I used to go to Pilates 3 days a week. I was a Pilates madwoman. I had the roll up on lock. I didn’t even mind looking like I was a dog relieving itself on a fire hydrant from time to time during the thigh series. But my back finally gave up.
I’m one of the countless Americans with lower back issues. For me, it’s a bulging disc, and it comes at goes as it pleases. I’ve tried all sorts of remedies, sitting positions, and stretches, and the only thing that I know for sure is that Pilates makes it worse. Yoga, on the other hand, makes it better.
So for the past year, I’ve been slowly getting more and more into yoga. My warrior one pose is fantastic. I can chatturanga like a pro. Yet sometimes I miss Pilates. Especially when it’s time for inversions. I mean, if it was meant for us to be upside down, we would have been born with tails.
Still, sometimes I miss Pilates. Thus I’ve been thinking about which one is better: if my back wasn’t an issue, would I keep doing Pilates? And here’s how it shakes out.
Yoga is for intense. People “Om” and meditate and your teacher talks about the “deepness” of things and finding meaning at the beginning and end of class. There’s a lot of noise making. People exhale loudly, and groan, and generally lose themselves. You can also lose yourself. And it can be fantastic. But it’s about pushing yourself, no matter if it looks bizarre.
Pilates is Yoga’s snotty little sister. There’s no gratuitous noise making. Every pose is constructed as to look as appealing as possible, and also be as safe as possible. It’s tailor made for image conscious women trying to get back into working out. It also takes lots of Yoga poses and makes them seem banal. There’s very little spiritual connection. There’s muscles to tone, not souls to calm.
Yoga is for the independent thinker. Teachers will let you do what you need to do, at your own pace, when you feel like it. They will stay out of your way, unless you’re really doing something badly, or if they want to deepen your stretch. Sometimes I think people need more guidance, but they don’t get it, because Yoga teachers are more interested in getting their own stretch on rather than watching their students. Or perhaps because it’s such an individualistic practice, they just want to stay out of their way.
Pilates is carefully monitored. Instructions are constantly being repeated, demonstrated, and corrections made. Everything is to be done in synch or the same number of counts, on the same breath. Often, Pilates studios require an intro lesson before they allow you to take a mat class. It is all about precision and safety and pulling your stomach in. “You will look fantastic when we’re done with you, dammit,” they seem to say, “And we won’t let you mess it up with your terrible form. Navel into your spine!” They will help you deepen a stretch, but they enjoy watching the grimace on your face. This is a work out, not a vacation.
Yoga has the benefit of being around a loooooong time. The poses have been done and redone. There’s method in the madness.
Some of the Pilates poses seem as if they were dreamed up that day in class by the teacher, and thus the back pain.
There’s no foam roller in Yoga. There’s no “oming” in Pilates. Both of these can be frightening, and somehow relaxing, when done in the right space.
Both give you great posture, long, lean muscles, and increase your flexibility. But Pilates is ever focused on the end goal: the hot bod. Yoga is above that. The workout is the point. The feeling of the sweat, the stretch, the “om” in your throat.
So which is it? Both. I want less “guidance” by women in their late twenties about learning to “take it slow” or some other cliche wisdom. I want more focus on form and protecting the neck and back. Less maniacal obsession on targeting every muscle group in every class. More time spent strengthening ankles and arms. Poga. Yilates. Whatever. I’m starting my own studio. Who’s signing up?