The yogi in me knows there shouldn’t be a competition between the two, but to some extent Yoga feels like a contest anyway. The conversations overheard in my first ever studio only affirmed this. Who can hold their handstand the longest (answer: not me)? Who is further through the primary series? Who is able to do a bakasana arm balance and jump back from it? Are you going to Mysore this year? There began my love-hate relationship with the Yoga community.
Yoga and especially the Ashtanga form I practice seems to attract alpha types, people who strive to win and are probably at the top of their chosen professions, who enjoy the more acrobatic aspects. For at least a year I was caught up in this bubble, pushing my body too far and injuring it, documenting my Yoga journey on Instagram for the likes. Modern or Western Yoga is too often about ego which is sad because that’s the opposite of enlightenment. Only now in my current shala am I realising it doesn’t matter if I never get past navasana, and my teacher tells me there is no such thing as “modification” because that’s just my body. Refreshing common sense but I don’t hear it enough from the Yoga community.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Yoga and it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me, but our relationship status falls very much in the “it’s complicated” category.
Pilates is the antithesis of this. It is simple, deliberately slow and thoughtful, the movements are minute and often unnoticeable, though effective. There are 6 guiding principles which are not dissimilar to Yoga (the 8 limbs) but they are concentrated on the physical practice itself, which made it all the more surprising that classes were encouragingly free of ego. Looking around during my first session it struck me that there was a far broader range of body types and ages than in most Yoga classes I’ve been to. Attendees were focused on themselves rather than surreptitiously checking out anybody else’s technique.
Ironically, I only started Pilates because of a shoulder stand injury sustained during Yoga practice (entirely my own fault), I could barely move my neck for 6 weeks and needed to keep it mobile but in a therapeutic way. I have learned that Pilates is less dynamic than Yoga physically but reaps a lot of the same benefits through breathing techniques and coordinated movements. The usage of props is far more frequent, indicative of an understanding that people don’t have a homogeneous physiology. As a direct comparison, a Pilates bridge is different to the equivalent in Yoga because it asks us to “peel” our spine up and down in a slow and controlled manner, rather than pushing the bum and chest upwards. My inner core now has a strength I didn’t think possible.
My conclusion is that far from being a case of choosing between the two, practitioners of both disciplines should consider them complimentary. Pilates can bring an awareness of the micro movements in our joints and muscles, therefore helping to prevent injury during a particularly taxing Yoga class. Yoga can assist Pilates practitioners in increasing their strength and flexibility, and that’s before we consider the benefits of meditation for mental well-being. Whilst not happy to have injured myself, it has opened my mind up to other possibilities for my health, mind and body than just Yoga.
People out there wondering if they should try either? I would say yes, go for it! Any age or level of fitness can do some form of Yoga or Pilates, just please make sure you seek out a trained and certified teacher.