Pilates is perfect for people with a core weakened by years of sitting at a desk day in, day out. If your core muscles are untrained, then they’re very difficult to activate in the first place. Pilates programmes use precise movements to isolate and train stabiliser muscles in your core and your joints that don’t activate during typical strength training programmes, which focus on your large, global muscles.
If you want to learn more about your core and its role in your body, this blog by Kam is a great introduction.
Pilates or Pilates-like exercises are also essential to our rehabilitation programmes. If you sustain an injury, the surrounding muscles often “turn off”. After the injury is healed, these deactivated muscles need to be re-educated on how to move and respond properly to your motions using exercises specific for the affected area.
Yoga, while superficially similar to Pilates, is more focused on your connection to your body and your mental state. Don’t underestimate the benefits of the meditative side of yoga on your health: stress is not just in your head; it has very real physiological symptoms that can impact everything from your digestion and immune system to your body’s ability to recover from injury.
Even if you’re not sold on the spiritual roots of yoga, the slow, controlled motions and breathing exercises are an excellent way to clear your head and reduce stress. The ten minutes at the end of many yoga classes where you do nothing but lie still and breathe relaxes both your body and mind, leaving both better equipped to face day to day challenges.
Though the objective of yoga is to leave you feeling more relaxed, that doesn’t mean the exercises themselves are easy. They may not make you sweat, but you’ll definitely feel them in the morning and – if you’re not careful – they may even leave you with injury.
A lot of the poses in yoga require you to move into and hold positions that are potentially harmful if you don’t know how to control your range of motion and isolate certain muscles. For example, when bending forward, if you can’t separate your hip rotation from your spine (a common problem in people with desk jobs) then you’ll be constantly stretching and overloading your lower back muscles.
People who suffer from hypermobility are particularly vulnerable. Hypermobility is a condition where your joints extend beyond their natural range of motion, which causes or is caused by lax ligaments and low muscle tone. Someone with hypermobility will likely find yoga very easy, as their loose joints have no problem stretching, but they’re also at risk of overextending their joints, further weakening them over time and putting them at risk of injury.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women are at risk of developing hypermobility, as their bodies release a hormone called relaxin that makes their ligaments and connective tissue lax. You might suddenly find you’re able to stretch into positions you weren’t able to before, but you’re also at risk of stretching too far and hyperextending a joint.
Imagine your joints are powered by rubber bands. It’s much easier to stretch those bands out and extend their range of motion than it is to strengthen them and restore them to their natural length. The goal of yoga isn’t to push your body as far as possible, it’s to improve the stability and your control over your motions within their natural range.
To answer the question of whether you should do Pilates or yoga: ideally, you should do both. But if you only have time for one or if you’re just starting exercise and want to improve your general fitness, then do Pilates. Once your general conditioning and control has improved, yoga is an excellent complementary exercise that can enhance your connection to your body and reduce your day to day stress.
Most importantly, whichever exercise programme you take on, you should see a physiotherapist first to assess your strengths and weaknesses so that you understand how far to push and pace yourself. Also start with beginner programmes, preferably with one-on-one training tailored to your body before taking on general group classes.
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