YOGA and PILATES - The great debate...

Many people have asked me what the difference is between Yoga and Pilates and which one is the better of the two. This blog is an attempt to enlighten my readers and myself on the similarities and differences between the modern day variations of Yoga and Pilates.  I will also go one step further and connect you (my readers) with some of my favourite Pilates and Yoga instructors in Perth, so you can trial both and I can rest at ease, knowing you are in good hands.

I shall begin with a few notes about common misconceptions to totally wipe the slate clean before we begin:

  • One does not have to be flexible to do Yoga. Gaining flexibility is one physical benefit of practicing the Yoga Asanas, but you most certainly don’t have to be uber stretchy to practice or begin Yoga.

  • Pilates is not boring, easy and for older women; depending on what class you go to you may feel relaxed, stretched and lightly strengthened. However, on the flip-side, I have many strong, athletic males who attend my Pilates classes and we end up shhweating like Mike Tyson in a spelling bee.

  • You don’t have to look like a super-model to practice Yoga. What I mean by this is Yoga in 2014; is too focused on the aesthetics for example, the perfect six-pack, the ab-alicious photos in a bikini doing a show-off-asana and the work-out get-up. This is a modern interpretation of what Yoga is/looks like and it strays far from the origin of Yoga. This doesn’t mean it’s wrong or bad, it just means we’ve evolved and so has Yoga…What I wish for people to understand is that we don’t do Yoga to LOOK a certain way; we practice Yoga to FEEL a certain way. It is less focused on the external results and more on the internal journey to inner peace and union. If my Lululemon wunder-unders are purely a totally sick added benefit to my practice and looking joy in them is NOT the objective of my practice THEN, that's the shit!!! 

For my theatrically orientated readers, Rodgers & Hammerstein's cinematic treasure, "The Sound of Music” will guide our journey as we “start from the very beginning, a very good place to start”... 

ORIGIN PILATES:

Joseph Pilates states,

“Pilates was enamored of the classical Greek ideal of a man who is balanced equally in body, mind, and spirit. His experiences taught him to believe that the modern lifestyle, bad posture, and inefficient breathing were the roots of poor health. His answer to these problems was to design a unique series of life-enhancing physical exercises that help to correct muscular imbalances and improve posture, coordination, balance, strength and flexibility, as well as to increase breathing capacity and organ function” (CPM Education, 2009).

Pilates is a much younger practice than Yoga, beginning in the mid-20th century. Joseph Pilates introduced Pilates to help injured athletes and dancers safely return to exercise and maintain their fitness. Since then, Pilates has been adapted, altered and modified to suit our modern society. What remains differs between Pilates studios, but is often a group of exercises focused on core strength and stability geared towards strengthening the small, stabilising muscles, assisting in rehabilitation of joint injuries and prevention of injuries (Eilser, 2014).

Jae Edwards – Pilates Instructor.

“I believe that Pilates is about making you supple and graceful like a cat so that every muscles moves in unison. Complimenting the body by fixing postural abnormalities”

ORIGIN YOGA:

The practice of Yoga originated in India more than 5,000 years ago and has evolved over the centuries into many different types of yoga including Ashtanga, Kripalu, Hatha, Bikram and Vinyasa (Eilser, 2014).

The word Yoga, according to B.K.S Iyengar (1918)

“originates from the Sanskrit ‘root yuk’ meaning to bind, join, attach and to concentrate one’s attention on” (p.19). It is the method by which, “the restless mind is calmed and the energy is directed into constructive channels” (Iyengar, 1918, p.20).

Kathopanishad describes Yoga as,

“When the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not – then, say the wise, has reached the highest stage” (Iyengar, 1918, p.20). The highest stage is Samadhi and to achieve this one must follow the eight limbs of Yoga helping them on their quest to the soul.

Being able to nail certain acrobatic poses and balances does not mean I am practicing Yoga; I am attempting the Asanas (the physical practice of Yoga), but Yoga is much more than just the postures. Only when my breath is even, and my mind is still and my senses are withdrawn in each Asana; am I doing Yoga.

Phoebe Jones – Yoga Instructor – Humming Puppy Sydney

“My experience of Pilates has been a purely physical practice… It focuses on re-patterning movement, isolating muscles with very specific exercises. It is great for rehabilitating physical injury and building strength and awareness around specific points in the body. Yoga on the other-hand, is a spiritual practice, whether we are conscious of it or not. With a rich philosophy that applies to our lives, our conscious thought and being connected to the very essence of ourselves. The physical part of yoga, one tiny aspect of the practice, is part of a routine to cleanse the systems and create strong and supple vehicles to house the soul. Both have their place and are incredible practices- though I’m a little biased!!!”

