Yoga was discovered in India over 5000 years ago as a spiritual discipline to find balance and harmony between the mind and body. Yoga also unites individual and universal consciousness. The name Yoga from Sanskrit “Yuj” is defined as “join” or “unite”. The first yoga asana is described as being Vrikshasana (tree pose), which means, stability and grounding.
Meanwhile Pilates was developed by German-born and Britain émigré Joseph Pilates as a new approach to exercise and bodybuilding or body conditioning in the beginning of 20th century. Pilates was developed and uses special equipment called a Pilates Reformer machine. It is a carefully researched combination of Yoga and Roman and Greek exercising discipline for bodybuilding and gymnastics.
While the origin and purpose of Pilates and Yoga differs, there are numerous benefits of both practices and practicing them together brings balance and variety between ancient and modern teachings.
In 2018, when I was dedicated and committed to Yoga practice every day, I travelled to a small city in Cyprus for a week vacation. Even though I planned to take a break from Yoga since I didn’t expect to find any Yoga studios in a small resort, I couldn’t resist trying a new foreign studio once I discovered that Cyprus had so many of them. After researching all the studios in the town centre, I decided to choose the farthest one away on a hill outside of the city. The studio had a busy schedule of classes, however it didn’t have any information of what type of Yoga was taught on the schedule as they just wrote “Yoga” as the title of the class.
I picked the most convenient morning class and walked an hour and a half through the beach, outside of the city and up the hill. During the long walk I was setting my mind for an exciting discovery of an unknown Yoga studio and was preparing myself for a pleasant Yoga practice in humid weather on a nice sunny day. Once I reached the studio, picked the location of my mat, and practice began, I realized that it wasn’t Yoga at all, it was a Pilate’s class, the students and teachers decided verbally each class what style of Yoga or Pilates was going to be taught. I was frustrated and disappointed, Pilates seemed so unusual and unnatural to me, by accident it happened to be the first Pilates practice of my life. Although, the more I went through the class, the more I seemed to catch on and started enjoying it. A new discovery was surprisingly pleasant. I went to more classes and sometimes I was prepared for Vinyasa Yoga, while they taught us Yin Yoga and vice versa. It seemed unusual to me, as it was never a pure Yoga class, but a mix of Pilates and Yoga together.
I went to the studio every single day of my week vacation, and it was so different from what I was used to. On the last day, when the time of saying goodbye came, I had a long conversation with the teacher. One advice that he gave me and which has stuck in my head until today was to not be attached to one type of practice but always find variety and try different things. Yoga is an incredible carefully invented spiritual and body discipline, however one of the main teachings in Yoga is learning detachment. Overall, I finally understood the meaning behind untraditional teaching methods my experience was eye opening. The teacher wished me the best of luck in my future of becoming a Yoga instructor and encouraged me to make the practice more interesting by combining it with Pilates or even dance.
Alongside the spiritual and mental benefits of practicing Yoga and Pilates together, it brings harmony to the physical body. Yoga has a real focus on the breath, flexibility and strength asking the practitioner to concentrate and be mindful the entire class making the entire experience extremely relaxing. Another amazing difference between Pilates and Yoga is that Yoga has Savasana at the end of class to help the body recuperate. Pilates is more repetitive with sets of 10 or 12 for each exercise and each set focuses on specific muscle groups. Pilates does target flexibility but its main focus is strengthening the core and exhaling through the mouth to activate the abdominal muscles, while in yoga you always breath through the nose. Using a Pilates Reformer machine is so specific you can come to a class when you are recovering from an injury, when you are pregnant or even when you are 75 years old.
One of my experienced Yoga instructors is a physiotherapist. She points out, that Yoga asanas and sequences mainly train certain muscle groups, but lacks asanas for other ones, such as the sides of the gluteus. Thus, she integrates asanas with physiotherapy by combining both into the practice. The same can be said with Pilates, it is a way to compliment a Yoga practice, by targeting body parts that are weaker as they are not being used in Yoga and vice versa.