In my pre-fitness years, I assumed that Yoga and Pilates were basically the same thing. It was my thought that they were both low-intensity lengthening workouts that focus on your breathing. The classes looked similar, with everyone yielding a mat and even going barefoot.
It wasn’t until I really started researching that I discovered there are many differences between yoga and Pilates. In reality, Yoga and Pilates are very different practices with differing health benefits.
Yoga seeks to unite the mind, body and spirit. It is thought that if your mind and spirit are in accordance with your body, it will heal naturally on its own. Yogas focus is on the flow of energy from one posture to the next, and the exercises are done on a mat, guided by an instructor. Participants primarily use their own body weight for resistance.
As for Pilates, it too uses controlled movements to achieve the lean, long muscle look of a dancer. Instead of a lot of movement, Pilates focuses on quality and not quantity. There are 6 principles to master, and they really focus on your abdomen, lower back and butt muscles. Engaging those three sets of muscles will allow the rest of your body to move freely and will make your body stronger from the inside out.
Power yoga or Pilates are your best bets here. Both of these practices will give you roughly the same benefit as a brisk walk. Regular Hatha Yoga does not raise your heart rate enough to make a significant difference in maintaining a healthy heart.
Flexibility and Strength
Here is where the practices really shine. If you want to say goodbye to crunches forever, add pilates to your routine. It is better at sculpting abs, even the obliques, than most other exercises combined. Pilates also improves flexibility in your hamstrings and back muscles. Yoga scores higher in flexibility improvements and also increases strength, particularly in the arms and thighs. Because so many of the poses require you to support yourself with your arms and thighs, you’ll get increased strength and tightness of the muscles in these areas.