Yoga vs. Pilates, Who Wins?

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Gena asks:

Can you tell me the key differences and similarities between yoga and pilates? I’ve taken both classes and they actually seem a lot alike. I’m entertaining the thought of becoming certified to teach one or the other. Can you recommend any quality training programs for a beginning instructor?

The difference between yoga and pilates, and these are just stereotypes and so take them with a grain of salt, but yoga is typically thought of as a more mind/body oriented practice, whereas pilates is much more fitness-based, physiologically, anatomically based practice.

Now that said, there are some pilates teachers who are very much teaching what I would consider a yoga class. So again, take that with a grain of salt, but the way pilates started is pilates was a big, crazy contraption machine that you do all kinds of very, very much therapeutic strength, balance, fitness-oriented exercises on. So in that way, it had a lot more similarities with gym workouts than it did with yoga class.

Now, over the years, mat pilates and stott pilates or reformer pilates has really become popular, and those classes start to look a lot like yoga classes. What I’m guessing you’ve taken, Gena, is a pilates mat class, where there’s no big machine, no gizmos. You’re just on your mat doing core work, and you’re right, that’s very similar to a yoga practice.

So the similarities and differences, well a traditional pilates, one-on-one session on a machine is not going to look or feel anything like a yoga class, but they’re very much both working towards bringing your body back to balance, rebalancing muscle imbalances, integrating breath and body, so they’re really very, very complimentary and it depends on what you like.

Pilates teachers, just to be quite honest, have a lot more anatomy training, a lot more physiology training. They’re a lot more educated in terms of the body than most of us yoga teachers. Their trainings tend to be more rigorous and more in detail, and a lot of pilates teachers tend to be chiros and physios and they have kind of a professional background. Now that’s changed in recent years, but in the past, pilates teachers really, really were undergoing pretty stringent trainings.

In terms of pilates trainings, it really depends on what you want to teach. Like I said, traditional pilates machines, they would go through the original pilates organization, reformer, there’s stott pilates, there’s absolute pilates and then mat pilates. There’s all kinds of different training programs.

I don’t know much about pilates. I’ve never personally connected with it. I’ve done a number of pilates sessions of all the different forms, mat pilates, reformer and then traditional pilates, and I liked it but I just never got hooked on it. I never got the buzz from it. So I’m not the best person to ask about it, but there’s certainly a lot out there.

In terms of yoga, there’s lots and lots of yoga trainings. It really depends, again, what style of yoga you want to teach. We have a bunch of training programs, which of course I think very highly of. You can check out our courses at AbsoluteYogaSamui.com. You can see our courses. But again, it really comes back to what style do you want to teach, what organization do you want to be associated with, and from there you can start to make some decisions. So that was kind of ambiguous, but I hope that was helpful.

Mark asks:

I was a gymnast many years ago. I was able to do forward and side splits. However, somewhere along the line I noticed every time I tried to do side splits, my left side hamstring between my knee and crotch is much more tight than my right side. Any suggestions on why this may be and how I should practice?

Mark, everybody has the same thing. We all have one side that’s tighter than the other and one side that’s stronger than the other. The tighter side tends to be the stronger side, but that’s not necessarily the case. In very deep poses, like a side splits, front splits, full pigeon poses, these kinds of things, you’ll notice your imbalances very, very acutely.

The only thing you can do is really work towards balance. I always say if you’re doing splits and you’re noticing that left side is tighter than the other, try to spend some more time working on that left side, and I usually recommend never to just stretch one side, but to stretch the weaker side 50 percent longer than the looser side.

There’s nothing you can do. Unfortunately, we’re creatures of habit. We usually have right-hand dominance, right-leg dominance, right-eye dominance and it leads to imbalances. And so, a lot of what we’re doing in yoga is really moving back towards balance, but we never quite get there. I hope that’s not depressing. I hope that’s helpful.

Kathryn asks:

Three weeks ago, I watched a pilates video on YouTube with a strong fitness trainer training male athletes. It resulted in my straining my mid-back muscles doing core crisscross crunches. I put more vitamin B6 and B12 in my diet with fresh fruits, veggies, with some lean meats for healing. How much time do you think it will take before I can do my regular yoga routine that I’ve developed over the years, and do at home? I’m struggling with the 2 or 3 sun salutations that used to be so easy.

Okay, again, pilates traditionally was taught on a very complex machine, one-on-one. It’s changed over the years, and people are teaching all kinds of things and they’re calling it pilates. Stuff you’ll find on YouTube, people do ab cruncher X, 90-minute power ab, all these crazy ab routines. There’s some real benefit to those. With pretty much every ab routine that’s not proper pilates, I find them to be really, really risky, in terms of hurting your back. Mostly, you just end up wagging your back around, wagging your neck around, and injuries are really, really common, even from crunches.

Crisscross crunches, totally common to get injured, just because it’s repetitive stress, it’s an area that tends to be weak and undeveloped and also tight, and the combination of it makes it not the best core strength training practice. The people you meet with the strongest cores, they never do any crunches. They always do functional fitness exercises, things like pushups, things like side planks, things like, believe it or not, pull ups and things like this. So I’d always be careful with those hardcore core crunch routines. I’ve done them, they’re fun to do, I like to do them. They’re just not super safe.

