Today, the adult fitness group, including the expansive generation of baby boomers as well as an increasing number of generation x, is looking for a fitness program that goes beyond just improving their physique. More and more, the general public is beginning to look at their health and fitness with a holistic approach, searching for fitness regimes that can and will service both their minds and bodies simultaneously. As such, the industry has witnessed an explosion of interest in mind-body fitness trends, such as Pilates and yoga, reshaping what fitness professionals and the consumer view the exercise and workout to be. Yet, the lines between these two separate practices are blurry, even for veteran trainers and fitness professionals.
As the popularity of Pilates and yoga continues to gather steam with our clients, often, many fitness professionals are left wondering where a Pilates program ends and where a yoga one begins or vice versa. Our consumers look to us, as fitness experts, to effectively recommend the exercise programs that are appropriate to meet their needs and goals. However, if we ourselves can't distinguish between these two practices, how can we explain it to our clients? This ambiguity between Pilates and yoga is not surprising, especially as these practices are similar in nature, perhaps leading to the confusion over their separateness. Both programs are based in the mind-body approach as well as advocate a full-body workout. However, their differences are fundamental and should be fully understood to comprehensively refer your clients to the most appropriate, sound and adaptable workout for their individual needs.
Pilates vs. YogaThe six principles of Pilates â€” concentration, control, centering, breathing, flow and precision â€” work to train the entire body, physically and mentally. And it is one of these very principles that set Pilates apart from yoga. According to Chrissy Romani-Ruby, owner of PHI Pilates, "The main difference is the principle of control. In yoga, many times, you're encouraged to get as much range of motion as you can. Whereas in Pilates, it's emphasized that you can achieve as large of range of motion as you can while holding a neutral powerhouse or core." And it is this very "powerhouse" that is an essential part of the program. "Primarily, Pilates works on core strength, at least from the strength perspective, which yoga doesn't," adds Nora St. John, Balanced Body University's education program director. In fact, the focus of Pilates is in "restoring the ideal curves of the spine while training the body to an ideal posture, resulting in toned, lean muscles while exercising and adjusting any postural or alignment issues that a client may have," according to Stefania Della Pia, assistant program director of STOTT PILATES.
A major distinction of Pilates that fitness professionals must be aware of is that it "is done one-on-one, which is a major difference," explains Joan Breibart, president of The Pilates PhysicalMind Institute. In fact, Zoey Trap, master trainer and senior program specialist at Peak Pilates, notes that "Pilates was originally created as a workout. Generally, yoga is taught in classes. However, Pilates was created to be taught one-on-one. Today, there are a lot of group classes for Pilates as well. But if referring a client to the best Pilates program possible, it should be private lessons where his or her movement would be guided."
Yoga vs. PilatesThe ancient practice of yoga can be traced back to its Indian origins. Based in spiritual practices, yoga has gained popularity in fitness programming as well. "The word yoga means to yolk, to bring together. And yoga, done properly, can clear the mind and strengthen the body. It helps people become more aware of their mind's busy thinking patterns as well as their body's posture, alignment and habit of movement," explains Beth Shaw, founder and president of YogaFit. "The goal of yoga is to unite the body and the spirit." However, in many exercise prescriptions, yoga is beginning to be used as a strengthening component as well. According to Diane Donahue, Registered Yoga Teacher with Hugger Mugger, "People don't see yoga as strength conditioning or strength building, but people really do use every muscle in their body in a yoga class. Yoga uses the muscles in your legs, all the way up to the torso, working its way to the arms."
Within the practice of yoga, there are many types and styles of classes. This variety can be overwhelming for novice professionals and can be detrimental to your clients if you refer them to the inappropriate class. However, there are major types of yoga classes on which to educate yourself. Iyengar Yoga, created by B.K.S. Iyengar, is a form that is "precision-oriented, working on poses for long periods of time," according to Shaw, and is known for the use of wooden props that aid in holding asanas, or postures, such as belts, blocks, yoga walls and fences. Another form of yoga is Ashtanga, a fluid format with a series of six that follows very strict, specific set poses, which can be attractive to those clients who want to memorize a routine. In addition, Bikram Yoga, developed by Bikram Choudhury, and is also known as Hot Yoga, is a style where the room is heated up to 105ï¿½F with a humidity of 50%. This format follows a series of 26 postures, each done twice, creating a very regimented and strict routine. And Vinyasa Yoga, an ever-increasing popular style, according to Donahue, is a "flow style that is constant movement. So in a Vinyasa class, you wouldn't find somebody lying on the ground doing reclining poses; they would be moving constantly." There are many more styles and formats of yoga, such as Kripalu Yoga, Anusara Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Viniyoga or Sivananda Yoga. With so many kinds of yoga, how can the fitness professional select and recommend the right yoga class for the individual client?
