• Nicole O'Donnell

The Difference Between Yoga & Pilates

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

They're both amazing practices but often get confused with one another.

'So... Pilates is pretty much yoga right?' a comment I get often and of course many people aren't to know better so I'm here today to differentiate the two so you know when/if each practice is best for you.

I'm a lover of both Pilates & Yoga and believe they can both have their place in the wonderful world of health & wellness, however, they differ quite a bit!

Pilates is often associated with injury, back pain or old age and therefore many of its other numerous benefits go unnoticed. For me however the biggest challenge is explaining how Pilates is so very different from Yoga, so here goes my attempt at separating the two.

Yoga Explained

Yoga was created in India with the purpose of connecting the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness through physical activity. In short, it aims to not only improve your physical health, but your emotional and spiritual health as well. Through repetitive movement, the act of yoga can be very therapeutic. In addition to being therapeutic, these movements focus on building flexibility and strength. Many types of yoga involve meditation at some point during the exercise. The meditative portion of yoga tends to attract people who are seeking to unwind from stressful situations.

There are many different types of yoga, with different focuses and benefits.

Pilates Explained

Pilates is unique in that, unlike yoga and other activities, its origin is relatively recent. Pilates was created in 1920 by Joseph Pilates for physical rehabilitation. The idea behind Pilates is to gain flexibility, strength and body awareness without building bulk. It is considered a resistance exercise, even though, as a beginner, you may experience an increased heart rate. Another distinct difference is that Pilates has a full mat routine, in addition to exercises that can only be performed on specific Pilates machines, such as the reformer, chair and the cadillac.

The main goal of Pilates is to strengthen the stomach, improve posture, stabilise and elongate the spine and develop balance and overall strength. There are six key principles of Pilates: concentration, control, centering, breathing, flow and precision. When these key principles are used in conjunction with the mindset that you are creating a leaner, better you from your core muscles out, Pilates can provide that long, toned body you desire.

The Mind-Body Connection

Both Yoga and Pilates talk about this connection however, yet again, for different reasons. In Yoga the poses themselves are a way of almost challenging the mind to not affect the body. The emphasis is on turning the mind inwards and not allowing the voice in your head to affect you. For example, during a difficult pose you would work hard to quieten the mind and instead listen to the breath. This technique can then be used in stressful situations outside of the yoga studio.

In Pilates we use the mind-body connection to help assist exercises. In Pilates you are being asked to really concentrate on what you are doing and be mindful of what feedback you are getting from your body. We are almost doing the opposite to Yoga. We want the mind to affect the workout as visualising a muscle engaging genuinely helps it to engage. Both Yoga and Pilates understand that the mind can affect the body, it is just how we use that connection that differs.

The Breath

Both practices make use of the breath throughout their workouts. In Yoga the breath is used as a way of centering yourself, of bringing the attention away from the chattering of the mind. It’s used as a form of meditation during your practice and thought to affect your emotional state.

In Pilates we use the breath as a way to assist the exercise. For example, when we do an abdominal curl (sit-up) we exhale as we lift the head and shoulders so that there is less air in the lungs. This means it is easier to flex the spine as when we inhale our spines extend rather than flex. The Pilates breath is also used to assist in core engagement as the diaphragm and abdominals work together to stabilise the spine. Again, this difference in use of the breath highlights the main differences in Pilates and Yoga. One is focussed heavily on the mental state, whilst the other focusses on the body.

In Summary

Overall, the biggest difference between Pilates and yoga is the ultimate goal. Yoga provides a meditative environment for you to improve your overall quality of life. It focuses on stress relief while improving your body.

Pilates works from the center of your body outward. It forces you to increases your body awareness and work from your core, resulting in a stronger body. Yoga and Pilates each have their merits.

Even as a Pilates instructor I practice Yoga. For me, even though there are very clear differences between Yoga and Pilates, I get something from them both. Pilates for me allows me the time and energy to focus on how my body feels. Does my back feel sore? Are my hip flexors tight? Do I have an imbalance in my shoulders? This understanding, and then intellectual training of my body with Pilates, helps me to be the strongest and most functional I can be.

So, Yoga for me is my mental health exercise. I walk out of my yoga classes feeling as if I am on cloud 9. Yoga has quietened my chattering mind which has been great for my mental health which is JUST as important as your physical/muscular health.

Try them both and see what works for you. Or do what I do and do … both. Neither one is winner, they are both absolute gifts for the body.

Nicole x

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