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Pilates vs. Yoga – What’s the Difference and Which One Is For You?

I personally love Pilates and practice it every day because I think it is the perfect marriage of increasing your flexibility and developing beastly core strength. My improved core, stability, and stamina is thanks to Pilates. Yoga is great as well, and it has a lot of similarities with Pilates, but there are some core differentiators, and this blog post is dedicated to explaining the difference between the two so that you can decide which one is a better fit for you.

If you wanted to get into either Pilates or Yoga, an important place to start is figuring out what the differences are between the two and what the benefits of each are, right? Both are great forms of exercise and when paired with more cardio-intensive workouts, they will help you towards that fitness goal you’re trying to reach.

Pilates

Joseph Hubertus Pilates in the 1920s created what was known as “Contrology,” or the beginnings of what we know now as Pilates. The foundation of Contrology focuses on holistic mind/body awareness and through proper repetition of controlled movements and breathing, you can awaken of thousands of dormant muscles in your body. The end result of practicing pilates is improved strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and increased breathing capacity and organ function.

Pilates emanates from the use of your core. What exactly is your core anyway? Since your spine is not naturally stable, your core is the powerhouse of your body, acting as a stabilizer and balancer and is where your strength comes from. Deadlifts? Squats? Pushups? Bending down and picking up the remote? All those activities involve using your core. People think it’s only the abs, but your core actually includes 29 muscles. I won’t get into their technical names because no one knows, for example, what the Longissimus thoracis is (but for your information, it is one of the most integral muscles of the back that runs up your spine). For a general definition, if you were to take a tape measure and wrap it around your waist, everything it touches is your core—your abdominals, obliques, lower back. Pretty expansive, right? That’s why developing a strong core will give that coordination and stability.

There are six core principles of Pilates.

  1. Control – aka “Contrology.” Joseph Pilates believed that every Pilates exercise required complete control of your body by your mind—it’s truly a test of mind over matter. I can’t tell you how many times during a Pilates-stance double leg lift that I wanted to give up because it felt like my abdominals were going to tear open from so many strenuous repetitions. (And I did. But that was only for the first two months. Then I felt myself getting stronger and stronger and whoo boy, Imma tell you right now that that was a good feeling.)
  2. Breathing – many people tend to hold their breath or take shallow ones while exercising. Stop. Always breathe deeply; inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Proper breathing improves blood circulation, makes your abs work harder, and makes you calmer. It also increases flexibility; it is easier to deepen your stretches while exhaling a focused breath through your mouth.
  3. Concentration – be present during your workout! Thinking about what you’re going to do this weekend or what you’ll make for breakfast tomorrow only takes away from the effectiveness of the workout—and then it’s like all those leg lifts or ab holds were for nothin’. Concentration on the Pilates moves will improve your form, which will, in the long run, give you that toned, lean look you’re going for.
  4. Flow – focusing on the smoothness and fluidity of motions during and between Pilates moves will ensure that your muscles are always working, and that’s what you want. (I say this now while sitting comfortably on a couch, but graceful movements get infinitely harder to accomplish when sweat is dripping into my eyes and my muscles are twitching from overuse and all I want is a deep tissue massage!)
  5. Centering – all your body’s movements stem from your powerhouse, your core. Making sure to be centered through proper form and alignment is how you strengthen and condition your core.
  6. Precision – as Joseph Pilates used to say, “Honor every movement.” Complete every exercise with the intention of perfecting its execution. But to be completely honest, that is a work in progress for me. Sometimes I struggle like a turtle flipped on its back. Tiredly flailing and pretty pathetic.

Conclusion

Pilates exercises are a lot more intense and really focus on building a very strong core—great if you want a firmer tummy. From personal observation and experience, Pilates has also helped me tone up my arms, shoulders, abdominals, obliques, thighs, and I got that nice defined line down my back for those of you who want that too. I find that my lower back is stronger and I am able to sit up straighter and taller.


A little side promotion for Pilates: Around four months ago, I could only hold a 1m 30s plank. Now I can do 3m 42s. (Why do I know the exact time? Because I hold the plank for as long as the song “Touchin, Lovin” plays. I just—don’t ask.)


