While the methods of the two are different, both Pilates and yoga focus on developing strength, posture, balance and flexibility. Pilates tends to focus on core strength and improving general fitness and wellbeing, with the main difference from yoga being its use of mat work and special equipment. Yoga does not usually need any equipment, but rather is composed of a series of postures (movements designed to increase strength and flexibility). Both yoga and Pilates are thought to have similar health benefits and can be done by all ages and abilities.
The physical health benefits of yoga and Pilates include improved posture, muscle tone, balance and joint mobility. There is also evidence to suggest that yoga in particular is especially beneficial for people with high blood pressure, heart disease and various aches and pains. Both forms of exercise are also thought to be good for relieving and preventing lower back pain.
Both yoga and Pilates also emphasise the link between physical and mental health. There is some evidence to suggest that yoga and Pilates can improve mental health and ward off feelings of depression and anxiety – though it is yoga that places a greater emphasis relaxation techniques and meditation.
Yoga and Pilates are also good forms of exercise for older people who may be at risk of falls. They both can help improve balance by strengthening the lower body and thus reducing the risk of a fall, and they are gentle ways of improving flexibility and strength. However, for those that suffer with arthritis or recovering from an injury, some moves may not be suitable, so you should check with your GP or a physiotherapist before attempting.
How frequently should I do it?
As low-impact exercises, risk of injury while doing either is slim. However, due to the lack of vigorous activity involved, the NHS suggests that a yoga or Pilates class should not be counted towards your recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity. Instead it can be counted as a strengthening exercise, which the NHS recommends that you should complete on two or more days a week.
Pilates is usually taught in a dedicated Pilates studio with the correct apparatus, equipment and mats provided. Although Pilates is ideally instructed on a one to one basis, you can also find various group classes taught at local gyms, though a degree of experience is recommended for these.
There is currently no legal qualification to be a Pilates teacher, so when choosing your instructor you should take into account their previous experience and the quality of their training for the best and safest experience.
There are many different styles of yoga that have different levels of intensity and areas of focus. No one style is better than another for health purposes – when picking a class you should choose one that is appropriate for your fitness level.
Once again, yoga classes are widely available both independently and as part of local gyms. Like Pilates, there is no official legal accreditation required to be a yoga teacher, but it is generally accepted that they should have a teaching certificate and accreditation from a yoga association.
If you are already familiar with yoga poses and breathing techniques, it is also possible to practise independently at home with one of many yoga DVD’s or online tutorials. However, for beginners it is highly recommended that you attend a class, as with a DVD there will be no one to correct your mistakes which could lead to injury over time.