yoga vs. pilates

I welcome questions from students, friends, family and even strangers about yoga practice. I love when people are honestly curious about yoga and I'm glad to help them understand a pose or explain why we do certain things the way we do in class. But lately, an exceptional amount of students and non-student's-alike have been asking me about...Pilates?

yoga vs. pilates : wholehearter
Joseph Pilates working with a Pilates invention
Although I know the basic concept of Pilates, I am not a Pilates teacher, nor have I ever taken a class. I know that Pilates has many of the same goals and benefits as yoga (lengthening and strengthening all the muscles of the body using mindful movements, breathing techniques...etc). They are both mind/body disciplines as opposed to regular exercise, but I've read that Pilates is more "core focused" than yoga.


As I began to dig a little and research the history of Pilates, I found that it was developed by German boxer, Joseph Pilates, during his stay in a British internment camp during World War I. 
"Born in a small town near Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1880, Joseph Pilates was a small and sickly child. Given an anatomy book by a family physician, Joe began his study of the human body at an early age. The son of a gymnast father and naturopath mother, Joe later became a skilled boxer, gymnast, circus performer, skier, and diver; he also practiced yoga and Zen meditation. Through his own physical transformation, Joe used his ideas and inventions to help wounded soldiers in WWI and came to realize the simple truth and Power Pilates motto: movement heals." - Novi Pilates
yoga vs. pilates : wholehearter
Joseph Pilates - enjoying one of his creepier-looking Pilates apparatus: the Cadillac.
I love that he not only practiced yoga and meditation, but that the core concept behind Pilates is "movement heals." So although some Pilates apparatus can look foreign or intimidating, the creative idea formed when Joseph Pilates was rehabilitating wounded soldiers. He began experimenting with springs attached to hospital beds and the first piece of Pilates apparatus – today known as the Cadillac – was born. Patients were able to perform resistance exercises while still bed-ridden and Pilates discovered that this sped their recovery. Very cool.

yoga vs. pilates : wholehearter
Pilates working with an apparatus
Joseph Pilates likened the use of machines and apparatus to a tool such as a screwdriver. "Imagine, if you will, putting a screw into a wall using just your fingers. Now imagine putting that same screw into a wall using a screwdriver. This is mechanical advantage." - Pilates

Aren't you relieved to know more about Pilates machines?  They're not torturous contraptions made to force people into unnatural contortions after all! ;) Learning the history behind them makes a lot of sense and they're still used often today in many studios. Now, all I needed to do was try some Pilates myself and share my experience!

Unlike looking up yoga studios and easily finding a few around my zip-code, I really had trouble locating a place to take Pilates. So much so, that I only tracked down two studios offering regular Pilates that were even remotely close to me. I was excited to finally find them, but not so excited once I found the price. While a 1-1.5 hour yoga class taught by a certified instructor in a studio will run you about $12-$15 in my area, you can expect to pay $40-$55 for one Pilates class. Ouch. Clutching my $40-$55, I considered that I could either get 3-5 yoga classes, buy 3 Pilates DVDs, or try 1 live Pilates class. It didn't take me long to decide that a live class was about $18 more than my little experiment was worth. I ventured to Netflix for free. Maybe not the purest experiment at this point, but enough to give me an idea of what Pilates is about.

Just like yoga, there were a lot of different types. Pilates with weights, relaxation Pilates, cardio/power Pilates and even Yoga/Pilates fusion. Fittingly, I went with Pilates for Dummies.

yoga vs. pilates : wholehearter

As it turns out, a lot of the poses are similar between yoga and Pilates. Michelle Dozios began by speaking about neutral spinal alignment, pelvis position and offered modifications for many poses to make them easier or more challenging. She also stressed the importance of quality movements over quantity of movements, urging students to not compromise the integrity of the poses as fatigue sets in.

As far as the actual postures, the main difference I noticed is the repetition of movements and poses. Reminiscent of an aerobics class or cardio exercise routine, pilates involves a lot of small pulsing motions or repetitiveness of movements. I understand the reasoning behind it (especially knowing the history of the form), but as a totally biased practitioner, I found the repetition to be..well...repetitive. :) Although repetition has it's place and can be important sometimes, I enjoy being able to focus more deeply into a yoga posture and my breath flowing from one pose to another. With practice though, I'm sure that Pilates could be made to be much more meditative.

I also learned that when they say that Pilates is "core-focused," they really mean it! So much of this workout was directly intended to strengthen the abdominal muscles that I felt like other parts of my body really missed out. Unlike the length and relaxation I feel throughout my whole body post-yoga, I still definitely felt stiff in certain areas. My abs were definitely sore, which is fine, but this particular DVD didn't leave me feeling completely refreshed afterward.

When I was finished with the Pilates workout, I ended up going through some yoga asanas. (Is that cheating? Hehe!) In my defense, I really felt like I needed it, both physically and mentally. Pilates, like yoga, claims to be a mental discipline, but at it's core, is really meant to be more of an exercise. I felt that the meditative aspect was lacking. Keeping in mind that this was not in a studio enviornment and is my first Pilates experiment, I wouldn't expect a transcendent experience.

Overall, I'm glad I tried it and would recommend it as a supplemental exercise for those wanting to work on core strength. I say "supplemental" because I personally feel that it's important to give attention to all parts of the body and mind in order to lengthen muscles, correct posture, create muscle memory and truly unwind. To that end, I feel like yoga always gives me just what I need, inside and out, from head-to-toe....but again, this entire blog is biased. :)