My absolute favorite fitness guru who got me started on Pilates is Cassey Ho, founder of Blogilates, an all-inclusive website that has great workout calendars, recipes, and a community of fitness lovers. Check her out! Here’s also a great list of Pilates exercises for those of you who want to get started! I couldn’t recommend Pilates enough—but then again, I’m biased. :P

Yoga

No one is sure when exactly Yoga was created, but its practices date back to at least 3000 B.C. in the ancient Indus Valley. An old-timer to be sure. The word Yoga means “to join” or “to yoke together,” which makes a whole lot of sense since Yoga emphasizes the union of mind, body, and spirit. Yoga was brought to the Western hemisphere in the 19th century where it began as a movement for health and vegetarianism and really kicked up in the 1960s when the youth grew interested in anything Eastern. Since Yoga has been refined through thousands of years and just as many teachers and students, there are a lot of practices and ways to study Yoga; it gets complicated trying to sort it all out—(trust me, this is coming from a well-intentioned writer trying to simplify it all out in a short-ish post).

There are the Eight Limbs of Yoga that comprise of an incredibly long list with sub-lists that, quite frankly, would be more confusing than helpful in this post. So you get a link <–. Thanks to Swarmi Sivananda, though, you get a nice consolidated list of five core principles that make up the most important points of Yoga.

The Five Core Principles of Yoga.

  1. Asanas (aka Yoga poses) – Yoga Asanas are the actual Yoga poses. So, for example, when you see something doing a Chaturanga or Tree pose or Crow pose, it is an Asana. Asanas are designed to help master your body and enhance its functions, and is done by subjecting your body to bends, twists, stretches, inversions, and all kinds of strains. Basically, Asana is the proper term for “Yoga poses.”
  2. Pranayama (aka proper breathing) – Like Pilates, Yoga also focuses deeply on your breath. Pranayama comes from the combination of two Sanskrit words. “Prana” means fundamental life force, and “yama” means to control, so Pranayama is basically the act of controlling your life’s force, your breath. There are many different types of Pranayamas (typical), but a familiar type that most people associate with Yoga is deep breathing, which can calm you down and lower your blood pressure. Good for the high-strung people of the world.
  3. Saucha (aka physical, mental, and spiritual purity) – Sure, sounds simple enough. So in addition to cleansing your body physically (i.e. nurturing your body with healthy foods), Saucha also entails cleansing yourself of impure thoughts and emotions like hatred, greed, and pride.
  4. Dhyana (aka positive thinking and meditation) – Dhyana involves complete meditation and absorption. An example of this is if you’ve ever been entirely focused on reading a superb book or studying for an exam, (the former more relevant to me than the latter), and you find that someone has been calling you for the past five minutes but you heard nothing or you suddenly realized a whole day has whizzed by—this intense state of singular focus is Dhyana. But, when you don’t have a book or an exam to study for, quieting your mind of all thoughts and focusing on nothing and yet everything at once is extremely hard to do. And that is why Yoga is a process.
  5. Savasana (aka complete relaxation aka Corpse Pose) – Savasana is more a pose than a principle. It means, quite literally, Corpse Pose. It involves you laying on your back with your palms up. The purpose of Savasana is to quiet your mind and allow peace to enter the normally chaotic pace of modern life. It decreases blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and anxiety.

Conclusion

Yoga is not just a fitness fad. If you’re going to take it seriously, it requires devotion and dedication and a willingness to slow down the pace you’re used to going. Yoga is the combination of your mind, body, spirit, and was historically used for meditative purposes, but most modern Western classes focus purely on its physical involvement, the Asanas. Of course, when performed correctly, Yoga does tone your entire body, as Yoga moves involve all of your muscles.

Tara Stiles is one of my favorite yogis, not only because she was the first yogi I discovered, but because she also has different kinds of Yoga for different kinds of situations—she has a hotel Yoga series, for crying out loud.

The Decision – Similarities

  • Both Pilates and Yoga are mat exercises that tone and condition your body using body weight and natural resistance.
  • Both Pilates and Yoga are mind/body exercises that focus on a deeper connection between your body and mind.
  • Both Pilates and Yoga are breathing-oriented that result in improved blood circulation.

