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Pilates vs yoga: which one’s best?

November 6th 2014 / Ayesha Muttucumaru Google+ Ayesha Muttucumaru

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We’ve comprised our ultimate guide of the different types and the benefits of each to help you decide which one to book in for

Are you team Pilates or team yoga? Contrary to popular belief, they needn’t be mutually exclusive.

“It depends on the person and their goals. I would advocate doing a little bit of both as it’s good to keep your routine varied,” says Luke Meessmann, Ten Pilates Master Trainer and Get The Gloss Expert.

Yoga Master Chris James adds, “It really does depend on the individual and their needs, and these can be very different indeed. People come into yoga and Pilates for all sorts of different reasons and from all sorts of diverse backgrounds.”

So, what are their key differences? We sought the help of Luke and Chris to help clear the confusion for good and help us devise our ultimate guide for finding your perfect match. From what each are, to their respective benefits and the different types to what you should expect from each class, here are the facts you need to know.

Pilates

1. What is Pilates?

“Pilates is based on strength and realignment of the body. It was originally conceived by Joseph Pilates as a rehabilitation tool. One of its key concepts is controlled movement,” says Luke.

What are its key benefits? “What you want to get out of a class is stability and mobility in addition to strength,” he explains. The system of movements and exercises serve to increase ease of movement as well as muscle strength and good posture.

If you suffer from stiff joints or have had back problems, Pilates could be the class for you. “It’s great for people with back and joint pain. A lot of people who come to our classes have been referred by their GP, physio or chiropractor to help bring the muscles in their bodies back into alignment,” says Luke.

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2. Why choose Pilates?

“For me, you go to yoga to work on balance and flexibility and to Pilates if you are wanting to strengthen and realign the body and work with a bit more resistance - especially where you’ve got the reformer to work with. Both have their place though, when practised correctly,” advises Luke.

3. The different types of Pilates

There is a wide range of Pilates classes out there, each taking a different approach in providing a variety of different workouts. However, they can roughly be separated into the following two categories:

a) Matt work Pilates: “this involves basic movements on the floor using small equipment such as foam rollers and Pilates rings etc., depending on the instructor,” explains Luke.

b) Equipment-based Pilates: These classes use more advanced types of fitness equipment. “Here at Ten Pilates, we use reformers in addition to more traditional equipment,” comments Luke. “Some studios also run circuit style classes too using for example, a reformer, a ladder barrel and a chair amongst other different pieces. We do this in a couple of our studios as well but we mainly focus on dynamic reformer work, developing a method that really adheres to the principles of good technique, alignment and control.”

These classes also aim to assist movement in your daily routines. “We get people to do more traditional gym moves that are more functional, such as squats and lunges after the reformer work, to wake up certain muscles and mimic the things that you would do outside of the studio enabling you to get stronger in those positions,” explains Luke.

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4. What should you look for in a Pilates class?

In order to reduce the risk of injury and learn proper form, it’s worth trying a range of different classes to see which ones provide the best level of attention for your individual needs. “What I would stress when looking for a class is that a) the class is taught by someone that has a decent qualification and b) it be somewhere where the room isn’t too crammed. If there’s 30 odd people in there, it’s physically impossible to get around to everyone - no matter how good the instructor is.”

Qualifications: So what skill set should your Pilates teacher possess?

Ten Pilates run an in-house Academy which is accredited with the Register of Exercise Professionals and Skills Active. “For other studios, people should see where the instructor got their qualifications from - probably through a traditional school which usually offers a wide range of training,” recommends Luke. “They should have gone through one of these and be at least a REPs level 3 instructor. Level 3 is for a person who is more qualified in personal training, whereas Level 2 is more for gym instructors or for those who are fresh off a course. Also look a bit deeper and see how long they have been teaching for. I only take people into the Academy who have an Exercise and Sports Science degree or are REPs level 3 with at least 2 years’ experience. They then come in for a pretty rigorous interview process.”

Class size: When it comes to Pilates, the smaller the better. “There are no more than 10 in each of our classes to allow us to get around to all of them - we’re very hands on and make sure everyone’s in the right position by adjusting each move to the individual.”

Pre-class prep: “The best thing to do would be to go for a 1 on 1 session first (for either yoga or Pilates), especially if you’re a first-timer,” recommends Luke. “This is so you can get to know the piece of equipment you’re using and the teacher in the studio. They should be able to assess your body and where your weaker points are and highlight any poses that may need modification. There is no point pushing it so far that you get injured. As you work within your limits and get used to the exercises, your body will loosen up.”

