Yoga and Pilates are both excellent forms of exercise and which one is the best, is the wrong question to ask. Which one is best for you, or should you even do both, is a more sensible consideration. They are often put in the same bracket, but despite offering similar benefits, by way of strength, flexibility and well-being, even the promise of alleviating and preventing back pain, they do differ greatly.
Yoga is traditionally seen as a more spiritual form of exercise, focusing on mental well-being as much as physical. It is over 5,000 years old and there are a number of different ‘styles’ of practice, for example ashtanga and vinyasa. While Pilates is a younger method of exercise, developed in 1920’s as a form of rehabilitation for soldiers and a strengthening exercise for dancers. There are less specific ‘styles’ of Pilates, but some instructors teach a are more athletic style where others gentle and flowing. Equipment such as balls and bands are often used in Pilates, and there is also a specific Pilates known as ‘Reformer’, which uses a particular type of bench with resistance straps to perform your exercise on. Yoga uses less equipment, simple blocks, wedges or straps to assist with particular poses.
So, if they boast the same benefits – what’s the difference?
Strength: Pilates focuses on body conditioning and sculpting. It strengthens targeted muscle groups, involved in both posture as well as rehabilitation. Props are often used such as bands or balls to offer either resistance or instability to ensure the muscles work hard through a range of movement, using good form – strengthening both the core and postural muscles. Yoga works with a series of poses, either holding them or flowing through them, to build strength and endurance. It will also help with posture.
Flexibility: Yoga is often seen predominantly to enhance flexibility – but by working through the stretching poses, strength and flexibility are gained in parallel. In yoga, you will be challenged to ‘open’ your body as well as your mind. Pilates offers flexibility through its work to correct the body’s asymmetries, working on imbalances in tightness and weakness. By strengthening one area, you look to release another, so stretching does form part of the workout. As well as stretching out at the end of a class.
Core Strength and Posture: this is without doubt where Pilates’ has earned its reputation as postural form of exercise. With a strong core, we are able to hold ourselves in good posture, both through the waist and shoulders. Pilates predominantly works on the abdominals, hips/glutes, as well as the lower and upper back muscles (the deep abdominals and back muscles are worked in conjunction to strengthen the core) and it’s unarguably one of the best ways to build core strength. Yoga has a much gentler approach to the core, but the area is worked none the less and core strength will be developed in yoga as part of the all over strength, just not so specifically.
Back Pain: Pilates is unarguably a fantastic exercise technique for those suffering with back pain. It’s focus on core stability and strength will help support the low back, as well as work on flexibility. Yoga can also alleviate back pain and for many it helps as a preventative exercise too, keeping the spine supple. Certain yoga poses are unsuitable for those with back problems and these should be discussed with your therapist or instructor before starting yoga classes, as modifications to poses can be used.
Well-being: Yoga is all about well-being (mental and physical) and it is integral to the practice. By the physical practice of yoga, using specific poses, routines and breathing, the body and mind are balanced and relaxed. Pilates by its nature organically results in well-being on some level. It requires both concentration and breathing techniques, but well-being is not the primary focus.
So, which to choose? It really is a personally choice and trying both if you can’t decide is an advisable option. Instructors will make a difference to your choice too. Having never got on with yoga in the past, Frankie’s class has opened my eyes to both the benefits and enjoyment you can reap from regular practice. Having always been a devotee of Pilates, I can still stress what a fantastic form of postural and sculpting exercise this is and so beneficial when suffering with back problems.
More recently there is a trend for cross-over and many of the purist instructors/teachers are now dabbling or fully qualifying in both disciplines. At the clinic two instructors are now qualified in both and will often bring a little of the other discipline into their class where they see it will benefit the workout. Our personal trainer is trained in both and regularly uses the techniques within client sessions and her bodyology class.
As for a choice, for me it’s certainly both and many of you will have your own preference, but if you’ve not given the both a go – you are certainly missing out!