…And Differences

  • Yoga focuses more on increasing strength and flexibility of the spine and limbs while Pilates focuses on building your core strength first, with flexibility coming in second.
  • In Pilates, every movement stems from your core and extends through the limbs while in Yoga, the concentration is first on your breath, and then on deepening your core.
  • Yoga emphasizes staying connected to your breath more while Pilates focuses on the precision of your movements, and then coordinating those movements with your breathing.
    • Yoga has more breathing patterns than Pilates. In Pilates, you inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth; but, as noted with Pranayama, there are multiple techniques to breathing in Yoga.
  • Pilates involves a lot more laying down on the mat and using your core to power through the exercises while Yoga involves more standing poses that use gravity as the resisting force.

There you have it! The similarities and differences between Pilates and Yoga. Hopefully by now, you have a better understanding of which exercise is more suited for you. I love my Pilates, but I eventually want to immerse myself in Yoga, too. For now, though, the intricacies of mind and spirit in Yoga escape me.

Which do you guys like better? Or what exercise do you think you’ll get in to?

I’d love to know, and a conversation from enthusiasts is always welcome here. :)

Happy (chilly) Sunday!

-Shirley

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Progression to the Planche

My brother challenged me to work towards a planche pushup with him.

If you’re unfamiliar with the planche, it’s this beastly exercise.

I’m always up for a fitness challenge, so I said yes. (I’m also always up for a sibling challenge—e.g. Mario Kart Wii turns into a figurative bloodbath every. single. time. And this competition is only on my end because the win ratio is 10:2 my brother. Grrrr.)

The planche pushup involves heavy use of your shoulders, chest, and wrists. Basically everything I need to work on.

Just for kicks I tried a tuck planche the other day, which involves planting both palms to the ground, fully locking out your arms, and lifting both knees to the chest. Yeah. About that. The difference between the guy in the video and me is that he got both knees off the ground. I just, kind of, pushed at the ground really hard. It’s really hard, guys.

If you’re interested in doing this too, the first link has great steps towards a successful progression towards completing a planche pushup.

So, I *may* be posting my progress with the planche up on WP. Depending on how embarrassing they are for public release. No promises.

P.S. I am sick. What a crappy result for an amazing Saturday in the NYC.

-Shirley

How To Fall Like a Goober

Allow me to illustrate my ineptitude with falling, which I think comes from my general ungainliness as a human being.

Cue six-inch-thick mats, cue friend for supervision, cue every-dang-thing that would make a normal person feel safe about falling. And enter me, being instructed to fall.

SHIRLEY (With a look of constipated concentration plastered on her sweating face, she mentally prepares her body and self to fall backwards. She folds carefully into as much a right angle as humanly possible. Deliberately, slowly, she wills her body to rock backwards to minimize any chance of injury. What she doesn’t expect, though, is for the momentum to rock her contorted body back-and-forth. She teeters like an up-ended turtle on the mat.)

The other scenario is me entirely locking out my legs and literally landing full on my ass.

Either way, I look like a moron cause I don’t trust myself to fall properly. I always imagine me snapping some bone in my body because of some unforeseen reason.

I haven’t learned how to fall properly in my life.

Well that’s kind of a lie, because I’ve willingly jumped out of an airplane at 14,000 ft. and would do it again, no questions asked.

But I don’t like bouldering more than four feet off the ground because any higher and I’m literally paralyzed with anxiety. I don’t trust ladders because I don’t believe that rickety rungs will hold my weight. And I most definitely do not trust people during trust exercises. (There is, like, literally no real-life application to that exercise. C’mon now.)

I don’t think I’ve been taught how to properly fall. Is that even something you actively teach to a child?

I believe, though, that the first step in trusting other people or shady ladders is learning to trust yourself. Trusting in yourself to be strong enough to handle pain and being able to rebuild from whatever happens.

This is why I was able to invert myself for a headstand. Even though I was deathly afraid of snapping my spine. I do not know where my fear of breaking bones comes from. I’ve never broken anything in my life. (Except hearts. Ba dum tsss.)

We made it through Monday guys. Only the rest of the week to go. [Insert forced enthusiasm here.]

-Shirley

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Am I Closet Morning Person?

