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Pilates vs Yoga: Which Is Right For You?

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Pilates vs Yoga: Which Is Right For You?

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Experts explain the differences between the two practices

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Pilates and yoga are often grouped together, as both are low impact, low intensity, and incorporate elements of stretching and breathing. Yet while there are clear similarities, there are also significant differences. One is a holistic practice originating from ancient India, the other a form of exercise created by a German anatomist in the early 20th century. Wondering which is more suitable for you? Here, yoga teacher Suzy Reading and pilates teacher Jess Ellmer explain how the two practices compare.

Strength

Suzy: Yoga provides a great range of strength-building poses, addressing the whole body. Some poses are held in stillness building strength and stamina, others are moved through with fluidity, taking the body through full range of motion. A balanced practice builds functional strength for the whole body which is useful in everyday life.

Jess: Pilates allows you to really break down and understand how your body moves, empowering you to build strength and stability in all areas. The great thing about pilates is that you can target personal areas of weakness with simple specific movements.

Flexibility

Suzy: Yoga offers dynamic flexibility for the whole body – in particular the neck, shoulders, spine and hips – which helps to reduce tension and stiffness.

Jess: Pilates allows you to experience the full flowing movement of your body and helps to release stress and tension. This allows your muscles to relax and in turn improve your flexibility.

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Weight Loss

Suzy: Fluid movement in vinyasa yoga – where you move in and out of poses in tandem with the breath – offers cardiovascular training and fat-burning properties. This vigorous style of practice can be effective for weight loss and boosting the mood.

Jess: If your goal is to lose weight, pilates can be a useful addition to combine with your strength and conditioning training. Lifting weights shortens your muscles and it is important to lengthen them back out, and pilates is perfect for doing just that.

Mindfulness

Suzy: Yoga is a moving meditation when the mind is anchored on the sensation of the body or the breath itself. This is a powerful way to build your mindfulness muscles and allows you to take your yoga off the mat and into everyday life.

Jess: I always bookend pilates sessions with meditative breathwork. Breathing techniques encourage mindfulness and allow us to connect to the changes happening within our bodies during workouts. This in turn will often help students to hold pilates poses for longer.

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Posture

Suzy: By incorporating a variety of movement – forward bends, back bends, twists, extensions, inversions and core work – yoga systematically releases imbalances and tension and builds the muscles that hold us in a tall upright posture without even having to think about it. Balance poses in particular fine tune our core strength and awareness of how we are holding ourselves.

Jess: For me, pilates is all about bringing attention to the natural alignment of your body. It allows you to notice where you place your body and, when needed, to make small changes each session, which leads to improved posture.

At Home Practice

Suzy: Yoga requires no equipment: all you need is your body and a little space to move. You don’t even have to have a mat – a carpet will do, or in the garden on the grass or a blanket. It doesn’t need a large investment of time or a complex sequence. A single yoga pose can cause a shift in how you feel, deeply affecting the mind by anchoring it on the here and now.

Jess: Pilates can absolutely be done at home, and most of it requires no equipment (apart from reformer pilates). There are tonnes of tutorials online – all you need is a mat and your smile. Since lockdown I have been running all my classes via Zoom with wonderful feedback of clients feeling strong, energised and supple.

Jess Ellmer is a pilates teacher running online classes and can be found at jessellmer.co.uk. Suzy Reading is a yoga teacher, psychologist and author and can be found at suzyreading.co.uk.

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