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Mind & Body

Yoga vs Pilates: what you need to know

What exactly is the difference between these two exercise disciplines? MALENA HARBERS gets the definitive lowdown to reinvigorate your workout regime

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Long, lean muscles; stress relief; improved flexibility; a strong core… The health benefits of both yoga and Pilates are numerous. With the two disciplines focusing on breath work and a slow, controlled pace, it’s no wonder they’re seemingly similar, but “at their core, they are completely unrelated,” says Rachel Brathen, an Aruba-based yoga teacher and author of Yoga Girl. Here’s our quick guide to understanding the difference between the two.

What is yoga?

Yoga is a holistic practice originating in ancient India with the purpose of uniting the body, mind and spirit using yoga poses – called asanas – linked with the breath. “It’s a lifelong practice that also occurs off the mat,” says Brathen. “Moral disciplines and personal observations help to bring about more peace in our everyday lives.”

What is Pilates?

Pilates focuses on muscle toning and body control, with an emphasis on your core and alignment. “Joseph Pilates, a German anatomist, created this system of exercise in the early 20th century to strengthen, stretch and create balance in the body,” says Amy Nelms, founder of Flatiron Pilates in New York City. “The biggest difference between the two is that Pilates uses specially designed apparatus to challenge the body and provide support when needed.” The reformer machine – which is fitted with straps, springs and a sliding carriage – is perhaps the most well-known.

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Which discipline will get you fitter, faster?

Both yoga and Pilates target muscles that you don’t normally work in other forms of exercise – even a veteran marathon runner will feel the burn after a Pilates or yoga class. As with any exercise, you’ll see faster progress the more you practice. How you work out is just as important, though: Pilates banks on very specific, targeted exercises, using the correct posture to get results. “Alignment is so critical to Pilates that nothing beats a one-on-one session with an experienced instructor and a great set of eyes to help guide you through the movements,” says Nelms. For those practicing at home, try an online class or a two-way video call with your instructor so you can receive guidance in real time. As for yoga, “there is something very healing about practicing in a group, with everyone aligning their breath and movements as one,” says Brathen. For this reason, yoga makes a great at-home workout with your partner or roommate.

Which one offers the most headspace?

The focus and concentration needed to hold many of yoga’s basic poses keeps you connected to the moment, as does the discipline’s emphasis on meditation. “Setting an intention at the beginning of each practice, connecting with people on the same path within the community and aligning the body with the breath can be very cathartic,” says Brathen. Don’t expect any ‘omming’ in a Pilates class: “Traditionally, it’s not a spiritual practice, but it does still have a certain meditative aspect,” says Nelms. “It’s necessary to focus on your breath, concentrate and be completely in the moment to have total body awareness and get the most out of the session.”

Hatha, ashtanga, reformer – which one’s for you?

There are many different forms of yoga. Most are based on the same traditional yoga poses and range from calming to physically demanding. “If you want to wind down and de-stress, a restorative practice is great,” says Brathen. “If you’re looking to sweat and have more of a workout, try a vinyasa class.” There are fewer variations of Pilates – classical Pilates marries mat work with a whole host of apparatus and is generally slower in pace, whereas reformer-only classes are often more dynamic. Essentially, it comes down to personal preference, so consider your fitness level, where it fits into your exercise routine and what you want to get out of the class.

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