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Q: For the New Year I would like to start taking classes to stay fit but I am not sure what to pick. Can you explain to me what the benefits of Pilates and yoga are to help me decide which would be more beneficial to me?

Donna Grote (top), Lynn Patterson (bottom)

A: While it is true that Pilates and yoga are similar practices, there are some differences that should help you decide what practice is going to meet your personal wellness goals.

In both practices, you will gain strength and flexibility. Pilates exercises as a whole develop strong abdominal, back, buttock, and deep postural muscles to support the skeletal system and act as, what founder Joseph Pilates called the "powerhouse" of the body. Some classes will use machines to assist you in gaining strength, while other classes will be done on a mat, using your body to create resistance and gain strength. In either scenario, the focus is on strengthening the core and aligning the spine. In a yoga class, you will generally work every muscle in the body equally, with emphasis on lengthening the spinal column and creating a sense of balance throughout the body. Both practices are often recommended as rehabilitation for back, knee, hip, shoulder, and repetitive stress injuries.

Focus on the breath is a key element to both a Pilates and yoga practice. Both emphasize the synchronization of breath with fluid body movements, enhancing the connection between body and mind. In a yoga class, there may be time within the class dedicated to breathing (pranayama) practice. The teachings of yoga emphasize that there is a correlation between the ability to breathe fully and our overall state of health and happiness.

Both Pilates and yoga incorporate the body and mind connection into their practices. However, yoga tends to add spirituality into practice, exploring our connection to something greater than ourselves. This exploration is done through various practices such as meditation, breath work, and chanting.

Again, both a Pilates and yoga practice will assist you in gaining strength and flexibility. However, if you are seeking to manage stress and cultivate inner awareness, yoga may be a good fit for you. If your goal is to strengthen the center and build muscle tone, Pilates may be a better option. You may want to try both practices to determine which will best meet your own personal wellness goals.

Donna Grote (top), Certified Yoga Teacher, Washington Health System Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center

Lynn Patterson (bottom), Pilates and Yoga Instructor, Washington Health System Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center

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