Friday, July 31, 2009

Yoga v's Pilates

Yoga and Pilates have become way more than just a fleeting fitness craze. As the popularity of both workouts rises and stars like J.Lo and Oprah swear it re-energises their lives, women everywhere have discovered the mental and physical benefits of these exercises. But which one is more effective? Some say Yoga is with its focus on both mental and physical strength while others count the abstract gymnastic moves in Pilates as the bigger muscle toner.

As a beginner to both exercises I put yoga and Pilates to the test. I started with a Pilates class at the David Lloyd Centre in Clonskeagh. The centre which holds approximately 40 Pilates classes a week specialises in a variety of classes for everyone from new mums to older women. My instructor, Chris Hobson, informed me of the two main types of classes - Mat Pilates and Reformer Pilates.

Since reformer Pilates is relatively new to Dublin gyms I decided to try it out. The ‘reformer’ is a machine similar to a bench press in the gym and the entire pilates workout is based on it involving numerous strenuous exercises. My preconception that this class would be relatively easy was quickly quashed by the others in the class who warned me this machine and Chris would put us through our paces.

Starting off with bench presses we moved on to hamstring exercises, bum and thigh movements, push ups and a tough upper body workout. I was surprised that by shifting into several different positions all of these exercises could be done on one machine. By the end of the hour I was sweating and my limbs ached. The reformer pilates is aimed at a muscle workout and requires a lot of strength while the mat Pilates is based more on core exercises and the abdominal area. ‘Doing both is beneficial,’ advises Chris ‘and you will notice a difference in a matter of sessions’. He admits it takes time to learn the exercises before people should be comfortable doing a Pilates workout by themselves at home. ‘You can actually cause harm to your body by not doing the exercises properly’. His persuasive ways of pushing our body strength to the limit gave this pilates class a big thumbs up.

I only had a few hours to relax before it was time for yoga at the Buddha Bag shop in Dublin city centre. Yoga instructor Orla Punch teaches here every Monday and Thursday evening and also holds some classes at the David Lloyd Riverview Centre. Although I was familiar with some of the yoga positions from a few classes I took during my college years, this was still a new exercise for me as I tried Iyengar Yoga for the first time.

There are many styles of yoga but they all basically have the same aim. The three main styles are Astanga, Iyengar and Viniyoga. Iyengar yoga is considered the most difficult form of the exercise ‘If you fancy taking up yoga try out a few of the different styles before choosing one that suits you best,’ advises Orla.

Yoga, for the most part, involves static poses, which are held while exploring your breathing, physical feelings and emotions. Pilates is about moving in ways that help strengthen your powerhouse, including your stabilizing muscles. Yoga emphasises flexibility over building strength while Pilates emphasizes toning over flexibility. We started the class with some easy breathing exercises but then quickly moved into some difficult stretching positions like the downward dog and sun salute. In most of the positions there was extreme pressure placed on leg muscles. Iyengar yoga is not for the weak as I quickly found out. Astanga Yoga is the more relaxed form and is probably the best type to start off with. We finished off the class with some handstands and curling up positions. Although I was not in a sweat at the end of this class like I had been after the pilates I felt the effects for days after in my tummy, leg and arm muscles. As a beginner I needed help from the instructor to master most of the exercises. However Orla informed me once you build up your strength from regular yoga exercise it becomes much easier.

The biggest difference I learnt between yoga and Pilates is more philosophical than physical. While Pilates takes a mind-body approach to exercise, yoga’s view involves mind, body and spirit. Its principles come from Hindu ideals and its approach is decidedly Eastern in nature. Yoga’s teachings encourage us to be kind to all beings, including ourselves, and to search for balance in our lives and lifestyle. You will not find any of this in a Pilates class, which only focuses on mental concentration, breathing and movement.

After both classes I found there can be no real ‘Yoga versus Pilates’ debate as each one has a different focus and approach. Whether you gravitate towards one or the other really depends on your personality and own personal philosophies. While they are both slow intense and therapeutic, they achieve their fitness goals in distinctive ways. If you have the time you can even do both without a lot of overlap - your muscles and flexibility will be trained from different angles and actually benefit. Most people, however, only have time for one or the other. Ultimately if you want an exercise that improves flexibility while toning your muscles, especially those abs, then Pilates is probably your best choice. If you rather concentrate more on flexibility, then you should try yoga. It is also a great stress-reliever. Judging by the people I met in both the yoga and Pilates class, these exercises have an impressive physical effect. The main challenge for most of us is finding the time and money for such classes.

For information on Pilates and Yoga classes contact the David Lloyd Centre on 01 2189600

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