Pilates vs. Yoga

by Kathy Smith

When people speak of the physical benefits of exercise, they tend to focus on the three S’s: strength, stamina and slimming. With this in mind, their training programs usually consist of weight lifting to build muscle, with some form of aerobic activity to build cardiovascular endurance and burn calories. But there’s a second tier of benefits we’re starting to value. These include flexibility, coordination, posture and stress relief.

It’s not that these secondary benefits weren’t always important — it’s just that they’re more in the spotlight these days thanks to the growing popularity of so-called “softer” training modalities. Two of the most popular of these are yoga and Pilates.

Yoga, of course, has been popular in the U.S. for decades. I started practicing yoga more than 20 years ago and it’s still one of my favorite ways to tone my body and calm my mind. Pilates though is a newer trend that apparently still has many people baffled. I often get letters inquiring about the difference between Pilates and yoga and asking which I recommend. As with most “which do I recommend” questions, the answer depends on your physical goals. Simply put, the difference between yoga and Pilates is that between East and West. Both systems build strength and flexibility; the difference between them is not so much physical as it is philosophical.

A Tale of Two Workouts

Let’s take yoga first. Yoga is based on the Eastern idea of moving energy through your body. The more freely the energy flows, the healthier and more energetic you feel. Physical tension hinders the flow; over time, areas of tension in your body can become tight and rigid, even painful. The goal of yoga is to keep the body supple through movement and stretching. But there’s another dimension. Yoga is a holistic spiritual discipline with its roots in Eastern forms of meditation. The physical postures, although they condition the body, are really aimed at the mind. They symbolize the goal of living your life in a state of balance and composure. When I spend an hour in a yoga class, I melt into a kind of meditative state and emerge wonderfully relaxed and refreshed.

Pilates on the other hand is physical conditioning first and foremost — and there’s nothing quite like it. Its creator, Joseph Pilates, was looking for a way to rehabilitate injured soldiers after World War I. He developed an assortment of curious machines with names like the “Reformer” and the “Cadillac.” Using cables and trolleys and unusual body positioning, Pilates exercises stretch and strengthen and are unique in their ability to encourage coordination between the muscles that stabilize the body.

Pilates techniques quickly became a hit with dancers, who found them a highly effective way to improve body awareness and alignment and promote graceful, fluid motion. Machine-based Pilates actually has more in common with weight training than with yoga since it involves moving against resistance (provided by springs) with the aim of overloading the muscles. In particular it resembles functional strength exercises such as squats or cable pulls. There’s also a new form of Pilates, the Pilates mat class, which relies more on callisthenic-style exercises and stretches. This form is physically more similar to a yoga class though the emphasis is still on physical change rather than on spiritual development through postures and breathing.

The Choice Is Yours

Generally speaking, I think it’s fair to say yoga is more about how it makes you feel while Pilates is about how you look — how you carry yourself and move. So if you’re looking for a limbering, rejuvenating workout that will provide as much of a lift for your brain as your body — and you’re not too concerned about building muscle –I’d recommend yoga. If you’re interested in a more dynamic system of muscle conditioning — or if you just want to try something new and different — Pilates may be the answer.

In fact, it doesn’t have to be an either-or choice. After all, no single training system can give your body all the types of conditioning it needs. That’s why my week includes a variety of activities, from weight lifting to hiking, running, yoga and more. My best recommendation is to try everything — experience it all — and see what works best for you. East or West, the important thing is to explore!

The Power of Pilates

An estimated 6 million people across the country are now strengthening their bodies and minds, and losing weight, with the help of pilates exercises, the fastest growing fitness trend in decades. Among the Hollywood celebrities publicly touting its benefits, Goldie Hawn, Candace Bergen, Brad Pitt, Ben Afleck and Matthew Broderick.

Thanks to the Method’s popularity, a growing industry has emerged. More than 11 thousand people in the U.S. now claim to be pilates instructors, but according to the Pilates Method Alliance, (PMA), the international, not–for–profit, professional association that establishes certification and continuing education standards for Pilates professionals, at least 25 percent of them have not been properly trained.

“If you are working with an instructor who doesn’t have adequate training, you run an incredible risk of getting hurt,” says Kevin Bowen, co-founder of the PMA. “Pilates isn’t something you just start doing one day. You have to make sure you have an instructor who understands the Method and how to make the exercises work for you.”

