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The Pilates - Yoga Connection

Seeing Yoga and Pilates as Complimentary Disciplines

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Updated June 20, 2014

Smiling woman doing yoga outdoor
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There is a tremendous amount of interest these days in hatha yoga and pilates together. Both are sophisticated systems of integrative exercise with a lot in common. The six pilates principles: centering, concentration, control, precision, breath and flow, could easily be used to describe the principles of many kinds of yoga as well.

Pilates and yoga are also quite different from each other, and it is in the differences that we find many of the complimentary aspects of the two that make them such a great team.

Strength and Stretch

In a general view, pilates focuses more on strength and hatha yoga focuses more on stretch. There are certainly exceptions to this statement as pilates does include stretching, in fact, pilates is known for creating length in the body, and doing yoga does develop strength. The difference is emphasis.

Many people are finding that the core strength and integration they develop in pilates support them well in the daily activities and crosstraining they engage in. For those who also do yoga, pilates gives them the stability that they need to control and expand their yoga poses safely. Conversely, the expansive stretching in yoga provides a wonderful balance to the typically more core oriented pilates exercises.

And let's not overlook that fact that though Pilates and yoga share some exercises, for the most part, the exercises are different. Further, while yoga uses some props, Pilates incorporates a huge body of material that is done on a large pieces of equipment.

Centering, Breath and Flow

Working with the breath is important to both Pilates and yoga. The breath is the great cleanser of the body and in both systems one is encouraged to develop conscious breathing, using a deep full breath to enhance the depth and movement of the exercise.
Learn more about breathing in Pilates

In yoga, there is a much more extensive and meditative set of disciplines associated with the breath. There are techniques of yogic breathing that are used while performing the yoga asanas (poses), as well meditative practices that are based entirely on the breath. In pilates, deep breathing, lateral breathing, and coordinating breath with movement are primary breathing practices. Breathing in pilates is recognized as rejuvenating, detoxifying and a means of enhancing awareness; as it is in yoga.

Joseph Pilates, the founder of the Pilates Method was very much concerned with the breath. He encouraged his students to use the breath as fully as possible, expanding the breath into the back and expelling the air completely to support flowing movement. In both yoga and pilates, working with the breath links the physical exertion with attention of the mind -- creating grace and flow in the movement, and providing a vehicle for centering the presence of the practitioner.

Benefits of Yoga and Pilates

The benefits of pilates and yoga are extraordinary. They are both known to support the development of long, strong, graceful bodies that move efficiently without creating bulky muscles. Both disciplines are integrative; associated with stress reduction and increased well-being. Both yoga and pilates are used as rehabilitative systems. They can be adjusted for a wide range of people and fitness levels, and both support the achievement of very high levels of body/mind/spirit fitness.

Yoga, Pilates, and Spirituality

When people think of yoga and Pilates, they sometimes think that yoga is "spiritual" and Pilates is not. Hatha Yoga does offer a long history of being associated with spiritual practice, or of being a spiritual path unto itself. Undeniably, the spiritual aspect of yoga is much more overt, and directive as a spiritual path, than what one finds in Pilates.

However, while one is unlikely to find meditation or chanting in a pilates class, Pilates is a body/mind/spirit discipline. It is clear from Joseph Pilates writing, and the principles infused in his work, that he intended his method to be a vehicle for the enhancement of body, mind, and spirit. Many Pilates practitioners do find their lives enhanced, well beyond physical fitness, through Pilates.

Yoga/Pilates Classes and Integrity

While yoga-pilates exploration and mix and match is very valid, and can enhance your fitness level, it is also important to remember that pilates and yoga are each very full, distinct, and sophisticated disciplines. Really getting to know either one of them and experiencing the full benefits of either takes time. To reap the rewards of pilates or yoga, one needs a teacher, for at least some of ones study, and one needs to practice regularly.

Yoga and Pilates combo classes are popping up everywhere. Students will want to be aware that while there are excellent pilates certification programs and yoga teacher trainings, becoming a good instructor for either yoga or pilates requires a very significant amount of time and effort. For this reason one will want to take care that ones instructor genuinely has enough training in both Pilates and Yoga to teach them together. As people continue explore the benefits of practicing pilates and yoga together, it will be up to the students and teachers to monitor and maintain the integrity of each discipline.
Read more in Understanding Pilates Fusion

Pilates vs Yoga

So which to do? The happy answer is: Do Both! Find out for yourself which discipline is right for you. It might be that devoting yourself fully to one or the other feels best, or perhaps developing stability and strength in pilates will lead you to increase your range of motion even further through yoga.

More about Pilates and Yoga

Five Exercises Pilates and Yoga Share
7 Yoga Poses for Your Pilates Practice

(c)2006, Marguerite Ogle, licensed to About.com, Inc.
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