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What’s the difference between Yoga and Pilates?

Many people wonder – what is the difference between Yoga and Pilates? Here’s a simple explanation to the question.

While they are both exercise programs, they are very different programs with difference focuses, beginnings, techniques and goals. They are like comparing a scooter and a rowboat – they both are forms of transportation, but other than that the similarities end.

Yoga has been practiced in India for more than 40 centuries. It has eight limbs from which all yoga styles generate like spokes on a wheel. About 2,000 years ago, the asanas or poses were written down in the Sanskrit language; later transformed into the English names currently used. For example a prayer stretch or asana looks like a traditional Islamic type position of prayer with arms forward, buttocks on heels and head to the floor. In the United States, Hatha yoga is the most common type of yoga taught at fitness and yoga centers. It does not focus on meditation, eastern or Hindu religion or chanting. The many other types of yoga come from different yoga masters. They incorporate different poses that are Yoga – basically stretching, balance and relaxation using breathing as a western thinker would understand it. It requires strength and muscle control to hold the positions while breathing in and out through the nose.  In yoga each stretch, “asana” or “pose” is held for a count of breaths; this time increases as your ability to maintain a pose increases. Static stretching is the way a western thinker can understand yoga. Basically it is a series of movements that are held in position for a certain length of time using the breath to relax. Yoga improves posture, every day function with more strength, concentration, body awareness, and joint/muscle flexibility.

Pilates is a series of exercises developed by Joseph H. Pilates in Germany during World War I to overcome the injuries and postural concerns he himself had. He first became an accomplished boxer, gymnast and circus performer and also studying the kinesiology in each athletic activity. He began teaching prisoners of war his mat work exercises, inventing makeshift apparatus with bed springs for patients to exercise safely.  In the 1920s, he moved to New York and ballet dancers were drawn to his work for training and rehabilitation.  Apparatus, such as the reformer which he invented, now are in Pilates studios along with the nine basic principles of Pilates of training and rehabilitation. The traditional exercises  have been  changed into many different types of programs – some with a physioball, some with a mat and are a fraction of what Pilates really is – rarely using the original apparatus unless studying at a traditional Pilates studio. The most popular portions of those programs are mat or physioball (introduced as the Swiss ball in the 1960s) programs of exercises. Flexible rings or hoops and small balls are usually added to these routines to make them more challenging in later years.   Pilates workouts focus on low repetitions with a high amount of body awareness, technique, stamina, control, precision and core strength to perform.  They are very core intensive exercises, while yoga is a series of poses with holds for the entire body.  Yoga too can firm the body, but the focus is flexibility, relaxation and improved function not repetitions to increase strength or tone primarily in the core.

About Janelle Baldwin

Janelle Baldwin is a physical therapist assistant (PTA) and lead fitness trainer for Agnesian HealthCare’s on-site fitness center, called the ZONE. She is a certified weight trainer (CWT), a strength and conditioning specialist (STS) and a certified strength and conditioning instructor (CSCI). Her 15 years of professional experience ranges from home care and work hardening/conditioning with the Agnesian HealthCare Sports, Spine & Work Center for many years to her role as a certified personal trainer; teaching fitness classes for which she is trained and certified for and maintaining the on-site fitness facility.

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