Understanding the Key Differences Between Pilates Exercises and Yoga
Updated: Jan 9
Some people believe that Pilates exercises - and Pilates itself and yoga are practically the same thing, but that is absolutely not the case. They do share some similarities, but there are also lots of differences too. Understanding the basic differences between these two popular exercise disciplines can help you decide which is best for you.
The Varying Histories of Yoga and Pilates
Yoga is a sacred tradition that spawned in India some 5,000+ years ago. Its purpose was to connect the individual consciousness to the universal blissful consciousness. Together with asanas (postures), breath control, and simple meditation, it improves your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Pilates is more new-age, although it’s been around for nearly a century. Pilates was founded around 1925 by Joseph Pilates and was originally mostly used for physical rehabilitation before becoming 'fashionable' in the 1940s. It’s since changed and developed dramatically over the course of the last several decades. However, it’s main goals of strengthening the core, improving posture, stabilizing and elongating the spine, and developing balance and overall strength, remains intact.
More Than Just a Mat
While both Pilates exercises and yoga work the body in effective ways, they utilize totally different equipment. For example, Pilates uses machines such as the reformer, Cadillac, spine corrector, small barrel, tower, etc. These machines (for the most part) use a pulley system with varying springs for resistance and are used to assist the body in perfecting alignment, improving strength, and improving inconsistencies in the body. Yoga, on the other hand, uses mainly a mat, as well as minor equipment to aid in the poses, such as blocks, straps, or a blanket.
The Spiritual Component
This is perhaps one of the biggest differences between yoga and Pilates. To put it simply, yoga is a meditative practice. This means that it works your mind just as much, if not more than your body. It also focuses on breathing techniques to help reduce stress, Pilates is more of a traditional exercise routine originally developed to help injured athletes, whereas yoga was created as a path to spiritual enlightenment through a series of poses.
The mind-body connection is the center of yoga. Therefore, it forgoes exercise machines of any kind. Instead, it allows the body itself to serve as resistance. For this reason, the class runs starkly different from a Pilates class. In yoga, each class typically ends with a guided meditation and savasana (relaxation).
Most Pilates classes incorporate equipment that’s used to challenge the body to ‘turn on’ and control muscles and body positioning in unstable environments. Because of the ability to build stability in the core and throughout the body, Pilates is often used as a rehabilitation tool. In fact, many physical therapists use Pilates as part of their repertoire. Or they recommend clients begin doing Pilates once they have finished with physical therapy.
The poses and moves performed during yoga and Pilates are quite different. The amount of time spent holding them is also quite different. Typically, in yoga, you hold poses for far longer. This allows you to fall more deeply into each pose. You often repeat the flow of these moves, which you do not always do in Pilates exercises.
The End Result
Depending on what you’re trying to achieve from attending class, one or the other exercise might be more well-suited for you. Yoga works your entire body, whereas Pilates mainly focuses on the powerhouse muscles. These are the deep muscles of the core and the muscles of the spine and hips, such as the lats and outer thighs.
It also depends on what you want to experience during class. If you’re looking for something more physical, Pilates exercises are usually the way to go. Or you could choose to do what an increasing number of people do and do both, thereby reaping the benefits of a long lean body and clear mind free from stress.
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