Following on from my last post about how Pilates IS Yoga, I continue in trying to bridge the gap between the divides. For some reason there seems to be the notion that you have to pick one or the other, like they are bitter rivals in a cup final of who reigns supreme in the wellness industry.
Admittedly I somewhat fell for this. I used to practice only Pilates and Yin Yoga, whilst using Yogic practices in my regular daily life. Now I do both. In fact, I’m going to shock you here; I now do more Yoga than Pilates!
So I will explore why if you do Yoga, you should do Pilates too, and vice versa.
Why Yogis need Pilates
- Core Strength- Pilates’ focus is on what is called ‘The Powerhouse’. I dislike the word, but for ease of understanding, the Pilates Powerhouse is ‘core’ strength. Throughout I will call this area the centre. The way Pilates is taught means that every exercise works from the centre outwards, giving strength and more importantly, stability from that strength. Coming to Yoga after Pilates I could see how every Asana (meaning posture, but used here to mean pose) utilises the strength in the centre- because everything we do in life actually does! There are many great Yoga teachers who teach with an awareness from the centre, but this is usually in slower forms of Yoga. More dynamic practices like the hugely popular Vinyasa don’t give much time for cuing and developing this awareness. With Pilates you develop this awareness and strength to apply to all that you do, including all Yoga.
- Reduced risk of injury- In a 2008 survey it was found that 62% of Ashtanga practitioners had suffered at least one injury lasting longer than a month (2012 Broad: 134). A 2009 survey which appeared in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy found the majority of injuries were to the lower back. Awareness and strength in the centre would help to prevent these from occurring. A lot of Yoga promotes hyper-mobility- a term for the movement of joints outside of their normal range of motion- or more accurately, the Western mentality and ego promotes hyper-mobility. I’ve been there, trying to get deep into a pose and this is why I originally stopped Yoga- because this caused me injuries. It was only after years of Pilates that I arrived back to Yoga without injuring myself (quite as much). How? Pilates utilises the smaller stabilising muscles. These help to keep functional alignment which reduces the risk of injury. My awareness of alignment was greatly increased in Pilates, which transferred to my everyday life so became habitual. This meant even in a faster paced Yoga class my body naturally went into a safer position. The increased awareness from Pilates also helped me understand what my body should and shouldn’t do. Yes this can be gained in Yoga, but it depends hugely on the speed of the practice and the teacher at the front of the class.
- Pelvic alignment- Pilates exercises focus on pelvic alignment. Nearly every exercise utilises a ‘neutral pelvis’ and so strengthens the muscles from this position- giving important muscle memory. This is important for the efficiency and safety of the body as it maintains the natural curvature of the spine, helps breathing, reduces stress on the tissues of the body and a whole host of other benefits. Taking this understanding and muscle memory into a Yoga class will totally change your practice. Again, there are many great teachers cuing pelvic alignment, but there are many more who are not. And again, in more dynamic classes there is little time to focus on this area.
- Wonky Knees- Yoga poses can put a lot of strain on our knees. There are a lot of different ‘lunge’ positions just for starters. Yet it doesn’t do much for providing lateral stability (preventing the knee going to the side and risking injury). Pilates has a large number of exercises which work the side muscles of the leg which help give the knee stability.
- Back Strength- There are only a handful of poses in Yoga which strengthen the muscles along the length of the spine. It is great for mobility of the spine, but we now know that stability is just as important. Pilates has a number of exercises to strengthen the back line of the body. This may mean your backbend isn’t looking as good for Instagram, but it does mean it’ll be strong and stable.
- Control- This is one of the principles of Pilates- ‘One of the major results of Contrology [What Joseph Pilates called what we now refer to as Pilates] is gaining mastery of your mind over the compete control of your body’ (Pilates, 1945: 27). Bringing this control into Yoga movements helps to not only make it safer, but a lot more mindful…which is what Yoga is about!
Why Pilatis (not a word…but it is now) need Yoga
- Back extension- Pilates does have back bending exercises, but my spinal mobility increased far more with a Yoga practice. Back extension is a hugely important movement as we spend most of our days hunched forward. There are also a huge amount of flexion (curling the spine forwards) exercises in Pilates- in order to strengthen the centre- so having more movement in the opposite direction is great to give the body balance.
- Flow- One of the Pilates principles is ‘Flow’. Yoga really promotes mindfulness in movement which I find helps me flow in Pilates. This flow is also assisted by Yoga flows such as Vinyasa. My body since adding a Yoga practice feels a lot more fluid and graceful; exactly what Joseph meant by the term flow.
- Breathing- The ‘Breath’ is another principle of Pilates, but Pilates only promotes one type. Yoga has Pranayama which means breath control. This helped me deepen my breath in day-to-day life which provides such a huge amount of benefits to the body. Additionally Pranayama and the deepened breath in everyday life helps the mind, which leads to another big reason to do Yoga.
- Mindfulness- A bit of a buzz word, but as you probably know already, Yoga promotes mindfulness. I also found this with my Pilates practice, but it was more from other work I had done on myself than the classes I attended. Mindfulness helps you in everyday life to be more balanced and focus, but it also helps your Pilates practice by being more present in your movements. This gives you greater control in what you do.
- Relaxation- Yoga helps you to relax. There is the mental relaxation, but there’s also the physical relaxation in Savasana, Yin and various other forms of Yoga. This will help you relax the muscles you don’t need to use in Pilates exercises, giving you far greater efficiency in your movement.
- Fun- A controversial one here. Now there are fun Pilates instructors, and there a serious Yoga teachers. But I found Yoga more fun. Pilates is often so focused on what you should be doing and where body parts should be etc. that we can forget to have fun with it. I have definitely been guilty of this, but not any more! The playfulness that is found in a lot of Yoga can be brought to Pilates. And if your Pilates teacher doesn’t do it, you can bring it into class yourself!
Of course this isn’t an exhaustive list. And I will also revert back to something I always say; a lot depends on the person teaching. You can get Yogic Pilates instructors and you can get very alignment based Yoga teachers. But hopefully you can now see how both can be a great benefit to one another.