Yoga or Pilates?

Many people in their zest to improve their body shape will turn to a seemingly easier, floor based class, such as yoga or Pilates.

Whilst both have the advantage of not needing any equipment, and having the added social aspect of participating in a class with similarly minded people. Names of poses are similarly strange; yoga names are often called after animals, including downward dog and camel. Pilates exercise names include the Rocker, boomerang and leg pull. However the similarities end there.

yoga poseYoga has its roots in ancient India and the aim is to attain a state of permanent peace. Pilates however aims to achieve anatomical perfection and core strength.

Yoga followers adhere to a Buddhist set of morals, often going vegetarian. More than a weekly exercise class, yoga is a philosophy, involving karma and the “do no harm” Principle. Yoga claims to tone your muscles by stretching and improving flexibility by holding a range of poses. Primarily involving hatha yoga, it focusses on physical postures sometimes with aspects of meditation. Both of these can have some health benefits. However a percentage every year of yoga practitioners suffers physical sports injuries. In fact due to the risk of injuries, yoga is rarely prescribed for patients as a means to strengthen their backs.

Common yoga injuries include carotid artery tears, bulging intervertebral discs, rotator cuff injuries, ganglion cysts, compression of the spine, vertebral artery dissection and hyperextension of the neck.

Whether experiences or not, yoga can cause injuries. Strenuous yoga said to help weight loss has been connected to a form of stroke in some young women. Hyperextension of the neck is very common and may be a factor in cervical artery dissection.

pilates posePilates, instead of causing injuries aims to alleviate them. Neutral spine is key and any hyperextension of the spine/neck is strictly forbidden. The purpose of the different exercises, often done without any equipment is to ease the body into neutral alignment and to correct any postural deviations.

It has its background in Germany, created by Joseph Pilates, son of a Greek gymnast, a child at the time, born with rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. With the help of self-taught Pilates exercises, Joseph was the epitome of anatomical perfection by 14.

Whilst the exercises are childlike in nature, they aim to strengthen the entire core and realign the spine.

Neither yoga nor Pilates will give you a six pack, but Pilates especially works on the inner muscles with the help of Lateral thoracic breathing. The actual exercises can be as tough or as easy as the instructor allows. Generally the core should feel that they have been worked for 1-2 days after a workout.

Yoga conversely is a great way to get into mediation, spiritual enlightenment and aid relaxation. More of a holistic approach than just purely a fitness class, the poses are challenging and unusual.

With good technique Pilates is not linked to causing any medical conditions. Instead it heals rather than hinders. As such it is often recommended to back care patients and after a few weeks patients can expect to have some relief form pain and stronger muscles. Hip flexors feel more open after Pilates which is especially good for office works or those who spend several hours sitting at a desk, car etc.

Years of working on the chest and abs by doing only pushups and sit ups can cause havoc in the body, tightening up the chest, rounding the upper back and causing various imbalances which can all be alleviated with Pilates. Similarly desk workers with rounded shoulders and a head forward position will benefit from realigning their spine and opening up the chest with Pilates. The neutral spine will actually help to bring the chest out more and the person will look more confident.

Men often find hamstring and calf flexibility lacking, however Pilates improves these areas in a relatively short space of time.

More useful in older or overweight people than yoga, Pilates works on strengthening the inner core muscles, the TVA, RA and Erector Spinae so that the chances of breaking  bones when slipping or falling are somewhat reduced. Better able to stabilise through the core, Pilates students can stay strong and balance their bodies

Like with Yoga, the exercise in traditional mat Pilates use bodyweight alone and so help to increase bone density to some degree. This is naturally decreased with age, so bones are able to stay strong with either of these disciplines.

Also many of the exercises in Pilates, whilst challenging the core also work on strengthening the upper body which is something many people particularly the older generation and women do not actively work on.

The benefits of Pilates are endless when using good technique. The neutral posture once learned makes any other form of exercise safer.  Finding neutral spine is a major starting point in weightlifting, body building or indeed and free weights. It enables you to squat effectively and so any metabolic exercise will be easier to learn and safer to carry out. This will help you lift more and with a greater intensity as your core is fully engaged, helping you to achieve your fitness goal quicker.

Images reproduced from thephysiocentre.co.uk and blog.totalgym.com

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About Nadia Tejani

Nadia Tejani lives in Surrey and works as a Personal Trainer specialising in weight management and obesity. She is also a Sports Massage Therapist and fitness model. Nadia runs marathons and does Olympic weightlifting and she has been competing nationally in Natural Figure (Bodybuilding) competitions since 2008. Nadia has a degree in Pharmacology and is qualified in Nutrition. She sticks to a strict clean vegetarian diet and practise what she preaches! Nadia has 3 dogs, a tiny horse and 2 pygmy goats.
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