Yoga vs Pilates – which should you choose?


Firstly it is vital to understand the key differences between the two and how each discipline benefits your physical and mental health.

One is a holistic discipline originating from ancient India, the other a specific physical system devised by a German anatomist in the early 20th century: while there might be a lot of cross-over between yoga and Pilates, the two are inherently very different.

As practices today, yoga and Pilates are both celebrated for their numerous health benefits, from offering connection to the body and stress relief, to developing flexibility, strength, control and endurance. There are countless interpretations of both disciplines (and one person’s balance class is another person’s cardio) but what links them both is breath work.

Put simply, the biggest difference between the two, is the emphasis on the spiritual side in yoga classes.

Yoga is an integrated health management system using breath, movement and meditation to unite mind, body and spirit. It also incorporates elements of philosophy, science and an ethical way of living. Classes can range from gentle and nourishing to challenging and sweaty. Indeed, there’s a yoga class for everyone out there; from the various more traditional forms like Hatha and Ashtanga to the creative interpretations such as anti-gravity yoga and laughter yoga.

Although modern yoga in the West has become largely about movement, the practice has much deeper roots. Yoga is a spiritual philosophy: the physical practice makes up only one of the eight parts ( or limbs) of the yoga path. The other ‘limbs’ are ethical standards, self discipline, breath, sensory transcendence, focus, meditation and a bliss state where you transcend the self. The last four limbs are involved in meditation.

The Main types of Yoga and their Benefits

Iyengar yoga – this is often practised with props. You hold poses for an amount of time, then move on to the next. There is no flow between the poses, and a lot of detail to each one.

Ashtanga yoga – this is the faster-paced yoga that links the poses with a vinyasa (which means ‘steps to a special place’) and has progressive sequences that you move into. Strict practice of Ashtanga means that you move onto the next series only when you have mastered the one before it.

Hatha yoga – this means forceful yoga and is often, mistakenly, used to describe a more gentle yoga. Expect less flows and more floor work.

Power yoga – this takes from Ashtanga but gets rid of the strictness of the ashtanga set sequences and often has arm balances including handstands peppered throughout a class. it is the “fitness” version of yoga.

Hot yoga – is a sequence of poses that are held for a time. The room is heated to around 40 degrees – it’s hot!

Restorative yoga – this form of yoga uses props such as bolsters, straps and yoga belts and keeps you in a position for a while. The idea is to release tension in the muscles.

Yin yoga – this version is about improving mobility. You will hold a pose for a period of time to lengthen the structures around the muscles. Yin yoga is influenced by Chinese medicine, and the poses are said to activate the meridian lines (energy channels) of the body.

Pilates – its origins explained

Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates who was an anatomist and a mechanical genius. It is a physical system that uses very specific targeted exercises to improve strength, flexibility and posture with particular focus on the core. It is a disciplined practice that needs to be done on a regular basis to provide benefit.

There tends to be fewer wild variations of Pilates teachings, with traditionalists favoring mat classes and those seeking more fitness-focused workouts opting for classes on resistance-based reformer machines. Classical Pilates, which marries mat work with a whole host of Pilates apparatus, is considered to be the practice in its truest form.

The Physical Benefits

If you’re looking to develop core strength and balance, when practiced regularly yoga and Pilates are both ideal exercises for this. Given that many of the poses in yoga and exercises in Pilates involve supporting your body weight, they also work various muscles all over your body.

Generally, Pilates is a disciplined practice that requires small movements focusing on various areas of the body.

Yoga can help increase strength and flexibility through muscles and joints. Also in active, fast-paced classes you are likely to build a lot of heat in the body which has a great regenerative effect and, of course, you will burn calories.

In slower practices such as Yin yoga, where you hold the postures for longer, you begin to work on stretching and moving the fascia which is the deeper connective tissue around the muscles and joints, which ultimately helps with flexibility.

The Mental Benefits

Research has shown that 70% of those who do yoga or Pilates say that it relieves stress for them. Both practices teach breathing techniques that can help to combat feelings of stress and anxiety, while both traditionally encourage students to align the body with the mind and spirit, taking time to focus on self-care.

Being a holistic system, yoga is as concerned with the mind and spirit as it is with the body. As well as yoga being a physical practice, it also includes meditation, taking the time to connect with the body, breath and mind – having the opportunity to slow down in our busy lifestyles and focus inwards to ourselves.

Yoga has an extremely balancing effect on the nervous system through the use of deeper breathing. It is a very detoxifying practice through the twists and turns of the postures, helping to bring hydration and fresh blood supply to the organs and joints. The focus and concentration required in some of the postures keeps you very anchored in the moment and out of the distractions of the day, which helps to create a bit of space in the mind.

This is also true of Pilates. As Pilates is a slower-paced discipline that also focuses on the breath work, it can be extremely meditative and stress relieving.

As Pilates joins the body with the mind, it requires good concentration of your body and breath with a deep focus needed for advanced level Pilates all of which can help to boost your mental health.

Like with any workout – the simple opportunity to steal some ‘me time’ is another reason they’re celebrated for stress-relief 🙂

The Rehabilitation Benefits

Here at Elite Performance Therapy we recommend both yoga and Pilates to help rehabilitation post-injury and also to complement high-impact sports.

Since they can both be slower, controlled practices, they can be used for rehabilitation for specific injuries through use of targeted postures. Equally for people recovering from depression or trauma, the re-balance of hormones created via physical movement and breath can have a beautiful calming effect on the body and the mind.

Pilates may be more beneficial for recovery, while yoga may help prevent sports injuries and ailments. Since Pilates is a series of targeted movements and adaptable solutions when injury or chronic pain impairs movement and performance, it can have a very restorative effect on lower back pain and poor posture.

On the other hand, Yoga is fantastic to aid with the stretching of muscles for people who play a lot of sports/run/cycle. Specifically, Yin yoga would help support these people with their training and recovery to slow down and stretch into targeted areas.

The Benefits in Pregnancy

With specific adaptations, yoga and Pilates are both considered safe – and highly beneficial – in pregnancy.

Yoga helps to strengthen your core muscles, ease back pain and maintain muscle tone while being a gentle exercise that’s also kind to your joints and helps you to relax.

In prenatal classes, typically they address the key areas of pelvic floor, aching neck and shoulders, to increase stamina and maintaining flexibility. Here at Elite Performance Therapy we really encourage expectant mothers to practise yoga, as it can improve sleep, reduce stress and help maintain a healthy posture during pregnancy.

Pilates is considered one of the most effective exercises in pre- and postnatal women as it targets the muscles that generally weaken during pregnancy.

During pregnancy, the body is constantly changing. Pilates is an effective and safe way to build the strength and endurance that will help you cope better with those changes. It’s also great for keeping the pelvis strong to assist the process of a natural birth; labour can last for several hours and core muscles will fatigue easily if they have not been trained throughout pregnancy.

It is also thought that mothers-to-be who regularly exercise their core muscles can expect reduced lower back and pelvic pain and even shorter labours!! – Well, here’s hoping !

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