Pilates and yoga have become immensely popular in Ireland, but what are the benefits of each and is one better than the other? Kieran Keenan has his say.

History of Pilates
Joseph Hubertus Pilates was the creator of the Pilates method. He had a number of health issues as a child, suffering from asthma, rheumatic fever, and rickets - also known as Osteomalacia. This defect leads to bones being softer and more likely to bow or fracture. The symptoms include bone pain and reduced muscle mass. 

In his effort to overcome the difficulties his illness caused, Joseph tried different activities such as gymnastics, skiing, self-defense, dance and circus training. In addition, as any childhood genius would, he set about studying anatomy and physiology to devise a series of exercises that he could perform daily to improve his health and wellbeing.  

The end result is the Pilates method which allows a balance of strength and flexibility. By the age of 14, Joseph had made so many dramatic changes to his body that he was actually used as a model for the drawing of anatomical charts. 

During the First World War, Joseph enhanced his knowledge of rehabilitation while he worked with war veterans with horrific injuries and amputations. After the war, he lived in New York with his wife Clara and together they worked with dancers, actors, gymnasts, and athletes.  

Pilates - Open Leg Rocker
Pilates - Open Leg Rocker

There are many benefits to the Pilates method and depending on the needs of the individual can include:

  1. Improved flexibility and joint mobility
  2. Better posture so less posture induced-back and neck pain
  3. Improved muscle strength and tone
  4. Strong core (meaning less injuries)
  5. Improved functionality

Principles of Pilates
The principles of Pilates are balance and strength and an overall principle of physical and mental wellbeing. Pilates exercises focus on balancing the whole body by bringing the skeleton back to ideal alignment.  A person recovering from injury will have experienced some negative effect on muscle balance and movement efficiency. 

The Pilates method can correct structural issues, enhance flexibility and functionality into old age.  Most of us lose our childhood ideal alignment over time. By integrating the Pilates method into a structured fitness programme, we can:

  • Improve posture
  • Allow more efficient movement
  • Tone muscles promoting balance
  • Enhance flexibility
  • Aid functional independence into old age

There are several types of yoga.  All aim to help you relax by using breathing exercises, different body postures and relaxation techniques.

Yoga works with the breath.  It improves strength and flexibility through a series of postures and uses meditation to aid deep relaxation.

Yoga is an ancient form of exercise.  An Indian philosopher named Patanjali did not invent yoga but he did write its manual, The Yoga Sutras, several thousand years ago.  As per the modern yoga, Patanjali is known as the father of yoga.

Yoga - Warrior 2
Yoga - Warrior 2

Benefits of Yoga
Decrease Stress – Yoga is known for its ability to ease stress and promote relaxation.  It is shown to decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone.

Relieves Anxiety – Many people begin practicing yoga as a way to cope with feelings of anxiety.

Reduces Inflammation – In addition to improving your mental health, yoga has been proven to reduce chronic inflammation that can lead to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Builds Muscle Strength – Strong muscles do more than look good, they also protect us from conditions like arthritis and back pain.

Increases Blood Flow – Yoga gets more oxygen to your cells which function better as a result.  This can help if you have swelling in your legs from heart or kidney problems.

Improves Flexibility – Flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga.  Tight hamstrings can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine which can cause back pain.

In summary, yoga can help deepen your meditation practice, improve your flexibility and help with balance.  Pilates may be better for recovering after injury, improving posture, flexibility and core strength.

Pilates & Yoga – The Difference
The main difference between Pilates and yoga is Pilates focuses on strength, muscle toning, body control and flexibility with the main emphasis being core strength.

Yoga, on the other hand, focuses on flexibility and broad muscle groups.  It offers balance, endurance, strength, spirituality and more real physical movement.

Yoga and Pilates are both low-impact workouts that focus on using bodyweight resistance. The benefits are vast. Both workouts can increase overall health, leading to a better quality of life.

Kieran Keenan is an advanced personal trainer and the owner of Fitsquad.