Actually, the title might be a bit deceptive--there may really be no "yoga versus Pilates" argument, because each could be considered complementary to the other. However, since most busy people today only have time for one or the other, it pays to give some thought to which system is right for you. Essentially, it boils down to the "three Ps" of your personality, your preferences, and your physicality.
First, however, you must understand the differences between the two systems:
- Yoga Static poses which develop, strengthen, and stretch muscle groups
in specific combination/sequence, coupled with strong "body/mind connection" aspect aimed at unifying spirit and body. Nonaerobic. Full body--no one muscle or part is predominant. Focuses predominantly on stretching, balance, and coordination. Choice of poses and sequence largely up to the practitioner (or class leader/teacher). Class or solo (with or without tapes).
- Pilates Series of calisthenic-like exercises which predominantly work the central abdominal and back girdle muscles (collectively called "the powerhouse" in Pilates system) to stabilize the core of the body and thus prevent injury. Also has a body/mind connection aspect, though perhaps not as pronounced as with yoga. Nonaerobic. Focuses predominantly on toning, stretching, and coordination. Class or solo, generally with a taped program. Also has a machine-based component, typically done in gyms or Pilates studios with specially trained instructors. Specific sequences suggested by the founder of the system may or may not be followed.
- Both systems Considered therapeutic; will build balance, coordination, and strength and will help prevent injury by strengthening functional muscle groups and by stretching the connective tissues in the body.
How do you decide which system is best for you? Think about the following questions:
- What are your physical goals? Both systems are excellent ways to achieve fitness goals without the strain and intensity of more traditional Western sports and fitness activities (aerobic dance, for example, or running). However, each will lead a devotee down a different path. Yoga will increase flexibility, strength, and balance all over, while Pilates will focus its strength-building on the powerhouse muscles, making it especially beneficial for those with lower back pain due to muscular weakness in the abdominal area.
- What about your mental and emotional goals? Yoga's meditative and noncompetitive focus can help a focused practitioner work through image and confidence issues. Pilates' strengthening and lengthening effect on the body can also help with this, but in a more indirect manner. If you're a strongly religious Christian, or other non-Hindu religious adherent, you may have difficulty with some aspects of yoga; however, be aware that many classes and programs now have taken a somewhat "de-spiritualized" approach to yoga, which might be more palatable. You'll have to ask the leader of the class about his or her approach directly to find this information out. Don't be shy about asking this question--most yoga teachers are accustomed to the inquiry.
- How much time per day do you have to devote to practice? Each system can be modified to provide as short or as long a program as you would like to perform. However, if you are relying on tapes or DVD routines to assist in your workout, you will be limited to what's available on the market. Typical Pilates routines run anywhere from 20 minutes to just under one hour. A session with a Pilates instructor may run slightly longer. Yoga classes are generally 50 minutes in length (although there are always exceptions), while taped routines vary from 15 minute "mini-sessions" to hour-plus routines for the more advanced practitioner. You may also add a meditation session to your yoga practice, which can be anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour, or as long as you like.
- How much time do you want to commit to learning new techniques? Yoga is typically viewed as a system you can spend a lifetime doing and still not completely "master" (in the way we traditionally think of mastering a sport, for example). Pilates is a little bit different, in that the core exercises, once done functionally properly, are unchanging and are usually intensified by simply adding repetitions or altering the angle at which the legs are held, for example.
- What resources are available to you? If the nearest Pilates instructor is fifty miles away, and you're not comfortable learning from a video or DVD, then that will likely impact your decision. Similarly, if the only yoga studio is all the way across town, and you just know you won't be able to make regular classes, that should be considered in reaching your decision.