Yoga and Pilates are both forms of exercise that engage the mind as well as the body. Both can be taken as classes at almost any gym or wellness center, or they can be learned at home with a book, DVD or web tutorial. The basic forms of both exercises require only a mat and adequate floor space. Because the exercises are so adaptable, almost anyone can enjoy the health benefits of yoga and Pilates.
Yoga is an ancient form of meditation engaging the body and the mind. There are many different types or schools of yoga, but the most common type in the United States today is hatha, which focuses on physical poses and breathing technique. Other types of yoga, such as raja and jnana, emphasize meditation for emotional, intellectual and spiritual enlightenment. Though traditionally yoga is a path to overall self-improvement, many people simply use yoga as a means to mental and physical wellness, according to the American Yoga Association.
Joseph Pilates developed Pilates, a form of physical and mental conditioning, in the early 20th century. He designed a series of mat exercises to help tone and strengthen partially immobilized World War I soldiers. The exercises are based primarily around core strengthening and flexibility, and Pilates was likely inspired by Eastern mind-body exercises such as yoga and martial arts. Joseph Pilates referred to his system of exercise as “contrology” because it requires intense concentration for bodily control. Most Pilates routines can be performed with only a floor mat, letting the body act as resistance. Some forms of Pilates also use machines such as the reformer, which provides mechanical resistance.
The mental focus and controlled breathing required to perform yoga and Pilates correctly helps reduce stress. The exercises also help regulate sleep and improve mood, according to the Mayo Clinic. Yoga and Pilates may help reduce symptoms such as fatigue associated with a variety of disorders including cancer, depression and chronic pain.
Practicing Pilates or yoga can help improve flexibility, range of motion, balance and posture. Pilates strengthens and tones muscles without adding bulk, making it an exercise of choice among dancers and other athletes. Pilates is also renowned for strengthening the core and back muscles and may help manage back pain. Yoga may reduce heart rate and blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. Neither Pilates nor yoga is an aerobic workout, so these exercises should supplement a workout routine that includes cardiovascular exercise such as swimming, jogging or cycling.