I woke up to my alarm at 5:50 AM this morning. And stayed up.

Such acts of ambitiousness would have been unheard of for the four-years-ago me, or the couple-months-ago me for that matter.

But wait, I hate mornings. Don’t I? I’ve never been happy waking up for school or work, the hours I slept was never enough, I always dragged myself out of bed, and let’s have a moment of silence for the no-bra incident a couple weeks ago, shall we?

Let’s face it, mornings have never been easy, but working 45 hours a week really makes you appreciate the weekends. And we technically only have Saturdays. Friday evenings are just spent mourning the coming of Mondays. Ugh.

Realizing this, I’d kick myself in the face (that’s not possible) if I spent my weekends waking up past 8 and not being conscious for those precious 48+ hours. You’re gonna be awake and you’re gonna be productive, damn it.

And so maybe I am a closet morning person—but only on the weekends. I haven’t gotten to that level for the weekdays. Let’s not get crazy now.

I probably won’t ever to the level where I’m belting “The Sound of Music” at 7 AM—that’d indicate me reaching some acute level of hysteria rather than being happy about weekday mornings. But—

Have a Gloriously Bright (and Cold) Sunday! :)

P.S. I’m thinking it’s a good day to go for a run, yeah? Don’t hold me to it, might be the coffee talking.

P.P.S. This was my breakfast. It could also explain why I now look forward to weekend mornings.belgium waffles, chocolate belgium waffles, waffles, deliciousness, delicious breakfast,

-Shirley

To The Girl Who Called Me Weird:

Dear You-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named,

I still remember your name. It still sucks, like a squelchy mud-sac filled with un-niceness.

We were in high school, in an art class, I was sitting and working on some bizarre still life, you were sitting with your friend to my right, I was minding my own business still working on that awful still life, and I hear …She’s so weird, and I knew you were talking about me from the way your voice pointed daggers in my direction like you were aiming an unguided missile at my body, too big a target for it to miss.

Of course, we were in high school and everyone said shitty things in high school because, after all, we were just kids discovering who we could become (before we discovered ourselves all over again in college).

But, damn, it still stung. Did I even know you? I didn’t. Had I even interacted with you before? No. And if you were going to say anything bad about someone, couldn’t you at least say it where they couldn’t hear you, like a halfway-decent person? Obviously not.

I didn’t do or say anything. I could never think of snappy comebacks on time—one of more useful skills in life, I think. So I let your comment sink in, let the moment pass, and let you continue thinking I was a weirdo.

Fast-forward to freshman year in college, late one evening, it was during some award show when Adele was being featured, when someone we both were Facebook friends with made an incredibly stupid comment about Adele’s weight, and you couldn’t take that lying down. To your credit, you stood up against her. Let her know what was on your mind, something I couldn’t (and still can’t) do. But it showed me something.

Everyone has a sore point. To you, it was hearing someone call someone else fat. It hurt you inside. And to me, hearing you call me weird hurt me inside. It was something I already knew about myself, but never knew was a quality someone would point out negatively. It made me insecure, and having someone say it behind my back made it even worse. (Newsflash: I hear everything.) It made me try to fit in, not stand out, be normal, doubt my self. And that doubt stays with me to this day. (So thanks for helping my self-confidence, by the way.)

Now, graduating college, with eight-ish years buffering me and this incident, I can say that being weird is a great, fabulous thing. Weirdness makes you sparkle. Anyone who tries to dull that spark doesn’t have it in his or herself, and it is him or her you should feel bad for.

So you, girl, she-who-shall-not-be-named, you still suck. But since I’m sure you are not the person you were in high school, this letter is a farewell to the suck-ish girl you were, not who you hopefully turned out to be. I hope you turned out weird too.

-Shirley

happy kitten, happy cat,

A Good Breakfast Is Everything

I’m sitting by my favorite place near the window at my favorite little cafe doing my most favorite activity: filling my stomach with good food. This short little blurb comes out of the contented part of me—most definitely my stomach at this particular moment.

I needed this breakfast. It seems silly, but the strawberry french toast brought a smile to my face (as good food usually does), and that brought this honestly soul-sucking week to a better end.

Food heals all.

Happy Saturday! :)

-Shirley