Yoga and Pilates for Good Health

Families, Food and Fitness January 06, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF

Author: Connie Crawley, MS, RD, LD, Family and Consumer Sciences, The University of Georgia, The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension

In the last few years, yoga and Pilates have become popular activities and can be part of a fitness routine. Neither yoga or Pilates provide aerobic activity but concentrate more on a form of resistance exercise. They share some similarities but there are differences.

picture of yoga tree pose

Yoga originated in India approximately 5,000 years ago. Hatha yoga, popular in America, is meant to transform the body so a person is able to grow spiritually. Yoga itself is not a religion or a system of beliefs. Instead it is a set of techniques that can allow anyone to find their own spirituality.

Hatha yoga uses controlled breathing exercises called pranayama (pran-e-yama) and postures called asanas to produce deep relaxation. Teachers of yoga believe that through the spiritual quest associated with yoga practice, one can also gain health, happiness, tranquility and knowledge. Yoga is frequently used to enhance the ability to meditate.

There are many schools of yoga, so no two yoga teachers or yoga classes will be alike. It is estimated that there are over 200 different yoga asanas, so the combinations are endless.

In contrast, Joseph Pilates developed his techniques that he called Contrology in the early 20th century. He used controlled breathing and various exercises sometimes based on yoga asanas to bring oxygen to the muscles and to develop core strength in people who needed rehabilitation. The exercises focus on the muscles in the abdomen, lower back, hips and buttocks. During his life, Mr. Pilates often worked with dancers who were prone to injury and pain. Eventually his techniques became popular with others who just wanted to become more fit and attractive. Pilates exercises can be done on a mat but typically use apparatus, such as the Reformer, which produces resistance on the muscles with ropes and springs.

Both Pilates and yoga -

  • Emphasize the flow of movement to encourage flexibility.
  • Improve balance, coordination, strength and posture.
  • Can be adapted for individuals who may have physical limitations.
  • Have been used with people suffering from chronic diseases including heart disease, fibromyalgia, scoliosis, Parkinson disease, and cancer.
  • Improve posture and reduce stress in children.

There are good DVDs and books on Pilates and yoga, but you may learn faster and have better technique if you attend at least a few classes. Many local fitness centers now have certified teachers and in larger towns there are studios dedicated totally to yoga or Pilates.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.