When people discuss the physical benefits of exercise, they tend to focus on the three S’s: Strength, Stamina and |Slimming. With this in mind, their training program usually consists of weight-lifting to build muscle with some form of aerobic activity to build cardiovascular endurance and burn calories. However, lately there is a second tier of benefits we’re beginning to value. These benefits include flexibility, coordination, balance, posture, and stress relief.
It is not that these secondary benefits weren’t always important it’s just that they’re more in the forefront these days due to the growing popularity of so-called “softer” training modalities. Two of the most popular of these types of exercise are Yoga and Pilates.
What’s the difference?
Yoga, of course, has been popular in North America for many decades. Pilates, however, is a newer trend whose benefits are expressed by many celebrities. Many people would like to try one of these gentler forms of exercise but are confused as to which would better meet their needs. The correct choice for you depends on your goals. Simply put, the difference between Yoga and Pilates reflects the difference between Eastern and Western cultures. Both systems build strength and flexibility; the difference between them is not only physical, but also philosophical.
Let’s talk Yoga first. Yoga is based on the Eastern idea of moving energy through your body. The more freely the energy flows, the more energetic and centered you feel. Physical tension hinders this flow and may result in areas becoming tight, more rigid, and even painful. The physical goal of Yoga is to keep the body supple and strong through controlled strengthening and stretching. In addition, there is also a far more powerful dimension to Yoga that is often overlooked. Yoga began as a spiritual discipline with its roots in Eastern forms of meditation. The physical postures condition the body however, combined with proper breathing, are aimed at calming the mind. Yoga participants learn to stay calm and control their breathing while holding challenging physical postures. When these principles of Yoga are incorporated into your lifestyle, they lead to an overall awareness of your body and a tool to achieve inner and outer balance and peace of mind.
Pilates, on the other hand, is physical conditioning first and foremost — and there’s nothing quite like it. Its creator, Joseph Pilates, created this type of exercise as a way to rehabilitate injured soldiers after World War I. Pilates can be done on specific Pilates exercise equipment or as a series of mat exercises.
Pilates’ uniqueness lies in the fact that all movements originate from the commonly overlooked core muscles that lie deep in the abdomen and surround the spine. A beginner Pilates class often focuses on isolating these muscles in order to engage them effectively.
Pilates is a highly effective way to improve body awareness and posture and promote graceful, fluid motion. Machine-based Pilates actually has more in common with weight training than with Yoga as it involves moving against resistance, provided by springs. However, Pilates focuses on strengthening without the constant shortening of muscles that occurs with most weight-lifting sessions. This results in the development of long, lean muscles without added bulk.
Make the right choice for you
Generally speaking, although both Yoga and Pilates provides many benefits, Yoga’s focus is about how it makes you feel, with the added benefit of stretching and strengthening muscles. Pilates’ main goal is to tone muscles effectively, affecting the way you look, carry yourself, your posture, and how you move. If you are looking for a limbering, rejuvenating, workout that will provide as much of a lift for your brain as your body, I’d recommend Yoga. If you’re interested in a more dynamic system of muscle conditioning, and want to improve your core strength, Pilates may be the answer.
In fact, it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. After all, no single training system can give your body all the types of conditioning it requires. That is why experts suggest a variety of activities, from Pilates to running, biking, Yoga and more. My best recommendation is to try everything. Experience it all — and see what works best for you. Personally, I prefer a mixture of both Yoga and Pilates for my clients. East or West, the important thing is to explore and try out new things!
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