Debunking the myths: Pilates vs Yoga

If you love your sports and think, Pilates and yoga are not quite exercise and inherently boring – like golf, say (I’m joking!)-, head down to your local studio now. Yoga and Pilates may be mind body workouts designed to help you stretch, activate your core and focus on your breathing but – just like a good run gives you a great cardiovascular workout AND helps you release stress -, mind body exercises can help you centre AND get a good full body workout at the same time. Sometimes you will even be so puffed you may have to stop moving.

The Origins and Methods

But what exactly does set Pilates and yoga apart then, clients often ask. Well, for starters, yoga is an ancient 8-fold approach to right living, connection with self, others and surroundings and finding ultimate bliss. The poses and the flow are just one part of eight aspects. Yoga teaches you a better way of being and living by creating greater awareness. In the process of practicing these new approaches to movement and life, the brain gets remapped.
Pilates was originally partially derived from yoga – also from martial arts and dance – and was called Contrology by its founder. German born Joseph Pilates, a sickly child turned health revolutionist, put together a series of exercises following several principles (breath and focus being two), designed as a regimen of “control of the mind over the body”. Working with what many of us are used to – running our lives entirely from our brain -, we are taught to override faulty movement patterns and strengthen muscles in better alignment. Ultimately, this approach serves to create better posture and ability to move freely and without pain.

The Shortfalls

Both disciplines can only be as powerful as the teacher instructing classes and privates. Often, a dogmatic subscription to a particular method fails to allow for the variations in clients’ bodies and needs. You could argue that there are enough options around to offer something for everyone. While this is certainly true with an explosion in yoga teacher trainings and the popularity of Pilate reformer workouts – when even the shopping channels sell reformers, you can safely say mind body exercises have gone mainstream -, for new clients it can be hard though to distinguish between what works best for their bodies. The positive effects from physical movement in general in combination with the positive experience of moving with a group of motivated people in a nurturing environment, can easily brush over possible negative side effects.

Big studios with many classes and locations often populate their schedule with junior teachers. They are in the business of yoga and Pilates. Using less expensive teachers, packing rooms full of students and pushing out cheap intro offers has popularised yoga and Pilates. Benefit from the abundance of options and choose well established senior teachers with no agenda to push. Seek out the small yoga studio around the corner from you that has been there for ages. If there’s no need for marketing, it is probably based on referrals – showing good quality and return customers.
How can you tell it’s been good for you? You should feel a sense of being at home in your body. Lengthened, strengthened and moved – in every part of your body-, and you should still have plenty of energy but your mind will be restful.
If you feel hyped up and high after yoga or Pilates, you have gotten a good workout, but you are less likely to have really focussed and understood something about your body. You may as well go for a run. The teacher may have energised you, pushed you beyond your perceived limitations, you may have gotten a positive experience for your mind but the danger is that you may come AT yoga and Pilates from your head instead of creating greater awareness around your needs.

Lastly, if classes and the studios are advertised with teachers in fancy poses, sexy gear and hyper real images, you are buying an illusion, somebody else’s ideal. Real yoga and Pilates can be done well by clients who are injured, overweight, sick and older. You’d be surprised to see the feats our only 90-year-old client are capable of. But most importantly, he doesn’t care what it looks like or whether he can do it. He sums up the essence of Pilates and yoga in his approach:

“I like doing yoga with [my wife]. It is something we do together. It helps us stay mobile and enjoy life.”

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  • Raghav Kaura

    Very well written article. I would add that the yoga philosophy of mental and physical non-violence has changed my life. Would love for you to explore that further in another article.