THE DIFFERENCE SO FAR:

We can assume then that Yoga is a path to spiritual enlightenment it focuses on the physical and mental practice; but also offers spiritual, ethical and moral guidance for its students; whereas Pilates purely focuses on the physical practice.

PHYSICAL BENEFITS YOGA:

The physical practice of Yoga is called Asana and loosely translated means “to find a comfortable seat”. Its’ original aim was to allow someone to sit comfortably, cross-legged, for enough time that they could meditate. The modern Asana practice should move every muscle; bone and joint across all planes of motion equally, with each posture being accompanied by a counter-posture to ensure you create balance in your body.

The postures move energy or prana around the body benefitting the muscles, joints, skin, glands, nerves, internal organs, bones, respiration and the brain. A full yoga session should exercise every part of your body and should include Pranayama (breath regulation/control), relaxation/concentration on an anchor to focus the mind and meditation.

JUST GIVE IT TO ME STRAIGHT – YOGA – PHYSICAL BENEFITS:

  • Improves cardiovascular fitness and circulation

  • Helps to normalise blood pressure

  • Massaging of muscles surrounding internal organs helps to speed up digestion

  • Joints are moved through their full range of motion, across every plane of movement, which encourages mobility and eases pressure

  • Stretching releases muscle and joint tension, and increases flexibility.

  • Builds strength and endurance

  • Weight-bearing Asanas help prevent osteoporosis

  • Long-term benefits include reduced back pain and improved posture

  • Improved blood circulation

  • The concentration or focus of the mind on the breath soothes the nervous system.

PHYSICAL BENEFITS PILATES:

Pilates has been shown to improve upper body strength, buns off steal strength, core muscle endurance and flexibility. Studies suggest that individuals can “improve their muscular endurance and flexibility using relatively low-intensity Pilates exercises that do not require equipment or a high degree of skill and are easy to master and use within a personal fitness routine” (Kloubec, 2012, p.1).

Pilates classes offer a total body workout focusing on aligning the spine and strengthening the core. The exercises almost always involve regimented movements to gain core and spine strength. Some classes and one-on-one sessions use machines to gain strength, while others keep you on the mat and use your body's resistance to build results (Eilser, 2014).

Elise Ntoumenopoulos – MVMT Society

“I believe Pilates teaches a total body awareness. With consistent practice, your body will learn to recognize and achieve optimal body alignment and control, produce efficient movement effortlessly and apply it functionally in and out of the studio. To be able to sculpt, lengthen and tone your entire body, so that it functions better than it ever has before. It’s not a short term fix, it’s a long term solution”.

JUST GIVE IT TO ME STRAIGHT – PILATES – PHYSICAL BENEFITS:

  • Improved flexibility

  • Increased muscle strength and tone

  • Strengthen in particular abdominal muscles, lower and upper back, arms and the butt

  • Improved stabilisation of the spine

  • Improved posture

  • Rehabilitation or prevention of injuries (mostly related to imbalances in the muscles)

  • A safe rehabilitation exercise for joint and spinal injuries.

BENEFITS OF THE MIND YOGA:

Yoga’s proven to be especially effective for mental and emotional rehabilitation, while Pilates is used more often for physical rehabilitation. The long-term benefits of practicing Yoga include reduced stress, anxiety and fatigue, better concentration and energy levels, and increased feelings of calm, connectedness to our inner selves and enhanced wellbeing. Yoga can help to improve mental and emotional health by calming the sympathetic nervous system (which controls stress levels) and the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis (which regulates hormone levels) (Shulman, 2013).

There is a far more powerful dimension to Yoga that is often overlooked. The physical postures condition the body and combined with the breath (Pranayama) the practice aids in calming the mind. Yoga participants learn to stay calm and control their breathing while holding challenging physical postures and when these principles of Yoga are incorporated into your lifestyle, they lead to an overall awareness of your body and a tool to quieten the mind, to allow silence and healing from everyday stress and help to achieve inner and outer balance. (Shulman, 2013).

Alyce Williams – Yoga instructor – Arnava Yoga -

“Yoga isn't just about getting on your mat and doing exercises to tone and strengthen your body physically, but to strengthen and heal you mentally and emotionally through the use of breath with movement through each Asana pose.”

