Pilates Vs Yoga - A New Viewpoint
By Robert Hannum
Here is a review of the differences and similarities between two of the most popular forms of exercise. Which one is better? Here's a viewpoint from one who has taught both methods for over 35 years.
Pilates and yoga are oddly similar and at the same time deeply different when it comes to breathing. Both methods emphasize breathing, but take it in a different direction.
Few in the Pilates world realize just how important breathing was to Joseph Pilates. Of all the principles of the Pilates technique, Joseph Pilates considered breathing the cardinal one according to his writings.
According to my teacher and Pilates Elder, Mary Bowen, Joseph Pilates never developed any special breathing mechanics, though "bellows breathing" was a technique developed after his death by his students. Instead Pilates created breathing patterns to accompany each exercise, natural breathing that allows full and frequent breathing while you move. The effect is exhilarating, and in fact, Pilates is known for being energizing rather than exhausting even after the most rigorous routine.
Yoga far exceeds Pilates in the development of particular breathing mechanics. The complexity and depth of the pranayama (breathing) yoga techniques include breathing through different nostrils in different patterns of inhalation, exhalation, and holding the breath, all designed to create and move energy in the body. I've explored breathing techniques in Pilates and yoga and have found both to be beneficial in their own distinct ways.
Mind and Body
Few exercise methods connect the mind and the body like Pilates and yoga. Focussing your attention on your movement is key to both methods. Yoga goes a step further by adding a spiritual or religious dimension with meditation and in certain traditions devotion to teachers.
Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1883. He studied all forms of exercise available in his day including eastern forms such as yoga. He first developed his method nearly 100 years ago. He moved to New York in the 60's and first introduced his method to the dance community where it was an instant hit. From there it gained worldwide popularity. It is used by nearly every elite athlete as well as physical therapist, and is particularly effective for the treatment of back problems.
In contrast yoga goes back thousands of years. The earliest evidence appears on 4500 year old seals from the Indus Valley. Experts agree that the yoga tradition is probably much older. Light on Yoga, universally considered the Bible of yoga, lists hundreds of treatments for illnesses using particular yoga positions.
Though both methods readily use balls and bands and other props, neither require any equipment. You can do them anywhere and anytime - the ultimate in convenience. You can use equipment specially designed for Pilates, but it is not necessary. In fact, the mat exercise routine which uses no equipment is the original Pilates method.
No review of these two exercise methods should ever neglect their distinct forms of stretching. Yet no other discussion I've ever read does!
Yoga features static stretching. This means holding a position while your muscles stretch. Pilates is dynamic stretch where muscles lengthen while you move. Research indicates a more benefit from dynamic stretching due to increased muscle recovery and decreased risk of injury.
Strength and Cardio
Exercise science has proven that our bodies need 3 distinct kinds of exercise - strength training, stretching, and cardiovascular conditioning popularly referred to as cardio or aerobics. All of these essential exercise are rarely included in one method. Pilates always includes 2 - stretching and strength training. Advanced Pilates mat exercises also include cardio for an unusually complete exercise method.
By contrast yoga is primarily stretching and rarely includes strength training or cardio. I know of no style of yoga that provides strength training except the very athletic Iyengar style. In my experience Bikram or hot yoga definitely offers a cardio workout.
Which Is Better?
I believe I can offer an interesting perspective on this question, because I've practiced and taught both for over 35 years. You get more out of yoga if you want a spiritual practice. I would add that if you want relaxing stress relief yoga is a better choice. I must emphasize that this last statement is my personal belief since research shows that any exercise is very effective at relieving stress.
If you want a quick and complete exercise method Pilates is a better choice.
I do both!
Robert Hannum, M. Ed., is an advanced certified teacher of Pilates mat exercise for nearly 4 decades. He has taught people of all ages and fitness levels including people with physical and psychiatric challenges. His teacher is the "Pilates Elder" Mary Bowen. He also repairs sculpture for artists and museums around the world. He lives with his wife and son in Northampton, MA. Check out his website for free online pilates lessons, a unique cardio Pilates workout, and a wide variety of Pilates information and resources including why Pilates is so effective for the relief of back pain. For daily Pilates tips, quotes, and news simply "like" his fan page at Facebook.com/PilatesWithBob
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