It’s probably fair to say that you’ve probably tried one or the other of these disciplines. or at least been tempted to have a go but haven’t a clue where to start. We hear you! Contrary to belief, these holistic practices are very different from one another, (although they often get placed in the same category). Here, Chatty Dobson, yoga teacher and owner of FLEX Chelsea, Gaby Noble, Pilates teacher and founder of Exhale Pilates and Bryony Deery, founder of Pilates from Bryony App, share the similarities and the differences between the two types of exercise, so you can identify which is best for you.
Pilates vs Yoga – which is best suited for you?
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a methodology created by professional boxer and gymnast Joseph Pilates, originally called Contrology. It is a system of exercises used on special pieces of apparatus for example the universal Reformer, Barrels, Wunda Chair, Highchair, Pedi Pole, Cadillac and so much more which is designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, posture, stamina and focuses on the principle that all movement should come from a strong and stable centre, the core.
What is Yoga?
The main purpose of Yoga – no matter which style you choose – is to calm the mayhem of the mind. Whether you do that through physical Yoga, breathwork or meditation, it is completely dependent on what works best for you. Yoga teaches us patience, endurance, how to find peace in discomfort, and most famously – flexibility, strength, and muscle toning. Most of the western world adopt Yoga for flexibility and fitness, but they stay for the mental benefits they learn along the way.
Why are they often grouped together?
Both are low-impact and low-intensity disciplines. They quite frequently come under the ‘holistic’ umbrella however this is where they differ. Yoga is more about spirituality & breath whereas Pilates is more about mindful movement and strength. They both incorporate the powerful combination of body, mind and soul with breathing which is a huge component for both. It’s no surprise with the increase in stress levels and lockdown life, they have both surged in popularity as people are becoming more aware to be less ‘punishing’ to their bodies and mental state.
What are the similarities between the two?
As mentioned above breath is focused on both with more concentration on this element in Yoga. Yoga breath promotes relaxation and is used to hold a pose to breathe into stressed & tight areas whereas, in Pilates, breath is used to provide the muscles with more energy to exercise effectively. Hence why the exhale is important as you are bringing fresh oxygen into the entire body to feed the muscle to work more. As Joseph Pilates said: “Breathing is the first act of life & the last, our very life depends on it.”
Both Yoga and Pilates help support back issues by strengthening the back muscles and working on balance, however, Yoga can make it worse if the person doesn’t use their core in the poses which is Pilates’ main aim, that all movement must come from the centre whether you are lying, standing, or sitting. Most Pilates moves start from lying down so as not to put pressure on the joints whereas Yoga generally starts standing.
What are the key differences between the two?
As mentioned above Yoga has poses that have you hold your breath for long periods of time. Pilates is more about using the breath to help facilitate a movement more efficiently and feed the muscle with more oxygen for it to work harder. Both can be performed on a mat with additional props however the original Pilates method incorporates the use of many different machines one more commonly known as the reformer. There are many pieces of kit that Joseph Pilates devised to help support the balance of strength and flexibility.
Pilates is not a spiritual pursuit like yoga is. Yoga uses the body to connect with the mind and inner self. Pilates uses mindfulness to connect to the inner workings of the body.
It’s also crucial that you know what Pilates and Yoga you are doing. Make sure you do your research especially if you have any niggles as some Pilates & Yoga sessions can make the ‘niggle’ worse! Niggles are generally down to imbalances in the body, so the key is to find the balance by understanding what exactly needs strengthening or in fact stretching. The beauty of both Yoga and Pilates is that they provide the benefits to balance muscular strength and tone, flexibility for your joints to move better which in turn makes you feel better and above all work on linking the body to the mind which is one of the most powerful tools to have.
What are the main benefits?
Both focus on the mind-body connection and can really help with anxiety and depression by slowing everything down and being more mindful of self-care and alignment. You don’t always have to be hitting it hard to get some incredible physical and mental results, in fact, quite the contrary as you will lower cortisol levels which spike when the body and mind are under stress and prohibit a healthy body and mind or the results you are looking to achieve. Pilates and Yoga also target muscle groups that you won’t access in many other forms of exercise. You can be an incredibly fit runner or boxer and come out of a Yoga or Pilates class in agony because you’ve worked muscles you don’t usually engage or even know you had.
Bryony explains, “when practicing yoga, you typically adopt a position and hold it, or flow into a different position. With yoga there is more of a focus on spirituality, breath work and flexibility, whereas with Pilates it is about strength, breathing techniques and control. In Pilates, you adopt a position and then challenge your core by moving your arms or legs. With my method personally, I combine a hybrid of classical and contemporary which allows my classes to have more impactful, transformative and long-lasting results.”
Who should practice Yoga?
Everybody! It’s great to see that a huge number of nurseries now teach yoga to toddlers, and some schools are offering classes to all ages. Yoga instructors often hear ‘I’m not flexible enough for yoga, I can’t touch my toes!’ – that’s exactly why you should start, “you’re never too dirty for a shower are you?!” states Chatty.
Should anyone avoid it?
Pregnant ladies who are unused to a regular Yoga practice should be careful, though that’s not to say they shouldn’t start. Yoga’s great for pregnancy and birth, just make sure you practice with a pre-natal qualified instructor.
Who should practice Pilates?
Everyone should practice Pilates from children who can’t sit still at school to those that need to improve their posture from being in front of computers. Menopausal women need to develop muscle strength to prevent osteoporosis and help to stay connected with their bodies. Also, the elder generation helps support balance and muscle and joint health. Plus, athletes want to enhance their training and recover quicker.
And who should avoid it?
Everyone can do Pilates, but we suggest not in the first 3 months of pregnancy or just out of surgery. Pilates really can be done by everyone no matter their age or fitness level.
If you want to see fast results, do you try Yoga or Pilates?
“Yoga isn’t a quick fix”, claims Chatty – whether you want the flexibility, the strength or the calmness, each aspect takes time. The beauty of it is, is that you come to accept the process, learn patience along the way, and discover that there’s no end to yoga, your practice continues to evolve and grow with time ability. Gaby says, “clients can feel the difference after one session as they walk away feeling lighter and taller. Joseph Pilates once said, “in 10 sessions you feel the difference, in 20 you see the difference and in 30 you have a whole new body!” Enough said!
And for how long?
Bryony recommends always listening to your body and building up from whatever your ability is. “For me I believe in the power of short workouts and their ability to not only fit into your daily routine but also promote consistency. If you are looking for results, I would recommend trying to exercise for 20-30 minutes 4-6 times a week.”
Finally, yoga vs pilates – how do you know if you’re more of a Yoga or a Pilates person?
Pilates is a safer option if you are prone to injury especially if you are hypermobile. It is key not to overstretch which pulls an already mobile joint away from strengthening a muscle that supports it. Generally, you will prefer one or the other as they are very different when you understand what should be achieved. It is also important to not give up as both practices take patience. People who are more logical tend to like Pilates, and creative people like Yoga as it gives you more freedom. The choice is ultimately yours!