5.07.2011

Yoga vs. Pilates: What's The Difference?

Occasionally, students will ask me, "What's the difference between yoga and pilates?"  In spite of the fact that this question has surfaced more than a few times, I never seem to have a satisfactory answer.  This is, in part, because I know almost nothing about pilates, but also because, from what I do know about it, I believe the differences to be so vast that I don't even know where to be begin to explain.

In an effort to clarify the distinctions between yoga and pilates, I have constructed a brief presentation.  Behold.

The difference between yoga and pilates, as I understand it, is the difference between this contraption-clogged body shop:
 and this honest, empty room:

Or between this intimidating chamber full of racks and straps and plastic and metal...
 and this warm, receptive space.

To summarize, the difference is in the intention, in the quiet, in the focus on the breath.  It is well-represented in the humble, simple space that need only be clean and empty to be sacred.

17 comments:

  1. Nice. So simple but so poignant. Thanks :-)

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  2. I can't believe people ask but I am often amazed in this regard. I loathe pilates but that's just because it feels like, oh I don't know, dusting small figurines. I know that sounds strange but its all those endless tiny repetitive movements. I liked my one time on the 'rack' though, that was amusing.

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  3. 'that need only be clean and empty to be sacred.' Oh I like that.

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  4. There are people who have tried yoga but much prefer pilates classes at my studio. I much prefer yoga because it allows energy to flow from head to feet, finger tips to toes, but I've heard that some people are obsessed with their abs. Pilates movements give them instant gratification after each class (all muscle burns occur in the abs area). Yoga deals with too many body parts at once and requires multiple skills - balance, coordination, muscle strength in too many body parts, and of course flexibility. Too complicated!

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  5. Interesting. So what do you think about the difference between Yoga and Asana practice ?

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  6. Ooooh, and Nataraja throws a curveball!

    Well, Nataraja, I'd have to say that asana falls within the umbrella of yoga, whereas pilates, as a system, falls well outside of that umbrella (again, I've never done pilates, so correct me if I'm wrong. I'm just horrified by all the "stuff" required.)

    Asana, being one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga, is a valuable tool for we yogis still in the early stages of the evolution of our consciousness. While some may be beyond the need to use the body as a training ground for the mind, I and many of the yogis I encounter are not. So the difference, I suppose, between yoga and asana is that asana recruits the sensations of the body in order to stimulate the practice of yoga, which may or may not require asana to occur.

    How's that?

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  7. Before I discovered yoga, I used to go to Pilates twice a week. Most of my Pilates classes happened on the mat, the room setting was just like yoga. Pilates is all about core work. You spend lots of time on your tummy or back during Pilates whereas in yoga, the focus is from head to toes. Nowadays, Pilates teachers integrate some yoga poses to the their classes just to mix it up and Yoga teachers added some Pilates poses to their classes as well. I found that every time my yoga teacher added some hard core exercise into our practice, the students screamed and dropped like falling leaves on the mat. For example, this Pilates move: lie on your back, fingers crossed behind and support your neck, lift shoulders off the floor, raise both legs up 90 degree, and start lowering them 30 degree at a time until they hover at the floor, then start raising them up 30 degree at the time, repeat 10 times. Try it out, let me know if you like it :)

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  8. Hi Linh - That's a very good point. Yoga asana classes have definitely drawn from pilates, and I imagine vice versa has happened as well. In fact, I admit to using some pilates-inspired core work in my own classes from time to time (including the exercise you mention!) because they are indeed very targeted and effective.

    PS: I like the image of yoga students screaming and dropping "like falling leaves" to the mat. Very vivid.

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  9. At a workshop I was at a couple of years ago, Tim Miller used the less elegant expression "dropping like flies": He was describing our reactions to his very slow count in navasana during led primary :-)

    I did Pilates for a year (mat work only) before I switched to yoga. Personally (and I stress "personally") I felt that the core work in Pilates was very useful in improving my running form (I ran at the time) and my posture in general. However, I also detected certain imbalances. For instance, it seems to me that most of the movements consisted of crunch-like exercises, which were good for developing many core muscles, but eventually resulted in muscular imbalance. Which made me look around for other fitness modalities (which eventually led me to yoga). I've spoken with some Pilates advocates about this perceived imbalance, and they claim that it's because I only do matwork, and never do the reformer machines. But reformer sessions were so expensive, and I was in grad school at the time, and didn't feel I could afford them. I don't know; maybe they are cheaper now. And maybe if I had just done those reformers, I would still be doing Pilates today (and probably not doing Ashtanga). Life is very strange, isn't it?

    My apologies for this unsolicited rant.

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  10. Ha, thanks Nobel. Feel free to rant here at any time. Too much core, particularly crunch-like core work tends to strain my back. I feel my poor lumbar twitching and screaming.

    I'm not against pilates or anything like that, I hope that's not the way this post has come across. I AM against clutter, materialism, and unnecessary "stuff" in general. I can't get behind a fitness regimen that requires something called a "reformer," or demands a special room filled with scary looking crap.

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  11. I love Pilates. It helped me heal from yoga injuries more than once.

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  12. Thanks for weighing in, V. I had never thought of Pilates as therapeutic.

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  13. As far as therapy goes, I used to have a regular student, as woman about 60, who was generally in good shape. But she was very swayback and was having lower back pain even though she's been taking yoga consistently for a year or two. Her doctor told her to take pilates instead for the core exercises, and her back pain stopped! I guess in some cases core work IS therapeutic!

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  14. Rachel - Interesting. I can attest to the fact that a strong core is therapeutic. I suffered two bulging discs in my low back and the only thing that has kept me pain free and out of the hospital is the core strength I've developed through yoga.

    I think the therapeutic element probably depends a lot on one's practice. In yoga asana, so much of the work is dependant upon the practitioner's ability to remain actively engaged. I'm guessing that, in Pilates, the very actions themselves preclude laziness in the core, which might be why it's more effective for some.

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  15. I agree with V - I've found Pilates to be far more therpeautic for people with back problems and injuries than a lot of asana practice. These days I practice and teach a combination of the two (mat pilates only, no machines - although I have found the machines invaluable for my scoliosis).

    Like yoga there are so many different "schools" of pilates and some of the more modern ones are moving away from all this core work and working on full body breath integration.... which rings a bell!!!

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