If done correctly, pilates exercises strengthen, tone and stretch the body, encourage proper breathing and facilitate good posture. Here are 10 important questions you should ask an instructor before signing up for their class:

#1 What kind of training did you go through and where?

#2 How much time was spent in your original training?

#3 How long have you been teaching?

#4 Did you only learn the mat work or was your program comprehensive in nature, teaching you pilates exercises on the pilates equipment? #5 Do you understand the body, have basic knowledge of kinesiology and understand fundamental biomechanics?

#6 Do you understand the aging process?

#7 Do you pay close attention to safety and guidelines?

#8 Does the facility where you teach practice safety standards for group classes?

# 9 Do you have a commitment to continuing education?

#10 Are you affiliated with a professional organization like the Pilates Method Alliance?

For help finding a pilates studio or instructor in your area, who is likely to answer these questions to your satisfaction, log onto the Pilates Method Alliance Web site at www.pilatesmethodalliance.org. Click on the link on the left hand side that says “Finding a Teacher.” That will take you to a page with a link to a searchable database.

Courtesy of ARA Content

Which Pilates is Which

Authentic Pilates

The Pilates Guild is dedicated to the preservation of Pilates in it’s purest
form the way it was taught by Joseph himself.

Contemporary Pilates

While Pilates was undoubtedly a man ahead of his time, the science of exercise has evolved
throughout subsequent decades. Contemporary adaptations of Pilates’ principles
have emerged, leveraging advances in physical therapy, spinal research,
biomechanical principles and anatomical understanding to ensure each exercise is
performed with optimal safety and results in mind” – quote from Prime Time
for Pilates by Moira Stott-Merrithew with Catherine Komlodi and Alison Hope.
Modern Pilates

Unlike the traditional method, which focuses on constantly holding in the lower abdomen and
on extremely effortful movements, modern Pilates is firmly based on the
functional movement possibilities of the body. The exercises in this book are
influenced by developments in therapeutic massage, osteopathy, and the
Feldenkrais method, Butoh (a Japanese performance art developed in the 1950s),
and ante- and postnatal work. With easy-to-understand diagrams, drawings, and
photos, it provides exercises for maintaining good posture, fitness, strength,
grace, flexibility, and freedom from injury” – quote from the Publishers of
Modern Pilates by Penelope Latey.
The differences:

In the book Return to Life through Contrology, (edited, reformatted and reprinted by Presentation Dynamics Inc): Joseph wrote the following; and in italics modern or contemporary Pilates suggests:

Open Leg Rocker: “Roll” over backward trying to touch mat or floor with toes -roll over only onto the top of the shoulders your head should never touch the mat.

Many exercises suggest that knees should be ‘locked’ – not locked

Double Kick: Thrust chest out with head thrown back as far as possible… – a long neck, centered and held steady

About the spine: “be sure wherever indicated, to keep your back full length always pressed firmly against the mat or floor” – respect the natural curves of your spine.

The Seal: “press soles and heels firmly close together pointed inward”
– heels together, attracting ankles together.

Maybe these examples don’t sound so different, not different enough to matter anyway. But there are differences and that’s something to remember – you decide which you prefer.
Yogalates: A fusion of the ancient discipline of yoga with the modern Pilates techniques, the exercises mix both disciplines to develop core strength, help tone muscles, increase flexibility and reduce
stress. Yogalates is trademarked by Louise Solomon.

“Expand your Self, move gently and celebrate the many possibilities which the union of Yoga and Pilates will reveal. Through the comparison of breath, core strength and inner spirit, discover new sensations through familiar movement. Awaken your self, enliven your lines and brighten your Yoga/Pilates experience. – the pilatescenter.com

Yogilates: (book) Integrating Yoga and Pilates for Complete Fitness, Strength and Flexibility by Jonathan Urla
The Pilates Method / The Method: a name coined first by The Physical Mind Institute in Santa Fe (they have subsequently moved to New York) to represent the traditional Pilates exercises when the law suit was ongoing and the “P” word couldn’t be used.

Pilates with Chi: (book) combining Pilates with the eastern influences of Chi

PowerHouse Pilates ™: provides a fitness approach to Pilates education, founded by Marci Clark and Christine Romani-Ruby in an effort to make Pilates education easily available for fitness professionals.

Also a book by Lynne Robinson “Body Control 5 – Powerhouse Pilates with Lynne Robinson” and Mari Winsor “The Pilates Powerhouse”