What’s the Difference Between Pilates and Yoga?

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Both Pilates and yoga can be practiced on mats; however, Pilates (invented by Joseph Pilates around the 1960s) is frequently practiced on a machine called a “reformer.” A Pilates reformer consists of a sliding carriage and adjustable springs for performing slow and controlled resistance exercises. 

Pilates focuses on a strong body core, called the “Pilates Powerhouse,” and is often used therapeutically to help with physical injuries and mobility issues. Many sports professionals practice Pilates to either prevent or heal injuries as well as to stay in peak performance mode. That said, Pilates is also an underestimated yet powerful mode of achieving a fit and toned physique, as evidenced by the many Hollywood stars and famous models who swear by Pilates for staying camera-ready.

Yoga, while excellent for balance, flexibility and endurance, is primarily and at its essence a philosophical practice that uses physical poses as a means of practicing yogic concepts, such as inner stillness and staying present. Nonetheless, yoga practices cover a wide variety of techniques from gentle, meditative and restorative to intense, hot and sweaty (i.e., Bikram yoga). One might say that the Pilates focus rests more on a strong physical inner core, whereas yoga aims to create a strong spiritual inner core.

Pilates exercises are designed for, and focus on, strength, body control, muscle toning and flexibility. The primary focus is on core strength (i.e., strong abdominal muscles) and the benefits derived from a strong “Pilates Powerhouse,” including a healthy, flexible spine, fluid movements, balance, good posture and an overall sense of well-being. Pilates is often used therapeutically for people who have suffered injuries, in an effort to strengthen key muscles and promote flexibility and fluidity. Pilates is often practiced as a means to developing a toned, fit physique without the use of heavy weights or high impact exercises. Pilates is either practiced on a mat or on a specially designed machine called a “reformer,” which uses a system of springs for resistance. Either form of Pilates can range in difficulty level, from therapeutic to an intensely challenging, body-shaping workout. Proper breathing techniques are also part of the Pilates method.

The primary focus of yoga is living with presence and awareness through physical poses that happen to enhance flexibility and balance. Many people find yoga incredibly restorative, calming and centering, and an excellent mode of stress relief. Yoga practices can range from quiet and restorative to intense and sweaty. Spirituality is often, but not always, a component of yoga classes.

Which One Should You Try?
Either Pilates or yoga will do a body good!

Consider your goal: Are you looking for more strength, muscle or tone, combined with stretch and flexibility? Pilates might be your best choice. Are you looking for flexibility, balance, stretch and/or physical restoration, combined with a calming or spiritual component? Yoga is the place to start.

Consider accessibility: Where can you find a Pilates or yoga class near you? Of course, yoga studios are now nearly everywhere you look, including your local gym. Pilates studios are cropping up more frequently, and Pilates classes are offered at many yoga and barre studios. The best way to find what works for you is simply to experiment with as many different classes, teachers and studios you can find. Although the physical techniques and moves may be the same or similar, Pilates and yoga teachers’ methods and personalities, as well as a studio’s environment, can cause your experience and opinion to differ enormously. Either way, engage your teacher’s attention to help you do the poses properly.

Consider cost: Private Pilates sessions can be costly because Pilates teachers are highly skilled in body mechanics, and most Pilates studios use costly, but highly effective reformers and other equipment. However, it can be quite affordable to do group Pilates classes offered in a gym or yoga/barre studio. First-time classes are sometimes free. Because yoga does not require the equipment involved in reformer Pilates, and because yoga classes are more available and can accommodate more students, you may find yoga classes much more affordable.
Making either Pilates, yoga or both practices a part of your exercise routine is sure to offer physical health and therapeutic benefits such as improved flexibility, balance and mobility; the mental and emotional benefits, including an enhanced sense of well being and confidence, are equally as important. Finally, either Pilates or yoga are excellent complements to any form of cardiovascular-focused physical exercise.

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