Curious to know the differences between Yoga and Pilates, this article is for you.
My Yoga and Pilates Journey
In 2002, I took my first yoga class in New York City. Over the next few decades, I’ve practiced Jivamukti, Mysore, and Iyengar. I dedicated at least one year to each discipline. Also, I’ve tried hot, acro, partner, and aerial yoga styles.
In 2007, I fell in love with Krishnamacharya Viniyoga. In 2008, I got into the five-year teacher training program (700+RYT hours). Over the course of a decade or two, I’ve studied anatomy, philosophy, breathing, ancient text, and other workings of the mind.
In 2008, I started teaching yoga. Currently, I have my daily practice and continue my education with my teacher, Chase Bossart.
In 2013, I taught yoga at a couple of New York City Pilates studios. At first, the Pilates equipment looked like a torture chamber. Soon, I took my first private Pilates class and fell in love with Ellie Herman Pilates studio.
In 2013, I took Pilates Mat I and II, Springboard, Cadillac, arc and barrels, and basic reformer teacher training at Ellie Herman Pilates.
Nowadays, I keep taking private and group classes with our local superstar Pilates teacher, Pamela Harrington, in Colorado.
Pilates In a Nutshell
Part scientist, part mechanical genius, and part anatomist Joseph Pilates was originally a gymnast and bodybuilder. He earned a living as a professional boxer, circus performer, and self-defense trainer at police schools in England around 1912. The British authorities interned him during World War I in an internment camp.
Later, Joseph Pilates was transferred to the Isle of Man, where he developed his concept of an integrated, comprehensive system of physical exercise. He called this system “Contrology.” Joseph studied yoga and animal movements.
After World War I, Joseph Pilates returned to Germany, collaborating with experts in dance and physical exercise.
Joseph Pilates emigrated to the United States around 1925, where he met his future wife, Clara. The couple started teaching in their newly founded studio in New York. They taught in the studio into the 1960s. Joseph and Clara Pilates soon established a devoted following in the local dance and movement. They had a loyal following in the local New York dance and performing arts community. George Balanchine and Martha Graham became Pilate’s students.
Joseph Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 83 in New York.
There are many variations from the “classical” Pilates. As our lifestyle evolves, so is the method.
Nine Principles of Pilates:
(book: Pilates Mat by Ellie Herman, Eight principles of Pilates; p10/11)
- Control of movement
- Breath: every Pilates exercise has a particular breath technique
- Flowing movement
- Precision: spatial awareness or knowing start and end.
- Centering: the position of the spine or position
- The range of motion: the movement of the joint (ex: shoulder)
- Opposition: what goes up must come down
- Ellie’s Herman ninth principle: body awareness [By Ellie Herman].
Yoga in Nutshell
There is not a single person to blame for yoga. Some scholars found evidence of early Yogic practice in the archeological artifacts from the Indus Valley civilization (2500 BCE). Textual evidence of yoga practice emerges much later. The first occurrence of the word “yoga” is in the Katha Upanishad.
The much later Maitri Upanisad describes a six-fold yoga practice: (1) breath control (pranayama), (2) withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), (3) meditation (dhyana), (4) concentration (Dharana), (5) philosophical inquiry (Tarka), (6) absorption (samadhi). Patanjali (250 CE?) used the same elements except for inquiry (Tarka) to outline the eight limbs of Patanjali Ashtanga yoga.
Additionally, Bhagavad Gita talks about three paths of yoga: (1) the path of action (karma yoga), (2) the path of devotion (bhakti yoga), and the path of knowledge (jnana yoga).
Yoga is a part of six worldviews.
Dr. Mark Singleton (Ph.D. at Cambridge’s) writes about the roots of contemporary yoga in his book: Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. He outlines the transformation from 19th century philosophical and anti-postural yoga into an almost exclusively physical movement practice during the first half of the 20th century.
Rebel Outlaw Yogis.
As a result, the yoga discipline took an entire philosophical approach rejecting the physical movement (1901).
Later, with the industrial revolution, Western influence, and Indian independence, yoga became confused with physical education and gymnastics (1928 to 1971).
Dr. Mark Singleton noted how the Western physical culture (which gained popularity in India under British colonial rule) influenced the yoga movement. It includes the Scandinavian gymnastics systems inspired by P.H. Ling (1776-1839) and European and American bodybuilding regimes led by Eugen Sandow (1867-1925) and the physical education programs of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Moreover, modern yoga was decisively shaped by Hindu nationalist aspirations for a uniquely Indian form of exercise in response to British rule.
