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In the spotlight - yoga versus pilates (which is better?)

There are many differences in the methods used but both yoga and Pilates can be beneficial in recovering from physical injury thanks to their focus on developing and maintaining strength, posture, flexibility and balance. Both concentrate on the connections linking mental and physical health, with yoga focusing more on relaxation and the use of meditation, with the result that they can be instrumental in the rehabilitation of the mind as well as the body.

An overview

In very simple terms, the art of yoga is steeped in history and maintains its popularity in the modern world thanks to its far-reaching potential in terms of physical and mental health and well-being. It involves not just gentle exercise but also meditation and breath control, and has been associated with a range of benefits from lowering blood pressure to improving circulation, posture and even happiness levels.

Pilates, meanwhile, is based upon the idea of muscular balance and is widely accepted as an effective and safe method of rehabilitation and recovery, as well as being an excellent form of exercise for a wide range of people.

Choosing which one will be better-suited to aiding recovery from injury will depend on personal choice and also on the type of injury involved. There are some factors that can influence this choice, however, which will be explained as we take a more in-depth look at each practice in turn.

Lady performing a yoga poses in an open area of grass surrounded by trees

More about Pilates

Pilates was introduced to America by trainer Joseph Pilates during the 1920s. As an indicator of its effectiveness as part of rehabilitation, its primary function at that time was to help injured dancers and athletes maintain fitness levels and get back into exercise.

Pilates is not an exercise designed to make people sweat and strain, although in can be an aerobic as well as a non-aerobic activity. Instead, the practice involves concentration and focus as the body is moved through precise motions. All of the body’s major muscle groups are stretched and lengthened in a balanced way.

Every exercise has its own placement, breathing pattern and rhythm and the emphasis is on performing sequences in low repetitions. Most Pilates sessions last between 45 minutes and 90 minutes and will generally include work with equipment providing resistance and a mat-based element.

The main benefits of Pilates in injury recovery

One of the major benefits of Pilates over other forms of exercise when it comes to rehabilitation is the individual nature of the exercises involved. The Pilates method should be tailor-made for individuals with regular re-evaluation of the exercises, making it the perfect choice for anyone who may need to make changes to their exercise regime as their recovery progresses.

Other common benefits include improved flexibility and increased muscle tone and strength, particularly in the body’s core muscles such as the buttocks, hips, lower back and abdominal muscles. It can be particularly effective if recovery would be aided by enhanced muscular balance and muscular control in the limbs and back; as a result of an improvement in the stability of the spine; or in posture.

Pilates is a common choice for people who are recovering from injuries associated with muscle imbalances; for those who want to prevent future problems; and for people who are recovering from either spinal or joint injuries. It is also known to be effective in preventing future musculoskeletal injuries, as well as increasing lung capacity, concentration and boosting relaxation and stress management efforts.

To benefit from these effects, it is recommended that Pilates should be done at least twice a week, with improvements in posture often seen after just ten to 20 sessions.

The major difference between Pilates and yoga

Whilst yoga generally comprises of a series of what should be static postures, Pilates focuses on the body being deliberately placed in unstable positions, with the aim of challenging it when the limbs are moved.

Yoga explained

The history of yoga can be traced back over thousands of years. This ancient Indian philosophy was designed as a means of obtaining spiritual enlightenment but, in the modern world, Hatha yoga’s physical aspects are also appreciated for the gentle exercise offered and for their benefits in stress management.

There are many different types of yoga but all essentially focus on asanas, or structured poses, which are practised using appropriate breathing techniques. The idea is to combine body and mind through meditation, breathing and exercise.

Infographic showing different types of yoga poses

Reasons to choose yoga

Yoga exercises are created to put appropriate pressure on the body’s glandular system, boosting its efficiency and overall health, something that may be extremely beneficial as part of injury recovery. The effects are further enhanced by the associated breathing techniques or pranayama and, combined with the meditation involved, can be instrumental in a return to both physical and mental health and well-being.

Yoga can be a particularly good choice for people who are struggling to come to terms with mental issues associated with a physical injury thanks to its combined benefits, as well as for those who are recovering or dealing with issues arising from conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There is also evidence that yoga can be a good choice of exercise for people recovering from brain injury.

Yoga asanas are known to be extremely effective in boosting flexibility and strength, whilst the isometric practices can improve circulation and cardiovascular fitness. Joints, meanwhile, can benefit from regained or improved mobility thanks to the range of motions used and a reduction in stiffness and pressure.

Asanas classed as ‘weight-bearing’ are used by many people as a means of preventing osteoporosis, with supervised practising advocated by a significant percentage of osteoporosis sufferers. Long-term benefits can include improvements to posture and a reduction in back pain.

Its non-competitive nature and the individualised approach of most yoga teachers makes yoga a good choice of exercise as part of injury recovery. Effective teachers will continually monitor progress and modify postures if required.

Infographic showing 6 Yoga Poses to Relieve Lower Back Pain

Yoga and injuries

In general terms, yoga should be practised at least three times a week to see positive effects. The amount of time spent on it, and the frequency of the sessions, will depend on individual circumstances, however.

A recent injury or history of injury can impact on the effects yoga can offer and the effort required to gain results. If, for example, scar tissue or stiff muscles have become a problem post-injury, poses may need to be modified to take this into account. It may also be necessary to focus more time and attention on poses designed to stretch problem areas and to rectify muscular imbalances.

This type of issue does not prohibit anyone from making the most of the benefits that yoga has to offer. They may, however, need to modify their yoga routines to take these into account. This could mean practising more to rectify problems - or even doing less. A good yoga instructor is essential in helping to assess what is best in each individual case.

Lady performing a plank yoga pose

General precautions

Whilst Pilates and yoga are generally a good form of exercise for people in a wide variety of circumstances, it is important to check with a doctor before starting on any new exercise regime, particularly after injury. Pre-exercise checks are also recommended for people who have undergone surgery recently; who are pregnant; who are aged over 40; who have not exercised for a while; or who are obese or very overweight.