You want a workout that will stretch and sculpt your entire body. Your yogi friends assure you hitting the mat is the way to go. But you’ve also heard Pilates is an excellent overall body conditioner. So which should you be doing?

While yoga and Pilates have some similarities, fundamentally, they are worlds apart. The key to determining which workout you want lies in understanding their core elements and differences.

Principles & Purposes

Yoga has a philosophical, spiritual focus that differentiates it from the more workout-based Pilates. Though on the surface yoga appears to be just a series of stretches, it’s actually a holistic practice steeped in ancient Indian culture that unites the mind, body and spirit through exercise, breath and meditation. Beyond mere exercise, yoga is a lifestyle.

“It’s a mind/body and heart exercise, plus a spiritual path, where the goal is alignment with the optimal self,” says Sadie Nardini (sadienardini.com), founder of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga and director of East/West Yoga in New York City. “Physically, we do that through poses, to heal and keep the body fit. Mentally, we clear the chatter. And we practice the heartfelt spirit of unity, which is what ‘yoga’ means. Once we’ve aligned and strengthened our bodies, minds and hearts, we’re better able to live the lives we choose, and meet our goals through conscious action.”

The focus of Pilates is physical. It’s a conditioning program that improves deep core strength, muscle control, flexibility, coordination, and body tone, while producing long, lean muscles. It has six principles, which have been modified since Joseph Pilates first created the method in the 1920’s:

1. Centering (strengthening The Powerhouse—abdominal muscles, pelvis, buttocks and lower back)
2. Concentration (bringing full attention to each exercise)
3. Control (utilizing total muscle control)
4. Precision (every movement has a purpose)
5. Breath (exercises are coordinated with the breath)
6. Flow (movements are smooth and graceful)

Form & Fitness

There are many variations of yoga, from restorative and slow, such as Iyengar (focused on achieving correct alignment), to quicker flowing, aerobic styles like Vinyasa (vigorous and fast-paced). Though styles differ, generally, the formula is the same: postures increase the body’s overall performance and health, the breath floods the body with oxygen and flushes out toxins, and meditation creates a sense of peaceful wellbeing. “Students will feel results right away,” says Jean Koerner, senior yoga instructor at ISHTA Yoga in New York City. “The feeling is the balance of being alert and refreshed, yet calm and relaxed.”

As for revving your heart rate, Nardini says, “If the class is challenging, and continually moving, you can expect caloric burning equal to that of doing a cardio machine for the same amount of time.”

Pilates can be completed on a mat, or on specialized equipment such as the Reformer, which utilizes pulleys, springs and weight resistance to build strength. The regimen involves calisthenics that isolate and work each muscle group without creating bulk. For example, The 100 is a core exercise where you lay on your back—head lifted and legs raised at 45 degrees—pumping your arms, inhaling for five, and exhaling for five.

According to Brooke Siler, owner of re:AB Pilates Studio in Manhattan (reabnyc.com), “Pilates is abdominal intensive, utilizing The Powerhouse as the impetus for every movement.” The outcome is a stronger core, which enhances everything from posture to agility. “If you have a good teacher, you should see results in 5 sessions,” Siler says.

Health Benefits

The yogic breath, which involves controlled and mindful breathing, increases lung capacity making it effective in managing chronic respiratory problems, like asthma. According to Nardini, it also “detoxifies the body by flooding it with healing oxygen, stimulating hormonal balance, and flushing out the muscles, organs and lymphatic system.”

Physically, beyond improving muscle tone, strength, and stamina, yoga boosts metabolism, which aids in weight loss. It also increases joint range of motion, making you less prone to injury. Yoga is internally therapeutic too: whether you’re hoping to improve digestion or stimulate the thyroid, there’s likely a pose to counteract your ailment, as well as support your organs, muscles, joints and vessels. For instance, Triangle Pose improves circulation, while Bridge relieves menstrual and menopausal discomfort.

Yoga is mentally and emotionally restorative, also. Feeling frazzled? Improve your focus with Warrior III. Stifled? Liberate yourself with Fish Pose. “From muscular to skeletal to reproductive to endocrine to nervous to glandular, on a physical and physiological level, yoga balances all of our systems,” says Koerner.

Safe and effective for all ages and fitness levels due to its low-impact nature, Pilates is injury preventative and rehabilitative. Physical therapists often incorporate it into their recovery programs, and urge clients to continue the exercises to protect themselves from future injury.

Pilates also enhances respiratory and circulatory function, both helpful in managing arthritic pain and reducing muscle and tendon soreness. And, through the development of a stronger core, and emphasis of neutral spinal alignment, Pilates helps prevent and allay back pain, and improve overall spine health.

Which to Choose: Yoga or Pilates?

If you’re seeking inner tranquility and fitness, yoga is for you. If you want to condition the body sans spirituality, then Pilates is your workout. If they sound equally appealing, do both!
Yoga and Pilates complement each other well: strengthen your Powerhouse in Pilates, and see your poses improve in yoga. Learn to quiet the mind in your yoga practice, and utilize this technique to enjoy a more peaceful, rewarding Pilates class.

Bottom line? They’re both dynamic workouts that deliver tangible results. Whichever you choose, you’re guaranteed to look and feel great!

At-home Workouts

Whether you prefer yoga, Pilates, or both, these quick and effective at-home workouts offer just what you want:

Pilates Weight Loss for Beginners by Brooke Siler
Great for beginners and those who are advanced, this workout utilizes mat and standing exercises to strengthen and shape the body.

Creative Core + Lower Body by Shiva Rea
Learn fun and fast flowing poses to strengthen and slim your belly, hips, thighs and lower back.

Creative Core + Upper Body by Shiva Rea
Through a series of innovative and fluid yoga-based movements, you build a svelte midsection and strong upper body.

Core Fusion Pilates Plus by Exhale
A series of routines blend Pilates-based deep core and strengthening exercises with calming, yoga-inspired poses to create one stellar mind/body workout.

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Marissa Kristal is a New York-based writer who has written for various print and online publications such as Psychology Today, Time Out New York, Chicken Soup for the Soul Magazine and Beauty Addict, to name a few. Read more from Marissa on her website: marissakristal.com, and her blog: mariskris.blogspot.com.

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