Not to mention, modern yoga was shaped by Indian people resisting British occupation:
From the 15th century until the early decades of the 19th century, highly organized bands of militarized yogis controlled trade routes across Notheren India, becoming so powerful in the eighteenth century as to be able to challenge the economic and political hegemony of East India Company [Dr. Mark Singleton in the Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice; p.39]
Modern postural (asana) practice emerged in a relationship to physical culture and gymnastics and was packaged and sold to the West as the purest expression of Indian physical culture (1920).
(The Father Of The Modern Yoga)
T. Krishnamacharya (1888 – 1989) is often called a father of modern yoga. He trained Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois. Both of his students popularize postural yoga in the west. Krishnamacharya teaching spans nearly seven decades. He elaborated a system including a postural practice, joined by linking sequences, breathwork, chanting, and meditative practices.
My education is based on the teachings of the legendary yogi. My primary teacher Chase Bossart studies with the master himself and with his son, Mr. Desikachar.
Yoga and Pilates At a Glance
Both Pilates and Yoga are very similar when it comes to physical discipline. Also, when our mind is super focused in Pilates class, it becomes a meditative flow.
In Yoga, a teacher should never teach a group class without a plan and should be able to change it based on the student’s needs and abilities. Each class should include a “crown-pose,” counterpose (opposition) preparations, and cooldown. The breathing dictates the movement and the flow. Each class has a theme and includes a focused meditation practice.
In Pilates, each class should include nine principles of Pilates. Just like in Yoga, a good Pilates teacher knows how to teach a good sequence, including warm-up, “pick-pose,” counter-poses (opposition), and cooldown.
In both disciplines, some poses can be done statically (hold) or dynamically with a flow.
The Pilates classes are classified as beginner, lever one, to level four. A good Pilates teacher adjusts the structure, intensity, and dynamics of the flow. Yoga classes can be grouped into beginner, intermediate and advanced. In Yoga, classes are usually classified by postural challenges.
Many Yoga and Pilates classes are hyper-focused on adding as many things as possible into a class. This leaves a student exhausted and can potentially lead to injuries, which is counterintuitive, the goal of yoga. Similarly, the goal in Pilates to cultivate a healthy and strong body using the mind and the breath.
In our yoga tradition, a teacher must have a mentor. Similarly, a good Pilates teacher continues her or his education and has a teacher.
A good Yoga or Pilates teacher must have a daily personal practice, understanding of anatomy, flow sequencing, and workings of the mind.
The individual Yoga practice takes into consideration the student’s ability, space, time, and enthusiasm for practice. The key component is consistency. Private classes and home practice is the key towards achieving the goal of yoga.
Most of the Pilates studio will not let you take a group class unless you have some private sessions.
In addition to postural practice, yoga incorporates meditation and self-study. In fact, postural-only practice doesn’t qualify as yoga.
Pilates is a postural-only discipline. However, we can bring our minds to the state of attention during the Pilates session.
Both Yoga and Pilates disciplines help us understand how the mind and body are connected. Yoga adds more layers.
In yoga and Pilates, we stay connected to the breath. The breathing patterns in both Yoga and Pilates can be different. In both practices, breath controls the flow.
In yoga, mostly nasal breathing (ujjayi) is used. There are many different variations. We use breathing to achieve a special effect on the mind. For instance, longer exhalation promotes relaxation. In contrast, longer inhalation creates a more alert state of mind or “flight-or-fight” response in many cases. Also, we use holds and other more complex breathing techniques.
While in Pilates, we typically inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.
In both Yoga and Pilates, we can use the equipment.
We can do yoga and Pilates mat with just a towel. At the same time, Iyengar yoga is very heavy with props and specific equipment.
Similarly, the Pilates reformer, arch, and Cadillac can be a great aid.
In both cases, the equipment provides the support to make exercises easier or add resistance and challenge.
In my opinion, the Pilates equipment wins.
The Perfect Combo
For me, Yoga and Pilates is a perfect combo. The key is to find a good teacher and commit to the practice.
I would highly recommend doing research, take private lessons and experiment with both.
Group Yoga and Pilates classes are a fun way to connect with our fellow students and enjoy the flow. But, the real magic happens during my personal home practice.