Although there are similarities between yoga and Pilates, they are really quite different. Both breath-focused exercise systems connect the mind to the body, yet each delivers these benefits among others, with contrasting methods. The richness of yoga inspired visionary Joseph Pilates to develop an exercise method based on six founding principles honing in on the powerhouse or core muscles of the body. These principles including concentration, centering, precision, breath, and control are integral to all Pilates exercises as well asbody placement and alignment of the limbs in relation to the spine. This concept of recruiting supporting and postural muscles to prepare for large gross movements has inspired rehabilitation practitioners to use Pilates exercises for strengthening and conditioning patients with pain-related issues in addition to helping women regain core and pelvic floor control following childbirth.
In yoga, Pranayama (breathing) is central to the type of yoga being practiced and the execution of a pose or movement to hold, flow, or relax. In Pilates, breathing is executed in one way-a physiological emphasis focusing on the intake of oxygen through the nose filling the rib cage. The exhale is specifically directed through the mouth (through pursed lips) which activates the pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles. Activating deep postural musculature to support the spine prior to the initiation of any movement, is an essential component of the Pilates method and consistently cued during the exercises.
Benefits of Practice
For Yogis thinking about pursuing a Pilates practice, there is much to be gained by taking this leap, and vice versa. While yoga focuses on static and dynamic poses of which many are standing requiring strength and balance, Pilates is largely executed lying on the back, abdomen or side, with emphasis on muscular balance, stability, mobility, and avoiding compensatory movements that interfere with ideal alignment. This anatomical focus is beneficial for yogis to learn how to become more efficient in movement patterns to avoid extreme ranges, maintain optimal spinal alignment, and self-gauge modifications to Asanas to suit physical limitations. For Pilates students thinking about pursuing a yoga practice, there is much is to be gained from the deep meditative focus of this method, engaging in more standing work, and versatility in a new exercise system to keep the body alive, and finding new ways to move and breath.
Both benefits of a Pilates and yoga practice were referenced in the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines when they revised their exercise standards in 2011 to include a category called “neuromotor control”. A simple definition of this term is the practice of balance, agility, coordination, and flexibility. Furthermore, the ACSM stated working on flexibility was deemed as crucial for joint health, physical function, and health status, and should be performed biweekly -or 20% of all devoted exercise minutes in a given week. This may be old news to some of us, but for others who remain curious about beginning a Pilates or yoga practice, this endorsement speaks to the many benefits one can achieve.
Om On yoga is excited to offer both Pilates and yoga to our community and invite all of our students to explore the benefits of each method. We want to hear your thoughts, your goals, and your impressions about your experience. We will continue to share insights and highlights. See you on the mat or reformer soon!
Karen is a veteran Pilates instructor and educator in movement science. She holds international certifications from Polestar Pilates, Stott Pilates, and Pilates Method Alliance, as well as a Master’s degree in Kinesiology. Her focused style of teaching emphasizes the importance of form, function, and adapting each movement to suit individual ability. Her students consistently praise her expertise, enthusiasm, and creative instruction.