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27 Jul, 2009

Yoga or Pilates? Which is Better for You

Posted by: admin In: Exercise Tips

Of course the long politician-esque answer to this question is “it depends what your goals are”. For example, yoga is known to relax Pilatesyou and may be more beneficial if you suffer from stress. It also has a greater focus on improving flexibility so if you’re doing lots of other exercise that tightens your muscles (for example¬†cheerleading¬†or football) yoga could be the right choice for you.

Joseph Pilates was a ballet dancer, but struggled with the intense physical commitment that went with it. So he invented an exercise regime to strengthen his body to allow him to cope with the pressures presented by his ballet training. While we may not all be budding dancers, performing exercise that helps us cope with the daily pressures of life, seems a very good idea to me.

How does it work?

Firstly, there are the 6 core principles: Breathing, Centering, Control, Concentration, Flowing Movement and Precision. This means you do every exercise slowly, in an exact position, always extending from your middle which stays strong and static, and always with the effort on the out-breath. In essence, it makes every movement significantly harder (and consequently more beneficial) than if you didn’t apply these principles.

Secondly, the areas of the body you work are important. Traditionally at the gym we move our head and shoulders back and forth off the mat to work our abdominals. But how often do we make that movement in real life? Almost never. So why do we spend so much time training it? Of course the answer is because the stronger the abdominals are, the more they hold in the flabby bits. But doesn’t it make more sense to strengthen the muscles we use all the time?

The Transversus Abdominus (or TVA) is a very large muscle that resembles a tin can with the back attached to the spine, and the top to the ribs. It protects all the vital organs inside our midriff and also, this is the important bit, it ensures we can stand up without falling over, or sit up without flopping sideways. How often do we do that in real life? Almost always. Pilates trains the TVA which in turn strengthens the muscle – helping deter back pain, hip pain and even knee and ankle pain by making us stand correctly. At the bottom of the TVA are your pelvic floor muscles, also focused on in Pilates, which are important for giving us posture and protecting our hip joint particularly.

As well as training these core muscles, Pilates uses stretching and mobility exercises to improve your posture. It teaches you balance to help strengthen your core and thus build your protective inner barrier. And it uses the power of breathing to both get the most out of your exercises and help you concentrate and relax. As Pilates appeals to more people, so a wider range of exercises have been introduced that work all the muscles in the body, but still always deferring to those 6 core principals.

In summary, yoga has centuries of history behind it and is a very enriching way to spend an hour. But regular Pilates sessions will ensure your joints have the very best chance at staying pain free as you get older.

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