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Yoga

1. What is yoga?

“There is a lot of overlap and similarities between yoga and Pilates. Both are transformational, focused methods of movement that facilitate positive change in the body, mind and spirit,” explains Yoga Master, Chris James. “Yoga is not an ‘exercise.’ Pilates is purely an exercise, and focuses more on core stability. Yoga asanas (postures) are practised in order to create open hips and a long straighter spine. This is to make sure that the practitioner is able to sit for prolonged periods (of meditation) without being distracted by the body. Pilates physical movements are ends in themselves. Pilates having been originally created to help bedbound individuals move. Yoga also has a rich cultural, philosophical context. Pilates tends to have a much narrower, but no less effective anatomical focus.”

2. Why choose yoga?

“Both yoga and Pilates bring an understanding that the mind and body are connected. However, yoga adds an additional element to the mix - meditation,” says Chris. “Exploring meditation is a huge part of yoga practice. While Pilates focuses on creating an understanding that the mind and body are connected and how this can help in everyday life, yoga focuses on the mind/body/spirit connection.”

3. Which type of yoga is for you?

The types of yoga classes that you can go to are extremely far-ranging and reaching and address a number of different needs. Choosing the right one depends on your level of experience, physical health and your goals. Chris advises asking yourself the following three questions:

a) Are you doing yoga for fitness and to get in shape as well as to explore the mind-body connection? Then choose a more vigorous yoga style like Ashtanga yoga, or Hot yoga. All three styles combine an athletic series of poses into a vigorous, total-body workout.

b) Do you have an injury, a medical condition, or other limitations? Then start with a slower class that focuses on alignment, such as Iyengar yoga, or viniyoga.

c) Are the meditative and spiritual aspects of yoga your primary goal? Then try one of the yoga styles that include plenty of meditation, chanting, and the philosophic aspects of yoga. For example, you might try Kundalini or Sivananda yoga.

To understand all of the different yoga paths, styles and their benefits on a more advanced level, Chris suggests looking into the possibility of doing a course. “Sometimes I recommend that if you are interested in all of the different styles of yoga, then doing an official BWY (British Wheel of Yoga) Yoga Foundation Course just to start to understand this enormous subject, would be extremely beneficial. The course is 60 contact hours and is aimed at broadening your own knowledge and experience of yoga and to consider in which areas you may like to develop your own practice in the future.”

4. The types of yoga

Hatha Yoga

Difficulty level: Easy

"’Hatha yoga’ originally pertained to the physical aspects of yoga, and in this regard all ‘Western’ yoga is basically Hatha. However, the term now is often used when a few different yoga styles are combined to create a simple class that's good for beginners in learning to do basic poses,” explains Chris. Bikram yoga would also fall under this category however, the fact that it’s done in a hot room and comprises of 26 poses makes it more appropriate for the ‘moderately challenging’ group.

Viniyoga

Difficulty level: Easy

“You focus on how your breath moves through your body and affects each pose. It's not so much about doing every pose precisely,” says Chris. “The long, deep stretches of this style of yoga and its sequences are ideal for beginners and people who want to focus on flexibility, recovery from injury, body awareness, and relaxation.”

Sivananda Yoga

Difficulty level: Easy

“You do 13 poses and lie down in between the poses,” explains Chris, “Sivananda yoga is easily adaptable to people of different physical abilities.”

Kundalini Yoga

Difficulty level: Easy

“Kundalini yoga is more spiritual and philosophical in approach than other styles of yoga. Kundalini yoga classes include meditation, breathing techniques, and chanting as well as yoga postures,” says Chris.

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Iyengar Yoga

Difficulty level: Moderately challenging

“Detail-oriented and slow-paced, Iyengar yoga is good for beginners, and more intermediate practitioners. There is an intense focus on the subtleties of each posture,” says Chris.

“In an Iyengar class, poses are typically held much longer than in other schools of yoga, so that practitioners can pay close attention to the precise muscular and skeletal alignment this system demands. Also specific to Iyengar, is the use of props, including belts, chairs, blocks, and blankets, to help accommodate any special needs such as injuries or structural imbalances.”

Hot Yoga

Difficulty level: Challenging

“If you like to sweat it out – then this is the style for you, as you do a sequence of poses in a very hot room, above 100 degrees. Check with your doctor if you have a medical condition like hypertension or diabetes before starting this ‘hot’ style of yoga,” recommends Chris.

Ashtanga Yoga

Difficulty level: Challenging

“Vinyasa-style yoga combines a series of flowing postures with rhythmic breathing for an intense body-mind workout. Ashtanga yoga uses the Ujjayi breathing technique that helps to focus the mind and control the flow of breath through the body,” explains Chris.

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