One of the most common questions I get asked is what’s the difference between Pilates and yoga? More often than not, people tell me they’ve tried yoga but not Pilates. It’s sort of like explaining the difference between tennis and badminton, and like badminton, Pilates doesn’t get the equivalent of Wimbledon, celebrity players, and Pimms. Yoga seems to garner all the media attention, Instagram yoga stars, and expensive pants. I love both disciplines and always recommend both. But if you’ve never tried Pilates, I really encourage you to do so. So here are the answers to my most frequently asked questions:
How will Pilates benefit me?
Pilates has long been favoured by ballerinas as Joseph Pilates’ original studio was next door to the New York City Ballet. People are often surprised when I tell them that Pilates was created by a guy. It definitely has a feminine image, but that doesn’t make it an easy option. All the men I’ve taught have found it really challenging. Apparently, boxer Antony Joshua practices Pilates if that’s not enough to persuade you! It is great to help with form in all sports, and is popular with many professional athletes. Pilates helps with everyday movement, and conditions your body to cope well with everyday life. Whether that’s carrying shopping or small children, sitting at a desk all day, or preventing injury in your other activities such as running, weight lifting etc. You’ll be stronger, have better mobility and a better posture to allowing you to move more effectively.
Then there is the illustrious ‘Pilates body’: Long lean muscles, flexibility and improved posture. Whilst I’m all about substance over the superficiality of getting a ‘bikini body’, exercising for how you feel not how you look, it’s undeniable that my clients get a huge boost in confidence when they start to feel more comfortable in their own skin. When the reflection back from the mirror makes them feel great. I used to teach chair-based Pilates to an Afro-Caribbean community group, average age 85. It was hilarious trying to lead a meditation over the clatter of dominoes in the background. We’d do leg work, and amongst the huffs and puffs I’d shout ‘just think of those ballerina legs’. It always got lots of laughs, but I do love how ageless Pilates can be.
What is the difference between Pilates and Yoga?
Yoga is over 6000 years old, and Pilates was created in early 1900s. Yoga tends to emphasis static (isometric) poses, whereas Pilates uses short repetitions and dynamic movement. Yoga has more standing poses, whilst you’ll probably find you spend more time low down on the mat in Pilates. Pilates movement tends to work from the core outwards, which means its breathing techniques are different. Pilates utilizes lateral breathing – where air is directed into the sides and back of the ribcage – to keep the core engaged. Yoga uses more diaphragmatic breathing, breathing deeply into the abdomen. Both are mind-body connection centered. I incorporate yoga in my classes too, particularly in the stretch routine at the end.
Will it help me lose weight?
If your goal is weight loss, then you need to get your heart rate up and your sweat on. Pilates is not going to do this, even in the most dynamic classes. Having said that, you will still burn calories, and the stronger you become will mean your muscles are burning calories even at rest. However, this is all from a physiological perspective. I find the change in psychology from a practice like Pilates can be a much greater factor in weight loss. By attending a weekly class, clients often become more mindful, taking better care of themselves and eating more healthily.
I have back pain, do you recommend I see a chiropractor or osteopath?
This is a tricky one as I don’t want to denigrate these professions. As in any profession, there is good and bad practice. My issue is that I find clients can become quite reliant on a treatment that may not address the root cause of their problem. I saw a chiropractor years ago when I slipped the disc in my lower back. I never went away with any advice on how to improve my posture or strengthen my core to prevent injury again. Eventually I saw a Physio and got all tools I need to fix myself, which were mainly Pilates exercises.
I’m not keen on some of the language used by chiropractors and osteopaths, like ‘your hips are out of alignment’. This can sound pretty scary. When told by an expert that something serious sounding is ‘wrong’, it is easy to end up signing up to an expensive course of manual therapy to fix the problem.
However, there are many excellent chiropractors and osteopaths out there, and these kinds of treatments can be particularly useful for trauma related injury such as car accidents.
I’m not flexible, can I do Pilates?
New clients often tell me they’re just not flexible! My response is always ‘do you stretch?’ Errr nope. Flexibility is our birthright. It can be recovered with patience and persistence. You will notice an improvement after attending just a few classes.
I want a strong core, can I just do some sit-ups instead?
The problem with sit-ups is that most people recruit the wrong muscles when performing them. People commonly rely on the hip flexors and not the abdominal muscles, especially the deep core muscle, the Transverse Abdominis. The beauty of Pilates is that you will be doing leg work or glute work, but in a position that activates all your abdominal muscles too. Making if far more effective that bashing out some sit-ups.
Is Pilates once a week enough?
Honestly, not really. But once is so much better than not at all. If you can compliment your class with some additional home practice, even just 10 minutes here and there, you will get even more benefit.
What’s the best mat to buy?
It’s like that old photography question: what’s the best camera? The answer is the one you use! It doesn’t matter whether it’s your phone or a high spec DSLR. I think this is really a matter of preference. Pilates mats are much thicker than yoga mats. They cushion the body, making them a lot kinder. Many of my clients prefer them. However, I prefer the hardness of a yoga mat on wooden floor, and the feedback it gives me. Just make sure you love the colour. Like Marie Kondo’s mantra: it should ‘spark joy’. You’re more likely to roll it out if it’s something you love.
What should I wear to class?
Comfortable clothing. Leggings are a popular choice, but joggers work just as well. No shoes on the mat, just socks but preferably bare feet.