I am a self-proclaimed Pilates girl, always thought that this is where my passion lay. I traveled to India to study yoga and help find some inner peace through meditation and spirituality, but did not realize that yoga would change my life. Here’s a little information on Pilates and yoga as they both originally started and I’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to make the connection between the two.
Let’s look at the benefits of Pilates first. Joseph Pilates originally called it “Contrology” and declared that it was conceived and tested with the idea of properly and scientifically exercising every muscle in your body in order to improve the circulation of the blood so that the bloodstream can and will carry more and better blood to feed every fibre and tissue of your body. He also claimed that “Contrology” was the complete coordination of body, mind and spirit. It develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit. (Excerpt from Return to Life Through Contrology – Joseph Pilates 1945)
With this in mind, 40 years later, Pilates is an ever-increasing method of fitness for various aficionados. Its uniqueness lies in activating the “core muscles” first and foremost so that the following movements have proper support and originate from the strength built from the abdomen and spine.
Common exercises are broken down and re-educated adding breath and verbal cues to help you guide your body and move with ease and understanding of what your body can achieve while not overdoing anything that doesn’t feel right. Strengthening your spine, abdomen region, and every muscle fibre in your body while moving in a way that improves your blood circulation.
Now, let’s look at yoga. Firstly, the term “yoga” as we understand it here in Northern America is not the true meaning of yoga. The asanas, also known as yoga poses, are only one limb of the 8 limbs that constitute the practice of yoga, but I will focus only on the benefits of asanas. The physical postures do condition the body but, combined with proper breathing, are aimed at calming the mind. Yoga practitioners learn to remain calm and breathe while holding challenging physical postures.
In yoga, the majority of asanas are hip openers and chest openers. We work on opening the chest to free the pathways for the diaphragm to move up and down thus allowing the brain to stay in a state of rest, i.e. the parasympathetic system. When in rest, we can breathe better, focus more and think more efficiently. The other big portion of asanas are hip openers, these are designed to help us free emotion. In yoga, the iliopsoas is considered the emotional dustbin. Opening the hips releases the corresponding centres in the brain. When my ilopsoas is released, I can open my hips more, therefore align my posture, thus improving my blood flow, followed by proper inhalation and exhalation and finally help improve my state of rest and think more efficiently. Yoga is designed to lead the person to a meditative state. When these principles of yoga are incorporated into your lifestyle, they lead to an overall awareness of your body and a tool to achieve inner and outer balance. The other 7 limbs of yoga somehow or another relate to some form of meditation or lead up to it.
How Pilates relates to yoga, both teach breath, align posture, strengthen the body from the inside out, improve blood circulation, aid digestion and help release tension. Pilates helps build the core, build strength through re-aligning bones, strengthening small muscle groups, moving with ease and flow thus enhancing optimal movement. Yoga enhances flexibility through breath, helps restore a resting state through meditation and requires you to hold postures for longer periods of time while getting stronger with isometric contractions of large muscle groups.
Working the body uniformly in Pilates helps develop even musculature which will help you achieve poses in yoga more efficiently. You need strong muscles from the inside out (small muscle groups to the larger ones) to help you gain flexibility. In example, a yoga pose requiring a backbend can be achieved my strengthening the back muscles in a way that when you practice the said spine extension, you are working towards lengthening or shortening muscles, but are relying on the strength of the muscle to bring you back into your original starting state rather than over-stretching or compressing the vertebrae.
Pilates helps yoga practitioners and yoga helps those who want to achieve a sense of inner peace and relaxation. The two go hand in hand in helping each individual get strong from the inside out, more focused, but most importantly the two help teach us to breathe and without the breath, we cannot live healthier longer lives.
Jocelyne Pelchat is a Pilates & Movement teacher at Body Harmonics in Toronto and founder of The Cornerstone Pilates in Burlington. She has a Body Harmonics Comprehensive Pilates diploma (Levels I, 2 and 3 training) as well as specializations in bio-mechanics and post-rehab exercises for shoulder, spine, hips, knees and more. Jocelyne is also a Level II ELDOA Instructor and has completed a 200hr-yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, India.
"I love to teach and believe that Pilates and movement are the gateway to feeling good, being pain-free and for ongoing optimal health."