“You are truly healthy when you are not just physically fit but also mentally and emotionally balanced. Lots of people are unaware that there are 8 Limbs of Yoga, Asana practice is just one of these Limbs!”

The remaining 7 limbs… “Are wonderful tools you can work on every day to enable you to live a happier, healthier life.  You can practice Yoga both on and off the mat!! I believe that since I found Yoga, my life has become brighter and lighter. I do Yoga because it centre’s me. It brings me back to who I am, and whom I’m working on becoming…Since practicing Yoga and learning about the Yamas and Niyamas it has completely opened up my mind, and those minor silly things that use to get me down no longer bother me. It has given me a completely different outlook on life, and what truly matters.  My yoga practice has allowed my mind to become quieter and calmer, giving me the strength to grow daily. Yoga can make the world a better place - one person at a time!”

BENEFITS OF THE MIND PILATES:

  • Improved concentration

  • Increased body awareness

  • Stress management and relaxation – time out from your day to focus on yourself.

BENEFITS OF THE BREATH PILATES:

The breath is a great cleanser of the body and in both Yoga and Pilates practices. In Pilates one is encouraged to develop conscious breathing, using a deep full breath to enhance the depth and movement of the exercise.

  • Deep breathing, lateral breathing, and coordinating breath with movement are the primary breathing practices

  • Increased lung capacity and circulation through deep breathing

  • Helps to manage the quantity of oxygen coming into the body, and travelling to the muscles to help them become more relaxed.

BENEFITS OF THE BREATH YOGA:

Pranayama is the fourth limb of Yoga and as Fenton (2014) states “in theory, the breath is used to create particular effects on the energy body and thus on the mind or mental state” (p.20). The yoga sutras of Patanjali (which are often referenced as the ultimate Yoga text) state that in Yoga “there are three parts to the breath; inhalation, exhalation and suspension of the breath. There are various ways of changing the breath using various ratios of these three parts for different periods of time” (Fenton, 2014, p.21). 

Prana refers to the life force or the force that animates and heals us. In our Yoga practice whether we are aware of it or not, our breath is designed to have an effect on raising the level of and balancing our Prana (life force energy). The Asanas (the postures/movements) and Pranayama (the regulation of Prana/the breath) are; like all of the eight limbs of Yoga, intricately and subtly connected. The body should be comfortable and steady in the Asanas; the mind should maintain an awareness of the breath; and the breath should be long and subtle. Prana energy keeps us vital and strong, and it is having a higher level of and more balanced Prana that often makes yoga practitioners look and feel younger and keeps them strong and healthy.

  • Control or restraint of the breath, which is by nature unsteady.

  • According to Svatmarama, "When the breath wanders the mind is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still."

  • Pranayama flushes away the toxins and rectifies disturbances of wind (brilliant), bile and phlegm

  • When the nervous, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, endocrine and genito-excretory systems are cleansed through Asanas, Prana moves unobstructed to the remotest cells and feeds them with a copious supply of energy.

  • Thus rejuvenated and revitalised, the body--the instrument of the Self--moves towards the goal of Self-realisation (Svatmarama, 2007).

I'd like to leave you with a quote that I feel summarises this blog beautifully. When explaining what I found after the research I did for this blog, I mentioned to my friend Steph that I felt I was biased towards Yoga as I feel it can be applied to my entire life not just my physical body, Steph replied with...

Steph Johnson - Yoga Instructor.

"It's all good as long as it's all done with the best intentions and mindfulness" 

End text reference:

Better Health Channel. (2014). Pilates and yoga - health benefits. Retrieved from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Pilates_and_yoga_the_health_benefits?open

CPM Education. (2009). Retrieved from: www.contrology-pilates.method.com

Eisler, M. (2014). Yoga Versus Pilates: Which One's Right for You? Retrieved from: http://www.active.com/fitness/articles/yoga-versus-pilates-which-one-s-right-for-you

Fenton, F. (2014). Yoga Life. Issue 44. P20-23.

Iyengar, B.K.S. (1918). Light on Yoga. Schoken Books: New York.

Kloubec, J. (2010). Pilates for improvement of muscle endurance, flexibility, balance, and posture. 24(3).661-7. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c277a6.

L, Shulman. (2014). Yoga or Pilates?How to choose between these two popular forms of physical activity. Retrieved from the Canadian Living website:

http://www.canadianliving.com/health/fitness/yoga_or_pilates.php

Swami, Svatmarama. (2007). Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Retrieved from the Yoga Age website: http://www.yoga-age.com/pradipika/part1.html