In terms of how long will it take you to recover, I’m not sure. Be careful, though. Take it easy, take your time. You don’t want to mess around with your back. Mid and upper back is usually a place that heals pretty quickly and doesn’t tend to get damaged as badly, but whatever you’re doing, take it easy, make sure you’re feeling okay before you get back to it.

Stephen asks:

My question is about the balance between static and dynamic postures. Static poses are good for stretches but don’t help in cleansing the body. I tend to do a dynamic warm up and then intersperse dynamic movements between postures. What do you feel is a good balance?

For everybody listening, if we look at yoga poses, we could break them down into static and dynamic poses. Static pose is you do a pose and you stick it, you hold it. This is taught in like a Bikram-style, a gravity yoga, like we teach and a yin yoga style and a lot of classic Hatha yoga styles. You take a pose and you stick it, often for one minute, 30 seconds or even like with long-hold gravity poses, 5 minutes-plus sometimes. Static poses are fantastic for training your nervous system and for developing flexibility. Now in some circumstances, like a hot yoga class, static poses are also fantastic for strength building. It’s a very, very safe way to build strength.

Dynamic postures are flowing postures, like are taught in an ashtanga vinyasa flow power yoga class, where you move much more quickly, usually holding poses for less than 30 seconds, some poses just for a breath or 2 or 3 or 4 or 5. And so this idea that static poses don’t cleanse the body, it’s not really accurate.

What happens in yoga is yoga teachers kind of overstate the benefits of yoga poses. So you’ll be in some yoga pose and the teacher will tell you that this pose increases your testosterone and the next pose cleanses your gall bladder. The body doesn’t really work like that. You can’t just take a pose and suddenly have these really complex biochemical reactions happening in your body.

In terms of cleansing, so what is cleansing? Well, cleansing is when our body removes toxins. Your body is cleansing all the time, and it’s removing natural toxins, as well as petrochemical toxins, things from our environment. And your body removes toxins three main ways: Through your skin, which is your largest detoxifying organ in the body, so through sweating. So if you’re doing static poses and you’re not sweating, fair enough, Stephen, that’s true you’re not cleansing your body as much, but you’re still breathing. So breath is the second way. And the third way are through your organs of elimination, your feces and your urine, pretty obvious.

In terms of thinking about which is better in terms of cleansing, I wouldn’t get too caught up in that. In terms of your practice itself, you just have to find what works for you. One of the reasons that hot yoga is so incredibly popular and so incredibly effective is because people start with static poses, and the beauty of static poses is that they’re not intimidating, they go slow, you feel safe, risk of injury is very, very low. And so in some ways, a static practice, when you’re doing strong, static, athletic poses as opposed to gravity poses, can be a really great place for people to start.

And then other people who are more athletically inclined, they might feel very bored or they might feel claustrophobic or stuck doing static poses and they prefer something that’s more dynamic. So just figure out what’s good for you. I find that a lot of people mix it up. So they’ll do a dynamic practice as their primary practice, their fitness-oriented, athletic practice, and then they’ll do static gravity poses to counterbalance that, and that’s kind of what we recommend, but that’s not necessarily the best for you. Just find whatever works for you, but I wouldn’t get stuck on that idea of cleansing or not cleansing.

Etienne asks:

In Noodle pose, is it normal for me to feel more like a lower back stretching than a front stretching?

In any back bend, it’s normal to feel it in your lower back. Any time you take a back bend, your hinge point is right at L4, L5, S1, the base of your spine. Your goal in every back bend, every time, any time, is to get out of your lower back, to take the pressure off of that joint and try to take more of the arc, more of the curve, more of the backbend into your middle, your upper back, into your shoulders, into your legs, whatever you’re doing.

Now in Noodle pose, that’s a passive pose, so you’re not trying to do anything. But what I would like you to do, Etienne, is adjust yourself until you feel the stretch less in your lower back and more equally distributed throughout your entire back. You can do that by using more pillows, you can stack lots and lots of pillows, or playing with the angle at which your back is resting on those pillows.

Karen asks:

Do you have any yoga moves for scoliosis? What are the best poses to combat and correct scoliosis?

Scoliosis is very complex in that in many cases, the scoliosis is created by muscles and not structurally. So in other words, in some but not all cases of scoliosis, were there to be no musculature, you could just straighten out the spine. And so in some cases, scoliosis can be the quintessential extreme example of muscular imbalance. So almost all of us who get injured, we get injured and we hurt ourselves because we have imbalances in our body. You can think of scoliosis, in many cases not all, as an extreme case of muscular imbalance.

In this way, yoga can be very helpful sometimes, for some people with scoliosis, because it can help to restore balance. Now it just depends on how serious your scoliosis is. Some people have scoliosis and they don’t even know. In those cases, those people will often find yoga makes their back feel fantastic. For people with extreme scoliosis, sometimes yoga can be aggravating and can just make things worse. That’s the truth. So there’s no one answer to this. Scoliosis can be very, very minor, to the point where you never need to see a doctor, or your scoliosis could be so serious that your doctors might be recommending surgery and things.

So whatever you’re doing, check with your doctor. Speak very, very clearly and articulately to your teacher, so you make sure they know what’s going on, they don’t push you into certain poses. And then from there, really listen to your body. But it’s very likely yoga can help. You just have to find the right practice and the right teacher, who’s going to work with you. Yoga Trapeze®