So, what exactly is the difference between Pilates and Yoga?
I have been trying to succinctly answer this question for a long time, but here I am eighteen years into teaching Pilates and still searching for those magical words that would clearly explain the unique benefits of each.
I am a Pilates instructor that happens to love yoga, but manages to practice it only on occasion. To me, taking a yoga class and taking a Pilates mat class are very different experiences, even though they yield similar results in terms of connection to my physical and mental centers; at the end of either type of class I am more centered, more open and more aware. Both Pilates and yoga challenge me in a way that fatigue my muscular system fully, yet simultaneously rejuvenate my mind, leaving me with an overall sense of focus and clarity.
From my Pilates-biased background, I find several similarities between the two disciplines:
Both Pilates and yoga can be physically intense or physically restorative.
Either practice, done with consistency, can provide a pathway to greater understanding of self and spirit.
Finally, and perhaps ultimately, both attempt to tap into the core of the body (perhaps the core of the person is more accurate), the mind and spirit through focused movement, breath and introspection.
Yoga has been around for 5000 years, Pilates about 100. The greatest difference I see and feel between Pilates and Yoga is the path each discipline seems to take to connect the mind and body. One seems to adopt an internal approach, the other a more external approach.
An Internal Approach to Well Being
Yoga begins with stillness. In yoga, time is taken in the beginning of class to find harmony between the body, the mind and the spirit. It is a process of breathing, letting go and becoming present. Once accomplished, the poses and movements become the means for moving the energy through the body so your entire system feels at ease, connected and and balanced by the end of class. My experience practicing yoga has been that the path towards harmony of mind, spirit and body is manifested from the inside, then gradually and expansively, shifts outwardly in the direction of service and love.
An External Approach to Well Being
Pilates begins with action. The exercises, the movement patterns themselves, are the vehicle driving us towards increased awareness, greater balance, and connection to our mental and physical centers. In Pilates, to achieve a sense of harmony, to experience the synchronicity of the body mind and spirit we also focus on breath, on letting go and on becoming present. Pilates, in my opinion, differs from yoga primarily in its path towards achieving that harmony. In a Pilates workout, the path initiates more so from the outside. The action itself generates heat and energy deliberately and with purpose, fueling the body's internal systems in the direction of more vitality and zest for life.