Donahue recommends, "You have to decide what the ultimate benefits you want to get out of it for your client. There are restorative styles that would be great for those clients who have had any kind of surgery. But if you sent that client to an Ashtanga class, that person would injure themselves and would feel intimidated. The trainer really needs to know their client and what these clients need to complement the practice." Shaw adds that "fitness professionals should all know some yoga basics to help them scope out what kind of class would be most appropriate for their clients."
Referring the Right Client to the Right Program
As fitness professionals and trainers, our clients look to us to direct their fitness programs. In fact, our consumers are bombarded with media advertisements regarding the benefits of Pilates and yoga on a daily basis. They, often times, are seduced by the testimonials of success with these programs and will look to you to deliver these results. So, when your client wants to know whether Pilates or yoga is the right path for them, you will need to be ready. When evaluating what program is most appropriate for your clients, as their trainer, you must KNOW them. In fact, St. John notes that "one of the first things to look at is the personality of the client. If some people are open to the whole feeling of yoga, which can be very meditative, thoughtful and has a spiritual component," then this would be an appropriate choice. However, St. John continues that for those clients, "who are used to a fitness, personal training or group fitness context they will find Pilates a very easy next step. The client has to feel comfortable personality-wise." St. John also adds: "Then, you need to look at: What are their needs? Often, Pilates teaches people core strength and general upper body strength to better do their yoga while yoga gives Pilates a real practice environment; Pilates is more about strength and core, and yoga can be more about flexibility and release. So it's really where your clients want to go."
What to Look for in the Right Program
Whether taking on the Pilates or yoga programming yourself or referring them to an appropriate class or certified instructor, choosing the right class or individual to direct their exercise prescription is a foundational element of your clients' success and, more importantly, their safety. Therefore, educating yourself on the differences of Pilates and yoga, what each offers their users and evaluating the value of the program or class is your professional responsibility. There are many factors to consider in both Pilates and yoga, including the type of exercise and the credibility of the instructor. As previously mentioned, there are many different styles of yoga classes; therefore, educating yourself and familiarizing yourself with all the kinds will be a vital part in the referral process. And in Pilates, there is an important distinction between Pilates mat-based and equipment-based programs as well. Romani-Ruby explains, "The mat-based form is the most difficult form of Pilates. And it is unfortunate that it often is the least expensive because that's where people go. These clients don't get the full effect of Pilates because they aren't encouraged in a class setting to use the core muscles as in a personal training session, one-on-one, where they're encouraged to use the correct muscles. It really should be a progression where clients should start individually and on the equipment then move to mat classes."
Of course, as in the rest of the industry, the credibility of the instructor is of the utmost importance. Whether in yoga or in Pilates, it is your responsibility as your clients' expert to be fully aware of the certifications required as well as the credibility of them. In fact, in Pilates, according to Trap, "You should look for certified professionals with a minimum of a level one teacher that has approximately 200 hours, and that 200 hours should encompass course hours, personal practice hours, practice teaching hours and observation hours." Without the expertise of professionals, our clients can be in danger of harming themselves, resulting in permanent damage. It is recommended that fitness professionals try both Pilates mat and equipment classes as well as a variety of yoga classes to give clients a first-hand perspective on what to expect. As fitness professionals, it is our job to create positive change with our expertise in-hand to help create the health and well-being that our clients crave â€” whether it is found through Pilates, yoga or other fitness programs.
Correction: In the hard copy of the August issue, we quoted Stefania Della Pia, assistant program director of STOTT PILATES, in the "Pilates or Yoga" article. However, we misspelled Ms. Della Pia's name, and we apologize for this error.