Yoga originated in India nearly 5,000 years ago. Since that time, it has spread across the world, and that has led to hundreds of traditions. It was introduced to the Western world about 150 years ago, and popularized in the last few decades. Today there are many popular types of yoga like Vinyasa, Hatha, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Hot and Kundalini.
On the other hand, pilates was created by one man, Joseph Pilates, in the 1920s. Developed as a way to rehabilitate wounded soldiers during World War I, it quickly gained popularity with dancers. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that Pilates started to come into the mainstream. Now it’s a way to stay injury free while developing long, lean muscles.
Yoga classes can be very different, depending on the type of studio you go to. It can be anything from gentle Yin movements to powerful Vinyasa flows. Some types of yoga, like Bikram and Ashtanga, have the same poses no matter what class you’re in. Many others, like Hot yoga or Flow yoga, leave the sequences and poses up to the instructors.
Pilates classes, on the other hand, are more consistent day over day. You’ll be doing low-impact muscular movements and flexibility work on a mat with very little equipment--unless you’re in some Pilates studios with reformer machines. While there can be beginner to advanced classes, there is only one style of Pilates, unlike yoga.
Yoga is not just a physical practice--it’s a spiritual or meditative practice as well. In class you can expect to work your entire body, with poses all complemented with counter poses, so every muscle group is touched. At the same time as you’re practicing movements, you’ll also be practicing breathwork and mindfulness, which makes the goal of yoga a little different than Pilates.
Pilates is just about the body--no meditation required. It also is based on the idea that every motion comes from the core. Exercises are small, isometric movements that are repeated multiple times. The goal is simple: align the spine and strengthen the core so you have complete control over your body and movements.
In Sanskrit breathwork is translated as pranayama. It is considered the source of life, and the goal of controlling the breath is to control this life force. Yoga gets at this control in a variety of ways--some types of yoga regulate breath through an entire class while others devote a section to breathwork. Many types of yoga use ujjayi breath, where each pose is linked with a breath.
In Pilates breath is important too. Practitioners are made aware of their breath through the entire class. They are supposed to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth for the whole session.
Like we hinted at before, yoga is much more than just a physical practice. There is spirituality involved as well. Yoga poses were once simply cross-legged poses for meditation. They evolved into complex forms of movement, but the purpose is the same: meditation.
Pilates is very unlike yoga in this manner. It is focused on aligning the body, not the spirit, of participants.
Which practice speaks to you? Are you looking for a meditative, full body practice, or alignment and core strength? If you’re unsure, why not try both? It can’t hurt.
See you in class!