Quite often in my line of business I get asked … what is best for my body? To tone up? To become more flexible? To do Yoga or Pilates? I also get asked which of the two I prefer to practice and to teach.
There is no right answer and I love both for different reasons and for the way I feel after practicing them. It’s a personal choice with both disciplines, as they focus on active stretching of the muscles around the body; both can give us strength, flexibility, balance and inner body awareness. There are similarities in the exercises and yet differences.
Yoga can appear more passive but if understood and practiced mindfully it is far from passive. Asanas (poses) are meant to get our body strong – standing asanas like triangle, warrior, tree, dancer, downward dog– are by no means passive and they are all very basic and essential to build our body to perform more advanced asanas like headstand, scorpion, pigeon, peacock poses – without getting injured. The sun salutation cycle (Surya Namaskar) is meant to create a cardiovascular challenge as well as building strength. Yoga is much more effective therefore than running on a treadmill or lifting weights, since here the whole body is doing something and not just the legs and the heart.
In Yoga practices, we tend to go to extreme range of movements whilst in Pilates we tend to focus on stabilization prior to movement, or on the control of movement over one or more parts of the body. In Pilates, we move through repetitions - contracting and relaxing a muscle around a joint or multiple joints, instead of holding a contracted muscle at his maximum effort.
In both practices we move paying attention to our breath: inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth in Pilates, whilst in yoga, breathing is done in and out from the nose during asanas, focusing on the lengthening of the muscles and the letting go of the body and the mind whilst we hold in place. In both we actively stretch one set of muscles whilst we contract the opposite (agonist/antagonist).
In fig. (a) & (b) for example, we are actively contracting the gluteal muscles but we are stretching the hip flexors and quadriceps muscles.
(a) Pilates - Hip Lift: targeting abs and hip extensors
Let us look at the difference in which we hold the spine, the shoulders, the legs. Both are beneficial if they are done mindfully. For example, we can turn the head in position a) as there is no weight on the neck and we are focusing on connecting into the deeper abdominals and hip extensors. Detrimental to neck and shoulder health if we turn the head in position b, however when the shoulder blades are retracted and the weight is on the neck. Both are a great release for back problems if done articulating the spine and great for toning the gluteals; both engage muscles in the back, shoulders and hip extensors, stretching the pecs, abdominals, hip flexors and quads. Both prepare the body for semi-inverted poses like Halasana
(c) that benefit our central nervous system and our immune system as well as our heart. Incidentally, the last two asanas b&c are contra indicatory for people who have neck problems or shoulder problems, as we load these areas with our body weight.
In YogaFitLates, I have created a routine by borrowing from both disciplines what I perceived to be the fundamental exercises that make us strong and flexible and then I have fused them, as in a dance choreography, so that we move from one to another fluidly.
We go in and out of a movement as far as our body will allow us to go and the more we move and warm up the muscles the more we are able to lengthen them with our inner intelligence, challenging our limits with each breath.
The class has been designed to challenge not only the balance and stability in the tree sequence but also our strength and cardiovascular system in our triangle sequence and plank sequence. The core is targeted during our mat based boat sequence and we flow from yoga into pilates, moving some and holding some, synchronizing our breath in whichever way it feels more appropriate during a particular sequence. The class is challenging enough to get the heart rate increased and the perspiration going, therefore if one is looking to tone up as well as losing weight this class is awesome. There are no high impact movements, modifications are allowed throughout the flow, the joints are not at risk as we move listening to our body, experiencing the progress at each breath and developing through the poses. The feeling of energy seeping through our body at the end of each class is to be discovered by the practitioners and each one of us will have a different experience which is linked to their efforts and ability to perform the routine. Like any other discipline practice makes perfect but the important message here is to keep moving with the breath.
The basic and most important principle of both disciplines as you can all see is the breath, if we breathe properly we can move effectively and flowingly and fluidity can only be achieved through the easiness of movement initiated by the breath.