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Pilates and Yoga : What's the difference?!

Pilates and Yoga : What's the difference?!

When it comes to somatic body practices that connect mind and movement, many of us tend to see Pilates and Yoga as interchangeable methods. Yoga is just Pilates with a little bit of meditation and chanting thrown into the mix right? Wrong!

Though it’s not uncommon for the bystander to lump Pilates and Yoga together – you undoubtedly see a synchronicity between the two – especially considering the overall theme of strengthening of the mind-body connection in the both methods for instance. Yet shifting deeper to examining Pilates VS Yoga, once you take a few classes, speak to a few passionate teachers and dive into the history, the differences, nuances and qualities of each practice will become apparent.

Pilates and Yoga : What's the difference?!

So, if you’re trying to decipher the difference between Pilates or Yoga, just keep reading and let us do all the heavy lifting, errrr… or should we say breathing and moving for you.

the Origins

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Pilates emerged in 20th Century Germany, with the Contrology method devised by Joseph Pilates who developed a specific set of movements and exercises to correct his ailing body. This founding focus of rehabilitation, strengthening and realigning the body to find correct postural control remains the essence of the Pilates practice to date. The boom of popularity for Pilates expanded upon the relocation of the founder to New York, where the opening of a studio above the home of the New York City Ballet and subsequent lasting relationship between Pilates and Dance emerged.

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Yoga originated over 5000 years ago in India. With varying lineages emerging from the Yogi masters, the practice has evolved from the practice, teachings and discoveries of the subtle science of bringing harmony to body and mind from the East. Yoga as we know it today, the trendy Power driven–sculpting legging required–infrared sauna–beats playing kind, is lightyears away from the traditional, subtle-body led roots, in which the practice was originally developed and has such innovated from.

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the Spiritual element

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The practice of Pilates is not a spiritual one, rather it is a mindful movement practice focused on how the mind and body are intrinsically connected and the process by which you can strengthen the ability and control of this connection. This develops into a personal understanding of how you can manipulate this relationship to enhance your body’s experience daily and become more intuitive to the body/brain, minus an external influence of spirituality.

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Embedded into the foundation of Yoga exists a spiritual practice. Long before the physical practice of Asana exists the limbs of Yoga governing spirituality, meditation, honouring and offering. As a practice, Yoga too explores the mind/body connection, however it adds on the element of spirit. Traditional formats of Yoga fully incorporate meditation practices and invite an element of transcendence beyond the physical to support the entire spiritual system.

the Breathing Techniques

Both Pilates and Yoga live within their connection of movement and breath. As a guiding force in each method, there exists an observance of the power and use of breath work to assist, challenge, engage and energise.

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In Pilates, the breath pattern follows a nasal inhale and an exhale through the mouth. This is executed with the belief it assists in releasing tension on a complete, full exhalation. The method focuses on “three-dimensional” breathing, that is to expand the breath into the ribcage laterally so as allow oxygen flow into the deepest, lowest lobes of the lunges, without losing core engagement. In the mindful movement practice, each movement sits on a particular breath pattern. Performing movement either with an inhale or exhale for specific exercising pattern develops a more considered practice and utilises breath to either engage or release. Commonly, the exhale is used on the effort, to assist in more challenging movements. Further, the breath is used in conjunction to activation of the pelvic floor – a major element of control for the Pilates method. This active control of the breath helps to focus the mind and again, strengthens the mind-body connection.

read: it's All Practice – Breathe

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As a “moving meditation” Yoga uses the breath as an anchor, marrying movement and breath to develop connection and control. The practice generally always utilises Pranayama, a meditation breath, including dedicated breath work and breathing patterns or manipulations of, to evoke a stimulated response within the body – be it cleansing, energising, heating or cooling. Throughout the practice, the breath is contained with an inhale and exhale through the nose. This creates heat for the body, with a practice of Ujjayi breath – or the ocean sound of the breath as it is constricted slightly to the back of the throat – to deepen a meditation state with an audible sound for the mind to latch focus upon.

for Stress Relief value

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Pilates assists in stress relief by being a physical conductor in which to develop a mindful practice. While mindfulness may have become an overused buzzword, the form does cultivate an acute awareness of being present, engaged and focused solely on one thing – the body moving in alignment to the breath. As you pass from activation to movement within Pilates, there is a continued strengthening of the mind-body pathways.

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Yoga is quite often the go-to method for combatting modern stress. As we are becoming more aware of the need to slow down, it is not uncommon for a stressed out individual to be prescribed with hitting the mat. The combination of meditation, movement and breath work, combined with the spiritual element can hold a great healing capacity on a plane that transcends just the physical. This results in a lowering of cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and advanced capability for managing the automatic stress responses when they arise. 

