The fitness landscape is changing as more people look towards a mind-body approach, using exercise as a way not only to get fit but also to de-stress. As a result Yoga and Pilates have both become extremely popular and most gyms now offer both types of classes. Although the two practices appear to be very similar, they both offer something different to students.
East meets West
Yoga is a 5000 year-old practice, which has its roots in India and the East. Yoga arrived in the West around 100 years ago, first becoming popular in North America. Yoga literally means to “yoke”, referring to the union of mind, body and spirit. It is a holistic practice, which focuses on creating balance in our bodies, minds and souls through the practice of physical postures and breathing techniques.
Pilates, on the other hand, is a relatively modern exercise, which was created by a German man called Joseph Pilates around the time of World War 1. Pilates used his exercise techniques to assist in rehabilitating soldiers and when he moved to the USA in the 1920s, he introduced Pilates to the dance world. Unlike Yoga which is always practiced on a mat, Pilates can be either mat-based or incorporate the use of special machines.
There are many different types of Yoga from the very physical Power Yoga to the more breath focused Kundalini Yoga. Although there are different styles, each type of yoga will involve postures, which develop strength and flexibility across the entire body. Yoga also teaches relaxation of the body, something, which is difficult to achieve in our modern lifestyles. Other physical benefits of yoga include improved posture and balance, better digestion and better sleep.
As with Yoga, Pilates builds strength and flexibility. The main difference is that Pilates focuses on the core area. The theory is that a strong core, the “powerhouse” of our body, leads to improved agility, posture and balance.
Both practices are used for injury prevention and rehabilitation but it is best to consult your doctor before practicing with an injury.
Both Yoga and Pilates link movement to breath, which cultivates a mindful awareness of every movement. When we move with our breath we focus on our body and our thoughts, worries and anxieties move to the peripheries of our minds.
“Yoga is the quietening of the fluctuations of the mind” (The Yoga Sutras). By bringing awareness to your breath and your movement, our thoughts and worries automatically move the peripheries of our mind. In the modern world, we are constantly multi-tasking and juggling lots of balls, so it is important to give our mind a break and practice just being still in the present moment. Yoga has been shown to help with many emotional issues such as depression, stress and low self-esteem.
As with Yoga, in Pilates each movement is with the breath. The idea behind this is that it brings awareness to the body’s movements and it creates a flow between the movements.
Pilates does not place any emphasis on the soul as it is purely a physical exercise. Yoga, on the other hand, is a complete holistic practice covering mind, body and soul. Some types of yoga place more emphasis on the spiritual aspect of Yoga, while others such as Bikram pay almost no attention to this. Many yoga classes will incorporate some meditation and self-reflection which helps create a sense of calm and inner peace.
What Is Best For Me?
The best thing about both practices is that you don’t have to be a bendy, stretchy dancer to have a go. Both are accessible to everyone and there are so many different level classes available, you are bound to find one to suit you. If you just want an exercise to tone and strengthen your body from the core outwards, as well as improve body awareness, Pilates is for you. If you’re looking for a more holistic way to exercise, which improves both your physical and mental well being, then yoga is a better option. However, the two practices complement each other so if you simply cannot choose, there’s definitely no harm doing both. The core strength from Pilates will help your yoga poses and the breathing techniques from yoga will give your Pilates movements a better flow.
Favourite Pilates Studios
Heartcore – Various locations
Epoch Fitness – Fitzrovia
Core Collective’s “Mat Pilates” – High St Kensington
Favourite Yoga Studios
Triyoga – Various locations
Method Movement (various different styles) – Earls Court
Fierce Grace – Various locations
words by Kathleen Fleming