...So that's like Yoga, right?
…. Um, no its not, but for some reason Pilates is always thrown into the same basket, I’m not sure what that basket is, but they’re in there together in peoples minds.
I’m not really a Yogi, I’ve only participated a couple of times. So I don’t really feel equipped to get into a lengthy discussion about it. Do I endorse it? Absolutely! I endorse anything that gets the body moving. Do I endorse it over a gym or the like, yes I do. I know what you’re thinking: “Why?” I like the idea of connecting the body and the mind. As far as I know Yoga can be as much of a spiritual practice as it is a physical one. I like that you move in the realms of your own body and weight and that it extends us in a 3 Dimensional way. It is perhaps for these reasons that Yoga and Pilates live together being healthy and strong and possibly “alternative” in their own little basket in peoples minds.
Now, the Yoga vs Pilates debate. Since they’re there, bundled together drinking peppermint tea and chai-lattes, I prefer to think of the two practices as allies rather than two competing fields. Many people who love Pilates love Yoga and vice-versa, but what makes them different?
I’ll go back to what I was saying about how I’m not a Yogi but, I am a Pilates fanatic, so I’ll speak from my obsession and the observations I’ve made. In the following, I’ll use the term “we” a little bit like the royal “We” and a little bit like “Pilates- nuts”.
Most notably, Pilates uses Breath (Principle 1 of Pilates). So does Yoga.
Except the opposite way around. We use our exhale on our exertion. So the most difficult part of the exercise is when we exhale, generally. This is to encourage the TA (Transverse Abdominis) and Pelvic Floor muscles to engage. (You can read more about it in an old blog here)
Pilates stretches and strengthens muscles. Yes…. And so does Yoga.
Here, from a Yoga–layman’s perspective, the difference is not only in the exercises but also in the apparatus. The principles of Concentration, Centering, Precision, and Control in Pilates make the movements quite specific to a certain muscle. The “core muscles” (deep abdominals and pelvic floor), are always on, always being challenged. Then the Precision and Control element comes in to send the brains focus into the working muscle, lets call it the bicep. So, for example in matwork, we are focused on keeping all our other muscles in “neutral” this is Centering and requires Concentration, then in order to do a slow and sustained bicep curl in “isolation”, we require Precision and Control so as not to allow the pec, lat or shoulder to assist that muscle to do the movement. That’s in very primitive terms. Then we come to the apparatus, like the Reformer, I love the reformer! This machine was built to assist in these concepts, by helping to turn off certain large/strong and overused muscles, and to zone in on smaller, lesser used stabilizers and bring the Concentration to the muscle or muscle group being used. The apparatus is like a Nanna to your muscles and turns the naïve bicep into a 4 year-old child – a horrible liar. You cannot lie (as in tell an untruth) on a Pilates Reformer or Foam-roller, you will be caught out. The apparatus and movements highlight and discover all your flaws and imbalances, and in turn this is what is so enlightening and humbling about the method. When this is conquered, its not only exhilarating, it’s possibly the most connected to your own body you can feel, aside from that time you were born.
This leads me onto the “total body workout”, a catch phrase used by many DVDs and gurus and fitness/sharknado/diet/6minute abs-junkies.
I think here, Yoga comes into its own, as the flow and nature of the movements require all your muscles to work in synergy. Have a think about what it takes to do a downward facing dog? Nearly all your muscles will be working, whether they’re being lengthened (your calves for an obvious example) or contracted (like your lats and scap-stabilizers… that is the muscles that stabilize your shoulder blades). Many muscles are recruited to do this one movement. Combined in a series, you can truly get a total body workout. But, back to the magic of Pilates.
One of the key concepts of Pilates, is really, what’s the point in being able to do a downward facing dog if you can’t stand up straight? Or without becoming a Labradoodle who can’t hold onto his bladder near a tree, while doing it? Even more to the point, how do you know you’re using the correct muscles? (Now this is really exciting) this is where the 6th principle “Flow” comes into Pilates, and it is where the method becomes really fun. Once, your body and brain get over the illuminating other 5 principles, you start to find your Flow. You start to understand how the program is designed to get your body functioning like a well-oiled machine. You learn to call upon the correct muscles like a Myofibril- Wizard to assist your body through everyday life, not only in your yoga practice or at the gym or when you’re being a potato in front of the TV, but just while you’re standing there… on one leg…tall…lean…without pain…ready to go.
Is Pilates for weight-loss? Nah, not really but neither is Yoga.
Pilates is posture-biased. It’s designed to get you limbs moving effectively while doing everyday things and this is why “the core” is so central to the recipe. So it will make whatever you’re doing for weight-loss more effective. I’m always inspired by Olympic Gymnast Barbie; with her solid core, excellent spinal rotation, long and gorgeous limbs that could actually bend… sigh. You may sweat in Pilates, but the ultimate goal is to get you balanced, strong (in the agile sense of the word) and as a result in touch with yourself in body and mind. Yoga is in essence a more spiritual practice designed to get your mind working by moving the body and as a result creating a supple body.
If you want to lose weight, my suggestion is to first check your diet (that’s a blog for another day, or you can read some of my thoughts here). Then get doing some cardio every other day. This is something that makes you sweat, dance, swim, jog etc. and do Pilates to keep yourself safe while doing these activities.
So, all in all, if you had to see a Pilates class take place next to a yoga class, the differences would fairly be blatant. But it’s the things that are not as obvious that are what group them together. Joseph Pilates actually studied Yoga for years before creating his method and thus many of the stretches and concepts have foundations in Yoga. However, Pilates to me, seems to be closer to exercise as Yoga is closer to meditation. Lets call it yoga for not-spiritual people. But as with most things, the founding concepts become diluted and more accessible and people create things like “Yoga-lates” and “Pil-oga” and the two become conjoined twins that can scratch their own back. (too far??)
I will always be a Pilates enthusiast as I love to move, and movement is my meditation, and this is my lifestyle. So unlike a gym membership or 7minute abs; Yoga and Pilates proudly brand themselves as lifestyles, practices that occur inside the studio, inside the body and inside the mind.
I’m happy to live in our little basket where people can touch their toes and smiling together, because that’s the Yoga-lates way. I believe we are whole beings with hearts, and minds, and souls, and abs and fingers and toes and that as a whole, we need to be nurtured.