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The BATTLE IS ON: YOGA vs PILATES which one’s best?

It always surprises me, when people say to me, “I’m sorry, but I practice pilates?!!”
“Really, please don’t apologise!” I say, “that’s up to you, no problem at all!”
Then they might say “Well, what can Yoga do for me then?”
I say, “I don’t know, tell me what the problem is?” (I’m not pychic, and I gave up mind reading for my own health way back).
10 minutes later, I am standing there wishing that had told this person that I was a Dentist!

In reality, 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.

The main differences are:

Yoga is not an ‘exercise.’ Pilates is purely an exercise, and focuses more on core stability.
Yoga asanas (postures) are practiced in order to create open hips and a long straighten 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 bed bound individuals move.
Yoga has a rich cultural, philosophical context. Pilates tends to have a much narrower, but no less effective anatomical focus.

In fact, many of the exercises you’ll see in a Pilates workout are inspired by yoga, and the postures in yoga are incredibly similar to the shapes and positions used in Pilates exercises. At the same time, there are exercises that are completely unique to Pilates as well as those that are specific to yoga classes alone.

– What are the different types of yoga that you can practice and what needs do they address?

I sometimes think that it must be extremely confusing for the average punter to get to grips with the plethora of different Yoga paths, styles, and brands out there today – it must be very confusing! *

Yoga ‘classes’ per se are more of a modern western adaptation of the traditional Master to Pupil, One on One route to knowledge and practice. Using the one to one model an experienced Yoga teacher can teach to type. So, an experienced teacher can draw from the his own wealth of Yogic knowledge the precise techniques, whether they be asana, pranayama, meditation, or a combination of the above and apply it to the individual. With my clients whether they are very busy professionals, iron men, international rugby players, or celebrities they all have very different agendas and goals. I only work with very experienced teachers.

However, I fully appreciate that One on One tuition can be prohibitively expensive, so the following is a crash course in the different types of yoga that you can practice and what needs they address:

To decide on the yoga style that’s right for you, ask yourself these three questions:

1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.

Ashtanga Yoga
Chillis: 3 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.

Hot Yoga
Chillis: 3 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.

Hatha Yoga
1 chilli = 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 learning to do basic poses.

Iyengar Yoga
2 chillis = moderately challenging
Detail-oriented and slow-paced, Iyengar yoga is good for beginners, and more intermediate practitioners. an intense focus on the subtleties of each posture.
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.

Kundalini Yoga
1 chilli = 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.

Sivananda Yoga
1 chilli = easy
You do 13 poses and lie down in between the poses. Sivananda yoga is easily adaptable to people of different physical abilities.

1 chilli = 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. 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.
While any style of yoga, you can improve your strength, flexibility, and balance. And all yoga styles release tension in your body, quiet your mind, and help you relax. Try attending a few different types of classes, and you’ll quickly discover the right match to suit your needs


3 chillis = challenging
2 chillis = moderately challenging
1 chilli = easy

My advice would be to try 6 different classes and teachers, and see what works for you!

– What are the benefits of yoga compared to pilates?

Both yoga and pilates bring an understanding that the mind and body are connected. However, yoga adds an additional element to the mix —meditation. 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. There have been numerous scientific studies lately to the benefits of meditation. I always bring meditation into class, and this is the point, Yoga or asanas set the correct conditions for meditation. So that the mind is undisturbed by the body.

– Why in your opinion would yoga be the better choice for people deciding between the two?

I honestly don’t think that yoga would always be a better choice for people deciding between Yoga and Pilates! It really does depend on the individual and the needs of the individual, 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.


About Chris James (2 Articles)
Chris James is a well-respected and sought after name on the international yoga and well being circuit. Chris writes a regular column in the Yoga Magazine and delivers workshops, masterclasses, and Clean Break retreats internationally. Chris is the founder of premium Health and Lifestyle brand Chris James Mind Body
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