I get asked this question ALL the time from my client and honestly I sometimes find myself not really knowing which to suggest as there is no straightforward absolutely correct answer. Both forms of exercise have many positives and from a clinical point of view I don’t think either is necessarily superior to the other.
Some would say it’s a head to head battle between strength & stretching BUT I tend to disagree. I’m certainly no yogi or a Pilates guru but I have done a little of both and I would say there is definitely a strength & flexibility component to both styles. The main difference I believe lies in what not only your body but your mind will get out of each session.
Yoga is one of the most widely practiced exercise forms in the world, it’s said to help with uniting the mind, body & spirit to restore balance and harmony within the body. I would say it’s somewhat therapeutic for many, if done correctly it facilitates awareness about alignment, posture and imbalances within the body. There are many styles of yoga with choice purely a matter of personal preference.
Pilates has more of a focus on strength and stability throughout the entire body & incorporates floor based work with reformer machine work. The poses & exercise are targeted towards the hips, pelvis and legs using your body weight to create resistance and improve strength. There is a prime focus on engaging the deep abdominal muscles to support the spine & strengthen posture.
This is an important focus for me when discussing options with my clients. Chronic back & neck pain sufferers will gain huge benefits from Pilates where the focus is on core stability. Patients suffering ongoing episodes of back pain will most than likely have weakness through their core and pelvic stabilisers. The only solution in the long term is to develop a strengthening program for them which in terms of compliance and effectiveness is best done through proper structured Pilates classes.
I think when it comes down to choosing what is better for you, the breathing and spiritual side of things will be the deal breaker. Studies have shown a link between practicing yoga and improvements in mental & emotional well-being. Me, well I can’t sit still for more than 5 minutes. Focusing & engaging my mind is so challenging that I find yoga classes harder than a 14km run. That’s a pretty good indication that a certain area of my well-being that needs work.
In yoga the breathing is all about relaxation. The breathing cycles are performed in rhythm with movements & flow patterns. You inhale with certain movements and exhale with others; the aim being to relax areas that may be holding stress within the body. There is a certain level of spiritual focus, finding your inner self & being at peace with it.
Pilates uses breathing to provide energy to working muscles. Concentrating on the breathing will help channel oxygen flow to the muscles that need it for that particular movement. Generally there is no spiritual connection in these classes, rather slow controlled movements focused on quality not quantity is the key.
Both styles have similar goals being to achieve control through balance of the mind & body. I won’t sway you with my personal preference as clearly both yoga & Pilates have exceptional merit.
If you want to escape from the stresses of everyday life, be calm & get zen go for yoga. Recovering from an injury or you have weak muscles / joints and you want something to strengthen and stabilise I would tend to say Pilates may be the choice for you.
At the end of the day it’s about what you WANT to do. Try both and make the decision by which one you get more out of.