Okay let’s cut to the chase —Pilates is not another name for Yoga. As Pilates has been popularised over the last decade, many misconceptions have arisen. One of the most common is that Pilates and Yoga are the same.
“Pilates took the yoga ‘asanas’ and turned them into exercises”
Yoga can be traced back 5000 years. Joseph Pilates himself was an avid Yogi before he developed his own methodology of exercise in the 1920's. You can clearly see similarities in the poses. One could say Pilates took Yoga ‘asanas’ and turned them into exercises. The main differences between Yoga and Pilates are breathing and intent.
Let’s start with breathing. In Yoga, Pranayama is a comprehensive method that involves 3 stages: High, Middle and Low. The exhalation is passive and the ribs and diaphragm are relaxed.
High stage — focusing on keeping the upper regions of lungs and chest rigid while the shoulders rise with the breath. The breaths are chesty and hollow.
Middle stage — focusing on working the mid-back in a lateral plane using the intercostal and thoracic muscles.
Low Stage - focusing on the lower abdomen and the diaphragm. Also known as ‘abdominal breathing’ and ‘diaphragmatic breathing’.
There are no stages in breathing with Pilates. The breath is active both in inspiration and exhalation. It is controlled and measured and sets the tempo of the exercise. This requires more muscular energy and helps grow the breath to improve stamina.
Inhalation — using the upper back and thorax which opens the rib cage and stretches the lateral back muscles.
Exhalation — using the diaphragm to actively push into the rib cavity while tightening the lower abdominals; akin to the Low breathing in Pranayama.
It is important to note that most of the Yoga enthusiasts I have encountered breathe with the high stage technique which is opposite to the breathing in Pilates.
“A man is as young as his spinal column… If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”— Joseph Pilates
Along with the physical practice, Yoga is about meditation and spirituality. The intent of Pilates is to improve body conditioning. Pilates aims to correct posture, restore vitality and invigorate the mind. This in turn elevates the spirit.
Although both Pilates and Yoga work flexibility, it is important to note only in Pilates is the flexibility enabled through resistant training with apparatus. Hence the flexibility is achieved through strength training and not simply through stretch as in Yoga.
I’m a Pilates advocate (but of course), but I also know that Pilates isn’t for everyone. Having done Ashtanga Yoga in the past, I do believe the two disciplines can feed beautifully into one another. Having said this, I do have my reservations about Yoga practiced by the masses. Many people do more harm to their backs due to lack of abdominal strength for basic poses such as downward dog. The level of difficulty and strength required for these basic poses is high, and when done without abdominal strength can be dangerous for the spine.
This article isn’t about Pilates being better than Yoga, its about knowing what you want to achieve and being aware of the lasting effects of exercise on your body.
Spine degeneration is progressive due to gravity and overuse, so be mindful with your body. Make sure you are competent before attempting extensions in your Yoga practice. Work more abdominal focus into your routines to improve your overall practice.