and concentration are core elements of both. Pilates is as much a ‘thinking’ exercise as it is a ‘doing’ one, but yoga can be described as neither of these. It is a ‘feeling’ practice because the aim is to move out of thinking and into sensation. In this sense the aim of Pilates is physical conditioning and the aim of yoga is mental conditioning.
Described as the queen of low impact living, Kristin McGhee is a celebrity yoga and Pilates instructor.
“Yoga is one of the best low-impact exercises,” says McGee. “Not only are you using your bodyweight to strengthen literally your entire body, but you’re also getting an incredible stretch and improving your flexibility.”
She also advocates Pilates as one of the best low impact workouts you can do. “Pilates movements help build both muscle and bone strength without putting your body under excessive weight.”
They are also both highly effective tools to use in rehabilitation after injury.
Empty your mind
Meditation is fundamental to yoga and an essential element of any yoga practice. On the other hand, meditation may form part of a Pilates class, it really depends on the teacher or individual preference.
Meditation is the process of stilling the mind and allowing thoughts to come, and then go again. The idea is not to follow your train of thoughts. Instead, allow any thoughts to pop up and float away again. The aim of any meditation session is to relax, feel calm and relieve the mind of stress. A meditative state is normally reached by following breathing techniques.
Combining the two
Yoga and Pilates can be practised at home or as part of a group fitness session. There are many benefits to group fitness classes, including:
- Motivation: Your class is at a set time in a set location. The scene is set and all you have to do is turn up. If you plan to do yoga in your lounge at some point ‘tomorrow’ then all sorts of things can get in the way of that. You’re far more likely to put the yoga class into your diary if you attend a group session.
- Education: If you’re brand new to yoga or Pilates then it’s really helpful to be part of a group fitness class so you can observe and learn for yourself how to practise.
The wonderful thing about both of these exercises is that you can do them anywhere. No specialised equipment is needed unless you’d like to try reformer pilates which uses machines. There are reasons why you may choose to practice yoga and Pilates as a solo exercise, including:
- Timing: Perhaps you have young children with no babysitters on hand, or you work odd shifts. In this situation it can be hard to find class times to suit.
- Cost: Group fitness sessions come at a cost. Compromise can be good in that you pop along to a class once a month to make sure your own home practise is what it should be.
Create a ritual
Starting out on any exercise plan needs willpower, there’s no doubt about it. Once that willpower is used up though, how do you maintain your exercise habit?
The answer could be establishing a yoga/Pilates session as a ritual in your life instead of a routine.
Routines place yet another demand on us. This causes stress which is counterproductive. An exercise ritual, on the other hand, is created when we understand the value and benefit the exercising has on our mind and body.
Our Pilates sessions become a ritual when we are fully present in the moment. Similarly, it’s better to appreciate your participation in the yoga class rather than worrying about achieving a perfect pose. You’re more likely to want to roll out the exercise mat regularly if you’re aware of how good you feel during the event. Fulfilling a ritual is so much more than ticking off a box on your to-do list – and that’s the difference.
Ultimately it doesn’t really matter what you choose to do, what’s important is that you choose to do an activity of some sort and enjoy it.