So what is better? Yoga or Pilates? That is a difficult question to answer, and it does depend on your workout goals. Keep in mind, too, that there are many different types of yoga and even different styles of Pilates, so these are general guidelines.
The goal of yoga is spiritual enlightenment. That does not mean that Pilates cannot be a spiritual practice, and it does not mean that yoga is not a workout. It does mean that at the heart of a yoga practice is a spiritual component, and that usually involves mediation or other techniques to quiet your mind. I consider my Pilates practice a moving meditation, but I don’t spend time meditating as a component of my practice. I do meditate, but it is separate from my Pilates work.
The goal of all Pilates exercises is the strengthening of the Powerhouse. This is true no matter what style of Pilates you practice. The Powerhouse is a centering concept, but it is also a physical place. It is the two inch band that runs above and below your navel. Every exercise in Pilates is trying to connect you to this part of your body and tone and strengthen this area. This does not mean that yoga does not work your core or that Pilates does not work and tone other parts of your body. It means that Pilates exercises are always focused on this area, no matter what else is working.
Pilates was made for the modern body. Joseph Pilates created his system of exercises between 1912-1967, and moved to New York City in approximately 1933. That means he knew what concrete was, and cars, and buses and chairs. His work cannot help but be influenced by the wear and tear and stress these modern conveniences place on our bodies. The development of yoga is over 5,000 years old. It was not made for a mainly sedentary population. Most people 5,000 years ago walked everywhere, much more than we do now and sat on the floor. They got more movement preparing their food than some of us get in an entire day. That is a different body than Joseph designed his work around. This does not mean that yoga has never been updated or that Pilates does not tap into ancient wisdom. It means that Pilates was created for people who live in the modern world because it is a modern invention itself.
Pilates was not made for a yoga mat. Hey, even yoga wasn’t made for a yoga mat (see the 5,000 year old practice mentioned above). But Mr. Pilates made his own mats, and they are way thicker than your average yoga mat. They usually were a raised platform with much more cushioning for your spine. They had extra boxes at the sides to place your legs wider than a yoga mat. They had straps for your feet to help keep your feet stationary as you rolled and poles to help stabilize your shoulder girdle for inversions or open your chest for extensions. If you’re doing Pilates, you should at least double your mat to cushion your spine. Pilates has more spinal articulation and rolling (see the focus on the Powerhouse listed above) so if you’re doing Pilates at a health club, please find a thicker mat or hack one yourself to protect your spine.
Pilates has equipment. I’m not talking props like bands or bolsters. I’m talking about the Reformer, Cadillac, Barrels, Chairs…. Mr. Pilates saw the mat as the foundation to his work, but without the support and aid of the equipment, it’s really hard to progress in your Pilates practice. Equipment and mat really are meant to go together (see also Mat vs. Equipment Pilates). The Reformer and the mat are the cornerstones to the Pilates work, and Mr. Pilates always intended for his students to do both. The stretch, support, and resistance work on the Pilates equipment with the springs really has no equal in any exercise format. It combines open and closed chain work, tempo variations, and deep stretches you cannot find if you only have a mat alone.
What are your thoughts? Do you teach yoga and Pilates? How do you think they compare?