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the Postural benefits

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In its original form, Pilates was primarily devised to bring neutral alignment and correct posture to the body. Paying great attention on spinal health, the exercises are based around spinal alignment and subsequent strengthening of the core to support pelvic and spinal stabilisation. The sequencing, specific exercise prescription and pattern of movements are formulated with sole focus on realigning the body to its neutral postural alignment, as directed by any deviations presented within the individual. In a group class, this looks like a balanced program of flexion and extension movements, alongside equal focus on strength and flexibility. In a private, 1:1 scenario, this involves careful postural analysis and development of a protocol specific to combatting the deviations that are evident in the individual. The main agenda remains the same however – strengthen what is long and weak, release what is tight and overworked.

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Without being as directly focused on correcting any misalignment of posture, Yoga focuses on general patterns of movement through the asana’s that favours correct form and has a resulting beneficial effect on posture. By inducing an opening of the body, the intention of the movement may be based around energy, chakra alignment and spiritual side effects, but sequences such as heart openers target and counteract the modern day malady that is common forward rounded posture. Additionally a yoga practice balances functional strengthening and increasing flexibility, with a focus on developing core strength, which enhances length and ease throughout the body for better posture.

ready, set, sweat: basic pilates posture check

the Flexibility factor

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Pilates addresses flexibility as being an equal component to strength to find equilibrium in the structure of the body. By focusing on eccentric loading the muscles, the method helps to increase flexibility whilst building strength simultaneously. This creates a safe and controlled practice to develop flexibility, without overextending or cause further harm by being too flexible – which is a common issue! The level of flexibility experienced from a Pilates practice will safeguard the joints and their supporting ligaments and tendons, by finding an appropriate level of movement and range.

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Most people looking to enhance their flexibility turn to Yoga. The physical practice focuses on stretching to elongate the muscles and fascia, increasing the range of movement for the joints. Depending on the style of Yoga, the practice can be a mixture of both dynamic and static held stretches, allowing the body time to find more flexibility. With consistent practice, attendees will find a vast increase in their range and flexibility limits.

for the injured party

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As a rehabilitation method, Pilates offers a pathway back from injury by building the specific strength required to assist in healing and lessening aggravation. In fact, it goes one step further by additionally correcting misalignment that potentially caused the injury to occur in the first place, a practice known as "Prehabilitation". Following specific rehabilitation protocols, the method employs various equipment, such as the reformer or cadillac, and modifications to ensure the practitioner is fully supported, without requiring any weight bearing or loading where necessary, to initiate recovery.

READ: Which pilates workout should you be doing?

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When it comes to injury, Yoga isn’t specifically devised to help rehabilitate the wounded – however those carrying injuries may find certain practices and formats exceptionally healing, particularly on an emotional level. As injury can bring with it trauma and frustration, nourishing practices such as Yin, restorative or nidra classes may assist the individual to calm down the nervous system and lower cortisol, which has  resulting effect of reducing the levels of inflammation. A good instructor will always be able to modify and adjust the practice for those with injuries, however depending on the extend and severity of your injury, some of the more physically demanding practices, such as Vinyassa or Power Yoga may be inappropriate due to the high demands of engagement in the bodyweight movement patterns.

As a general guideline ­– you shouldn’t attend group classes if you a carrying a severe injury and should approach personalised sessions in order to maximise your rehabilitation process.

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the Strength scenario

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Regardless of the style of Pilates you choose to experience, you will build true core strength and dynamic stabilisation of the body, which becomes applicable to all movement patterns and planes. If you’re opting for traditional Mat Pilates, you will be relying solely on cultivating strength through controlling your own body weight – which is much harder than it looks! If you opt to try out equipment Pilates, be it the Reformer or Studio equipment, you will be further challenged with the addition of weighted spring loading, adding a level of resistance which increases the level of strength built through the muscular system. Throughout the entire method though, the focus will always be on cultivating the necessary strength you need to safely carry your own body and maintain correct alignment, ensuring a safe, mindful practice of strength.

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A physical Yoga practice demands a level of strength to command your own bodyweight to move through the posture. Through the series of sun salutations, flows and poses, you will see a progression of strength required in many variations – be it balancing, holding or dynamically moving the body. The results are a body that becomes conditioned through the many repetitions required with a progression of strength coming through a regular, consistent practice. Additionally, there comes an increased level of mental strength from the practice – with both the physical many variations of advancing levels of practice and the meditative concentration required – an inner strength of patience, control and willpower often cultivates for those practicing Yoga.

 for prenatal clients

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For the mamas to be, Pilates is an incredible tool, and often go-to method, for suppprting both before, during and after pregnancy. With specific programmes and instructor specialisation for pre-natal Pilates, the method encourages a safe protocol of strength which focuses on applicable core strength and pelvic stability, to accommodate and support the changing female body. Additionally, as the reigning champ of all things pelvic floor, the attention on women’s health enables the Pilates method to offer a safe and appropriate format of exercise that will support pregnancy.

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In Yoga you can find there specialisations for Pre-natal yoga with various adaptations available to assist throughout the journey pre- and post- pregnancy. Additionally, Yoga is great for pregnant women as a stress management tool, with nourishing, spiritual practices supporting the control of cortisol, mental health and preparation for birth.

 

 

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