Both yoga and Pilates have surged in popularity over the past decade, with no signs of slowing down. Celebrity endorsements, fusion workouts and the proliferation of studios have contributed to the ongoing interest. What used to be somewhat niche exercise disciplines now are mainstream workouts for people worldwide.
And it’s no longer just women participating, with men, seniors and kids more frequently taking on Downward Dog or The Hundred. Different yoga and Pilates formats continue evolving to meet the needs of a diverse population and to attract new participants.
While yoga and Pilates are similar, they are not identical, and shouldn’t be considered the same. Because there is some confusion about what differentiates these regimens, here we look at both to provide clarity. When it comes to yoga versus Pilates, they both offer a multitude of benefits, and neither should be considered better than the other. They really are complementary. Exercisers can determine their preferences based on their goals, but of course, in an ideal world, both disciplines should be integrated into a comprehensive workout plan.
Yoga: Originating more than 5,000 years ago in India, yoga emphasizes the union between mind and body, and typically includes a spiritual aspect. Exploring the spirit through meditation is an important component of yoga. Some yoga classes begin with an intention as a focus, may add chanting and end with a meditation or a reflective period of relaxation.
Yoga is comprised of a variety of poses that challenge strength and balance and improve flexibility. Depending on the type of yoga, poses can be arranged in myriad ways, and can be held for several breaths, flowed from one to the other, performed once or repeated. Yoga works the muscles of the entire body.
In yoga, breath work, or pranayama, is critical, and yoga has a variety of ways to breathe, including ujjayi breath, which is in and out through the nose to match the flow of the movements. Other types include alternate nostril breathing, single nostril breathing, breath of fire, and more. Breath is used in yoga to help achieve relaxation, which differs from Pilates.
Among the many benefits of yoga are:
- Increased flexibility
- Greater muscle strength and tone
- Better balance
- Improved posture
- Protection of spine and joint health
- Enhanced circulation
- Regulation of adrenal glands and reduced cortisol
- Improved respiration
- Stress management
Many styles of yoga exist; here are some of the most common:
- Hatha – requires you to hold poses for a few breaths; typically a slower, gentler practice
- Vinyasa – flow yoga where poses transition dynamically from one to the next
- Iyengar – focus on precise body alignment, use of props as necessary, and holding poses for several breaths
- Ashtanga – consists of six series’ of specifically sequenced yoga poses, done repeatedly to build heat
- Bikram – a 90-minute regimen consisting of the same series of 26 poses and two breathing exercises in a room heated to 105 degrees F and 40 percent humidity
- Kundalini – comprised of kriyas – repetitive exercises combined with vigorous breath work, and including meditating and chanting
- Yin yoga – meditative practice aiming to calm body and mind by holding poses for several minutes
- Restorative – slow-moving to emphasize relaxation
Although these are the more traditional forms of yoga, novel concepts exist today, such as yoga with your dog, youth yoga and beer yoga. Try various styles to determine your preferences.
Pilates: Developed in 1920 by Joseph Pilates, the Pilates discipline was originally called Body Contrology, or the art of body control, for strengthening and rehabilitation. Pilates himself developed the series of exercises for his own benefit, and to rehab World War I soldiers. The modality jumped in popularity when dancers adopted the regimen to improve their strength and posture.
Pilates also connects the mind and the body, but more so in that the mind must be fully engaged to execute the precise Pilates movements with control and correct breathing. There is no spiritual aspect.
Pilates consists of specific movements that are designed to move and stretch the spinal column and strengthen the core. Exercises can be done just with the body on a mat, can incorporate accessories or can be performed on specific Pilates apparatus, such as the Reformer. Repetitions are counted and multiple sets may be required.
As for breathing, the Pilates breath inhales through the nose and exhales forcefully through the mouth, intending to maintain spinal stability on inhalation and generate core power on exhalation. The emphasis here is to completely inflate the lungs and exhale strongly “as you would wring out every drop of water from a wet cloth,” according to Joseph Pilates.
Pilates is built around six principles:
- Concentration – Focusing on the movements as you perform them and being present with your mind, which can help neuromuscular system to choose the correct combination of muscles to perform each specific exercise
- Control – All physical motion must be controlled by the mind (mind-body connection)
- Centering – All movement initiates from the powerhouse, or physical center, which must be strengthened and stabilized
- Flowing movement – Movements should be fluid and smooth, not dynamic, jerky or rushed
- Precision – Every movement has a purpose and must be executed with control, so as not to be done improperly
- Breathing – Breath should be used to enhance movement, with full inhalations and exhalations
Pilates also addresses the powerhouse or core through the “scoop,” in which exercisers pull their navel in and up and lift the pelvic floor to contract the transverse abdominus (deep abdominal muscle) and give stability and mobility to the spine and pelvis.
Similar to yoga, Pilates offers many benefits, including:
- Stronger core
- Better posture
- Greater flexibility
- Improved kinesthetic awareness
- Reduced lower back pain
- Enhanced concentration
- Calmer mind with decreased tension
- Lowered risk of injuries
While Pilates exercises themselves are very specific, they can be performed several different ways to challenge the body:
- Mat – Classic Pilates exercises performed just using the body and a mat
- With props – Mat Pilates can be enhanced with props, including the Pilates Circle, light hand weights, resistance bands, mini exercise balls, and a stability ball
- Equipment – Specific Pilates equipment can add more challenge to exercises:
- Reformer – a bed-like frame with a carriage that travels forward and back via springs that provide different levels of resistance; includes a foot bar and long straps for the arms or legs
- Cadillac – originally developed by Joseph Pilates to rehabilitate bed-ridden patients, the Cadillac is an elevated table-top with a four-poster frame on which various bars, straps, springs and levers are fixed to facilitate more than 80 exercises
- Wunda Chair – looks like a box with a platform or pedals on one side that you press down on against resistance from springs for exercises performed seated, lying down or standing on the chair
- Ladder Barrel – combines a barrel surface with ladder rungs for flexibility and strengthening exercises
Best of Both Worlds: The great news is that you don’t have to choose between yoga and Pilates if you don’t want to. Of course, you can do both – at the health club, specialty studio or at home. Some classes now combine both disciplines so you can multi-task and reap even more benefits. Stay Fueled.