Yoga versus Pilates: Which is for you?

How do you like to exercise?

Maybe you being on a treadmill is tantamount to a hamster on a wheel, lifting weights has "never been your thing," and it's entirely too hot to exercise outside in the scorching summer sun. But what can one do for a sculpted body and flatter abs?

It's time to stretch your perceptions of performance with two ways to work out that will not only strengthen your body, but also engage your mind.

The fitness landscape is changing, and the change is toward a mind-body approach to exercise that keeps you interested longer. By emphasising the mind-body connection, you can relax and relieve stress while increasing your flexibility, strength and balance.

The two most popular forms of these types of exercise are yoga and Pilates. Yoga and Pilates both promote "mindful movement." While running or walking requires your movements to become automatic, often “zoning out,” you have to keep your mind totally focused on what your body is doing when you practice yoga or Pilates.

But which is which, and what is right for you?

Age before beauty

Yoga is a holistic, philosophical approach to fitness. Research suggests it was created in India as many as 5,000 years ago and was brought to the Western World more than 100 years ago. Yoga emphasizes balance in all areas - equally strengthening all muscle groups, creating mental and physical balance, and encouraging moderation in everything.

The basic premise of yoga is that it uses movement, breathing, posture, relaxation and meditation to create a harmonious body, mind and spirit. Yoga exercises are mostly static; you get into the pose, then hold it for several breath cycles while you focus on breathing, physical feelings and emotions.

According to The Yoga Journal, the poses or asanas were originally invented so yoga practitioners could hold their bodies in static positions for long periods while they were meditating.

Pilates was created in the 1920s by a German named Joseph Pilates. It was used to rehabilitate injured soldiers in World War I. He introduced his technique to the dance world when he immigrated to the United States. Pilates strives to develop a graceful, fluid rhythm while performing the repetitions or transitioning from one exercise to another. Pilates quickly became a favourite of dancers.

Unlike the static nature of yoga, Pilates exercises are constantly moving. Performing five to 10 repetitions of an exercise and then moving on to the next. Pilates focuses on the powerhouse (the core or trunk) and building strength there first. Pilates is about moving in ways that help strengthen the powerhouse and all its stabilising muscles.

Joseph Pilates said his technique “develops not only the muscles of the body, suppleness of the limbs and functioning of the vital organs and endocrine glands, it also clarifies the mind and develops the will." Some of his other memorable quotes were: "The mind shapes the body" and "where the mind goes, the body will follow."

You say potato, I say Pilates…

Yoga and Pilates have their differences, but also many striking similarities. Both can result in long, lean muscles, combined with truly functional fitness. Yoga centres on poses, while Pilates uses movements. Yoga emphasises flexibility over strength and Pilates emphasises toning over flexibility - both styles will enhance all of these areas.

With either exercise should come greater flexibility, overall muscle toning, stronger core muscles, improved balance and stability, and an increased ability to handle stress. One of the biggest differences between Pilates and yoga is the balance of yoga and the targeting aspect of Pilates. Pilates is composed of regimented exercises done with controlled breathing and performed on an apparatus or a mat to target certain areas of the body.

“Pilates is done in sets and reps, and yoga is not,” says Leigh Crews, a Georgia-based yoga instructor and former Reebok program developer in Yoga and Pilates.

Choose wisely

Try yoga if you want a more relaxed free-flow exercise that is about balance and not only exercising, but enriching life. Yoga helps you manage stress and gain strength, cardio and flexibility in one shot. It is also great for stretching hamstrings if you’re a runner, or if you are someone who has had his first heart attack or has high blood pressure or diabetes, then yoga may work best for you.

Try Pilates if you are a dancer or athlete who wants to elevate his or her game, if you want flat abs or if you’ve been injured. If yoga is the father of exercise, then Pilates is the young, sporty child with a big-league future.

If you have the time, try them both and choose for yourself. There’s even a new hybrid called Yogilates if you just can’t decide!

Make sure you take a class with a qualified instructor before attempting yoga or Pilates at home. This is important to ensure that you are performing the moves correctly, therefore gaining maximum benefit and minimising the risk of injury.

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