Yoga or Pilates?

Yoga, yoga, always yoga! Just kidding. I am asked this question quite often, once memorably phrased as “Yoga and Pilates are the same, aren’t they? Except that yoga has the chanting.” And I’d agree insofar as, if you are thinking about doing one or both of them, then yes, do that. For most of us, any additional movement, strength building and improvement of posture, co-ordination and concentration is a very good thing. A regular commitment to something outside our daily work and home lives can be enormously satisfying, build discipline, boost confidence, and maybe even extend our sense of community, but there are differences. I’ve captured key features of both below.

Breathing and moving

Both disciplines ask us to bring precise attention to movement and sensation in our bodies; they use breath cues to initiate movement – for example, “inhale and raise your arm; exhale and lower it”.  In either class, you will work through a series of poses and movements which mobilise the joints and take the spine through its different planes of movement. Both can be used to build strength, in particular in our ‘core’. Both use some memorable names like “warrior”, “child’s pose” and “the clam”.

Both yoga and Pilates can improve a wide variety of health conditions, such as chronic pain and tension (especially in the back and neck) and specific injury rehabilitation, as well as general fitness. To use a real-life example, my dad avoided invasive back surgery on a bulging disc through dedicated Pilates attendance, which he has maintained for more than five years. An additional benefit is that he can now walk miles without discomfort, and does so a few times a week.

So, which will suit me?

There are differences. I spoke to my fellow SW1Fitness teacher, Babs Afolayan, to get his take on what makes Pilates unique:

  • Pilates classes are based on one comprehensive set of exercises, created by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century.
  • Through adaptation and increasing use of the Reformer machine, there are a wider variety of exercises, but you are still likely to see the key ones pop up frequently in classes.
  • The foundational features are consistent – focus on breath, movement from the centre, precision and control.
  • Pilates has two key styles – mat-based and Reformer. Mat Pilates has the core as its primary focus, using our limbs to attempt to challenge stability. With modifiable resistance and the ability to refine technique, the Reformer machine allows for additional strength building, range of motion and variety of exercises.
  • Babs takes particular pride in making his classes a thorough all-body workout, with his keen eye for technique, friendly approach and carefully selected tunes.

Yoga is harder to define, has had longer to evolve and celebrates a diverse range of perspectives. It’s impossible to summarise in just a few lines, but nevertheless…

  • It is more than chanting, and more often than not, there’s no chanting at all! It is a philosophy with roots in Indian texts that are thousands of years old. In its widest sense, yoga describes a way of conducting oneself in the world, as well as meditation, breath control exercises, cleansing practises and postures.
  • Most yoga classes focus primarily on the postures and we see a huge variation in styles – flowing ashtanga, steady Iyengar, hot, rocket, chair, restorative, pregnancy, kids’, teens’ and family yoga. I teach vinyasa yoga, which is an umbrella term for classes that match breath with movement and focus on careful and safe alignment.
  • Yoga teachers often incorporate thought provoking questions which encourage students to reflect on their inner world, to be aware of and regulate their response to stimulation – for example, do we treat ourselves with compassion? How do we rise to challenges? What physical sensations arise when we feel like we’ve nailed something? Are we able to find steady breath rhythm throughout the class? Can we cultivate an observer of our thoughts and emotions?
  • In this way, yoga can be taken “off the mat and into the world” improving how we relate to ourselves and others, and in this crazy city, give our nervous systems a break. An increasing number of studies have been released linking yoga and meditation with relief from trauma, anxiety, insomnia, and stress.

Preaching and practising

Me? I practise #yogaeverydamnday or as close thereto as I can manage it. Beyond the physical aspects, which constantly surprise me – as a person who did a handstand for the first time in their life as an adult – I use it to pause my pretty incessant listing of things to do and spend some time with my body, checking in and developing kind awareness.

At the beginning of the year, I took up Pilates for a couple of reasons. I wanted to try something from another discipline that works with the body, to gain another perspective and to experience being a beginner.  I have been working to build more strength in my core and around my joints and reduce the effect of hypermobility. Pilates has helped with both – it is truly humbling to make shapes I know very well from my yoga practise (such as plank, downward facing dog, and goddess pose) on a Reformer machine, and look down through it to the floor and think that if I don’t engage a little more, I’m going to end up entangled in it. It has also been brilliant to feel more precisely the engagement of muscles needed to control the ascent into crow pose, or prevent the descent from handstand into wheel / a laughing heap on the floor.

I took up the ukulele at the same time, but that’s a train of thought for another day…

Still unsure?

Babs and I firmly believe that these practises, taught and tailored appropriately, can benefit everyone – all ages, levels of fitness and body types, and can assist in rehabilitation. If you’ve got questions or would like to give one of them a go, drop us a line!

Ready to go?

To join me for yoga or Babs for Pilates (or both of them!), use your MindBodyOnline account or head to http://www.sw1fitness.co.uk/class-schedule/ and book in. SW1Fitness is located in Pimlico, and is convenient for all of St James’ Park, Westminster, Victoria and Pimlico stations. As well as yoga and Pilates, you might find yourself trying boxing, HIIT or personal training sessions there as well.

All the best with your physical and mental fitness practises.

Breathe, make space, be compassionate.

Susie xx


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