The health benefits of yoga & pilates

We’ve been sharing some health tips recently on the blog, as we know many of you are looking for positive ways to fill your time in lockdown and seeking to live more active and healthy lifestyles whilst you do that.

In our last blog, we mentioned yoga and pilates as a possible option for many of you, so we thought we’d provide a little more information about what we know about the benefits of each. The usual mild disclaimer applies: we’re certainly not professional ‘yogi’, but hopefully what we can share will help your ‘life in lockdown’.

Both are ‘low impact’

Both yoga and pilates are ‘low impact’ forms of exercise. Whilst both have significant health benefits, their approach does not cause periods of sudden or heightened stress on muscles and joints. This makes them suitable for a wide variety of age ranges and fitness levels, reducing the risk of injury or distress to the body. You can also complete both at varying degrees of intensity and difficulty, so if you’re just starting out there’s a ‘virtual’ course for you out there somewhere, at exactly the right level.

The difference between yoga and pilates

Yoga is concerned with the flexibility of the body and also has deep links to meditation and spirituality. Pilates was created mainly with strength in mind, but can also increase flexibility. One originated in ancient India, whilst the other was designed by a German anatomist so, quite apart from the mechanical differences, it’s the underlying philosophy of each discipline that characterises their differences. 

If you gravitate towards the spiritual and perhaps have an interest in mindfulness or meditation, yoga has a natural link to these. If you’re more likely to consult a personal trainer and would like to spend time on structure strength work, pilates may be more your speed. Both disciplines emphasise control of the breath and a regular approach to exercise that builds both the body and good habits.

Risk of injury

One of the major benefits of both disciplines is not only the fact that each comes with a low risk of injury whilst you practice, but yoga and pilates are also thought to reduce the risk of injury in our everyday lives. 

The NHS website, for example, recommends yoga and tai chi “for older adults at risk of falls, to help improve balance and coordination”. The logic is that with improved flexibility and some increase in muscle strength, yoga and pilates can help to reduce the impact of relatively minor and common later life accidents that can nevertheless have a big impact on your standard of living.

Specific yoga benefits

From a physical health viewpoint, yoga is recommended if your main aim is to strengthen and increase flexibility in key joint and muscle groups, such as your lower body (ankles, knees). It’s also specifically referenced by people suffering from arthritis as helping to manage pain and improve mobility. The spiritual side of yoga is difficult to quantify, but there may be benefits to consider here too.

Specific pilates benefits

Pilates is a form of strength training and therefore is mainly useful for those looking to add muscle or reduce weight, though some more gentle workouts may closely resemble a yoga workout to some degree. Pilates also emphasises flexibility and breathing, so there is an argument that yoga is the slightly gentler of the two forms, whilst pilates picks up some elements of yoga and adds an intensity that will help to build muscle and reduce fat.