woman doing yoga

Differentiating Yoga From Pilates

How to Tell Which Mind-Body Workout is Right for You.

Mind-body fitness routines gain popularity and momentum. What is Yoga? What is Pilates? How do you know which one is right for you?

What is Yoga?

What we call Yoga today are the physical practices or “asanas” that were one branch of an eightfold path to spiritual enlightenment. The Sanskrit word “Yoga” means yoke or union, and refers to a state of being at one with the Divine.

Because this system of moral, physical and spiritual health developed over the centuries, there are now as many different branches and forms of yoga as there are yoga teachers. However, as far as a physical workout is concerned, most Western Yoga classes offer a form of Hatha Yoga.

The original goal of the asanas was to free the body of tension. To create a body that is supple and strong enough to rest for hours in meditation without pain. Yogis have always strived for overall health – circulation, balance, strength, endurance, and breath control.

Relaxation and presence of mind are still major benefits of a regular yoga practice.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is much newer, and far more focused on physical well-being. Developed by Joseph Pilates in the early part of the twentieth century, the movements created were based on his research and understanding of physical therapy techniques, anatomy, yoga and kinesthetic studies worldwide.

Because his work focused on building core strength while the body remained flexible, long and lean, the Pilates regimen became a regular part of the workout routines for the New York City Ballet.

He incorporated some of the ballet style into his work, to the extent now that such fitness trends as the Yoga Booty Ballet incorporate moves from ballet that are virtually impossible to differentiate from Pilates.

How are Yoga and Pilates similar?

The physical benefits of the two fitness routines are similar. Both help to create long, lean muscle tone, and build strength without adding bulk. Both practices build flexibility and endurance.

These practices are both able to be tailored to be as vigorous or as gentle as each individual physique requires. Each can benefit students of all levels with the mildest of modifications.

The mental benefits of Yoga and Pilates are also similar.

Both are called “mind-body workouts” – which means in the simplest of terms that the practicioner focusses internally by joining the movements of the body with the breath. The specific benefit of a mind-body routine is that the student gains an awareness of the present moment, and focuses on an internal awareness of muscles, alignment and energy. This is where the stress-relieving and meditative benefits of the exercises are borne.

How do Yoga and Pilates differ?

The differences between the two systems can be found in the goals behind them:

  • Joseph Pilates intended his system to be a physical therapy program for the fitness, health, and physical well-being of his students.
  • Patanjali, the “Father of Yoga” and author of the Yoga Sutras, intended the asanas to serve as one part of a wider spiritual path.

Pilates could change your core muscles. Yoga could change the core of your being.

Which one is right for you?

Yoga’s gentler focus on relaxation may make it more appropriate for seniors and prenatal routines, especially with the incorporation of chairs, bolsters, blankets and other props.

However, Pilates was originally used to rehabilitate injured athletes and dancers! It is appropriate for students seeking to strengthen and tone using their body’s weight and resistance.

There is no reason why a student could not take classes of either discipline. Many centers that offer classes in one discipline will offer at least a class or two of the other.

They are so complementary, in fact, that “Fusion” classes are gaining popularity. The warm-up and cool-down portions of the class are based on yogic principles, and the heat-building workout part of the class includes the Pilates Hundred and other more rigorous core-strengthening exercises.

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