Yoga Versus Pilates

by Ann Bartlett Patient Expert

Yoga vs. Pilates

In David's recent post on yoga someone raised the question of yoga or Pilates, which is better? My first exposure to Pilates was in 1990, when I met a guy who opened a fitness center for elite athletes in Boulder, Colorado. The center was all integrated approaches to helping the elite body stay injury free. There were boards to stand on for balance at the time known as "K boards," but no traditional weight machines or typical PT equipment. In addition to the owner, who had PhD in kinesiology and exercise physiology, there were acupuncturists, massage therapists and a chiropractor.

In the midst of the large workout room there were pulley systems attached the wall, straps for resistance work and something called a Cadillac. When I asked about the Cadillac, in walked two regular clients and also professional triathletes, Mark Allen and Scott Tinley. Putting me on the floor next to these guys felt ridiculous But the owner wanted to demonstrate his theory on injury prevention. Putting all 3 of us on our backs, he had us raise our legs perpendicular to the floor and said "lift up toward the ceiling as high as you can go", once there he had us hold it and then asked us to twist from the waist still reaching for the ceiling. With two great athletes sitting next me, the pressure was on! This was my introduction to the work of Joseph Pilates.

Joseph Pilates invented the Pilates method of physical training, which he called "Contrology". His method believes that the mind could control the muscles and he focused on the postural core of the body, namely the pelvis. Pilates believed the lower abdominal muscles, particularly traversus abdominis and the multifidi or lower back muscles and buttocks, created the "powerhouse" of the body, serve as the center of all movement, allowing the rest of the body to move freely. There are 6 principles in Pilates - concentration, control, centering, breathing, flow and precision - that train the body to move with minimal impact on the body. Through awareness of breath and spinal/pelvic alignment, Pilates focused on small movements to engage deep core muscles often overlooked in workouts that use large movements, heavier weights and machines. Ballet legends Martha Graham and George Balanchine referred injured dancers to Joseph Pilates for rehab.

Today many people are aware of the name Pilates and have gone to gyms and studios looking to explore what this exercise can do. Pilates classes come in 3 formats: Cadillac, reformer and mat classes. What's the difference? If you have never tried Pilates, we recommend starting with a mat class. Mat classes build balance through developing the core strength, low back, low abs and buttocks. Learning to control the muscles takes working them without assistance to build the memory in the muscle. The low impact nature of Pilates makes it ideal for injury prevention and rehab.

I've written about distressing with yoga. There are many forms of yoga: yoga nidra or sleeping yoga, gentle yoga, power yoga, and hot yoga. Then you can give them their formal names, Hatha, Ashtanga, Sivananda, Vinyasa, Bikram, Anusara, Iyengar to name a few! In all the years I've been practicing yoga, I have found that the style is less important then the teacher! In David's post Beginning Yoga, it was clear that the teacher speaks to him!

For people living with diabetes, whether type 1 or 2; we all seem to be prone to thickening of the connective tissue of the body, which leads to that lack of flexibility. Whatever it takes to keep our connective tissue supple and flexible is very important! But experiencing the emotion of a great class can be equally rewarding to the body because of the hormonal change! Find your happy thoughts!

In yoga, breath is a key element. For the yoga student breathing as you move through a sun salutation or postural flow allows the mind to focus on the moment and the rhythm of the breath gives way to a meditative state. Studies show that slowing down the breath and really focusing on exhaling can greatly reduce stress! Many years ago I had a teacher, Don Stapleton, who taught a class on inhalation and exhalation. He explained that the lung is the only organ that has both involuntary and voluntary reflexes; you can create more relaxation by simply pulling in more air and pushing all the air out. Try it: breathe in fully, hold for few seconds and exhale until the belly is empty, then inhale only when you feel the need for another breath. Look at the difference in the amount of air you take in and notice how your body relaxes!! This exercise helps to reboot the central nervous system, calming it down, balancing the impulses.

For myself, I find that yoga builds flexibility and strength, and Pilates helps build greater strength for core stability, as well as great stamina for long days on my feet!

Try both yoga and Pilates and see which one speaks to you!

Ann Bartlett
Meet Our Writer
Ann Bartlett

Ann wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Diabetes.