Pilates: A Modern Yoga
by Shelley Geyer
Pilates is a modern version of the ancient movements found in Yoga. From hundreds of poses, a man named Joseph Pilates created a basic system of 34 exercises which can be reduced to something less if we’re counting, yet richer if we see its depth. Yes, each Yoga posture has great meaning as does its Pilates counterpart. We boast hundreds, even thousands of movements, but the simple truth is, we only need to know three real functions: movement toward and away from centre and rotation around it. And that’s the truth in both Yoga and Pilates practices.
Like Yoga, Pilates addresses the energetic and contracted states found in many people who sit at a desk or behind a wheel 40 plus hours each week. With simple ideas of form and postural principles, it will align the spine and open energy channels. It teaches awareness and centering, flexibility and mobility. It is a system of linked exercises which are also beneficial autonomously. Unlike Yoga, Pilates is always in motion (the movements are isotonic and isokinetic, with a focus on suspension within the movement, whereas Yoga is about holding the poses) and is often broken down into biomechanical pieces for a new student. Pilates places equal importance on stabilizing the body to create mobility in another. Like Yoga, all movements are executed with a focus on breath and alignment. Unlike Yoga, the spiritual dimension is missing.
Pilates currently sits at the top of Western fitness charts and is increasingly referred by osteopaths, physical therapists, chiropractors and many holistic practitioners as a primary functional conditioning method. Ashtanga Yoga instructors regularly incorporate the fundamentals as preventative measures against injury. It’s remedial facets are used in building awareness and connection between the mental and tactile aspects, as bridges between the many movements, and stand alone as exercises.
Pilates teachers have different perspectives of "how it works," much like the many Yoga approaches and teachers. Some say it’s Yoga on a machine, some say it’s strength conditioning and still others say it’s neuromuscular re-education. It is much less formidable looking and can be used as a stepping stone to more vigorous Yoga methods.
Essentially the two are mutually supportive: Yoga gives Pilates flexibility & stillness, while Pilates offers stability and stillness in the motion. When coupled with Yoga, Pilates principles enhance the practice by bringing core stabilization into view as well as preparation and support for yoga postures (especially in the strength to hold). Because Pilates is more about length and strength, Yoga helps to increase the flexibility capacity. As in Universal Law balance is key: Yoga is about allowance and Pilates about doing. If a more poignant paradox exists, I have not found it.
What Does it Look Like?
Pelvic Lift vs. Bridge
Yoga Version: Exhale as you lift back off floor, place hands at hips and press pelvis up toward ceiling using hands to support the extended back. Squeeze shoulder blades together creating supportive resting place for neck, elongate arms under body on floor, clasp hands together reaching toward feet. Open chest and lift ribcage toward ceiling. Emphasis is on the arching of the spine and opening of the front of the body. Exhale as you lower body to floor, rest momentarily in Savasana.
Pilates Matwork: Exhale as you peel the spine off floor (articulate each vertebrae) into diagonal plank resting on shoulder girdle. Hip, knee & ankle joints in alignment, pelvis is neutral, feet are flat. Immediately inhale, then exhale as you roll back down onto floor in sequence (almost like laying down a piece of tape)–drop the back of heart first, feel the waistline gently touching the floor–ending in neutral spine, all joints in alignment.
Principles: Flexion, Articulation Shoulder girdle stability, Neutral spine.
Form: Length, Space, Width, Ribcage Soft, External Hip Flexors Soft
Purpose/Goal: Alignment, Spinal Sequencing, Deep Abdominal & Pelvic Floor Engagement, Organ Massage.
Shelley is a certified Pilates, fitness and ski instructor; neuromuscular and massage therapist with a background in dance and yoga. She teaches movement education and energetics in the U.S.