Some say that there are “Pilates people” and there are “yoga people,” as if they were warring factions of fitness tribes constantly engaged in civil war. First, that’s dumb, and second, if there were “Pilates people” and “yoga people,” I would certainly consider myself both. Sure, I make a career of teaching yoga and practice yoga more regularly, but I consider my Pilates practice absolutely integral to the process of understanding myself and therefore part to my yoga practice.
What I love about Pilates is the way that it invites me to understand myself through conscious and deliberate movements. I love the precision and the deliberate quality of the practice. I have learned so much about myself through the practice of Pilates. Pilates has informed not only my yoga practice but my teaching more than any other physical practice besides yoga.
I believe that yoga is something much bigger that what you do on your yoga mat. My definition of yoga expands to include anything that helps you understand who you are and invites you to pay attention. Therefore, for me Pilates has been perhaps one of the greatest extension of my yoga practice.
For several years, I’ve had the pleasure of trading a private Pilates session for a private yoga session with a very gifted teacher and friend, Maya Christopherson. Through our practice together, she has taught me volumes about how my body works, where my hidden weak spots are, and where I’m unconscious in my movements. I move my spine more completely and gracefully because of our work together. I understand the relationship between my tight psoas and the movement of my legs. I am more sensitive to not only how to move my body because of our work together, but also more sensitive to how I feel in my body because of her expert instruction.
“Well, there’s no mindful element to Pilates,” some yogis might say. I would say that on the contrary, Pilates is a deliberate, intelligent, and sophisticated way of expanding my somatic awareness and therefore improves my overall mindfulness. In fact, just like yoga, Pilates develops my being physically, energetically, and spiritually/consciously.
On the physical level, Pilates makes me strong; I find more power in my running, more capable in my yoga practice, and stronger in the daily dance of living life a dynamic life. I love how in my Pilates practice, I’ll be invited to do a few quality reps of an exercise rather than 100 sloppy ones.
On the energetic level, my energy or prana flows more fluidly after a Pilates practice because my muscles, joints, and tissues, have experienced a full-range of intelligently-crafted manipulation causing muscles to release tension from unconscious, habitual movement. My energy flows fluidly because I’ve eliminated stagnation from my system. Simply put, by practicing Pilates I get off my duff and move my body. But not just by flopping my limbs around mindlessly to burn calories. Rather, I’m moving in a way that feels like it was custom-designed for what my body needs.
On the causal or spiritual/conscious level, I have to be very tuned in and focused while I do Pilates, I can’t ever just phone it in. This focus on my movement expands my awareness, like a meditation in motion. In part that is what Maya’s job is: to watch me and inquire into things like whether or not I could be more smooth in my movement, more conscious of how my right side moves compared to my left, or how this part of my spine moves compared to this other part of my spine, etc.
And in some way you could choose anything, golf, tennis, gymnastics, driving, cooking, being a mom or dad, or whatever you do, as the vehicle toward your own self-realization but I believe that Pilates and yoga are two methods that are particularly useful to create a daily practice to maintain the body, to conduct the flow of energy, and to make me ever more conscious. It may sound oblique to say that I’m becoming a better person, on my way to complete understanding of self and universe, though practicing Pilates but that is exactly what I’m saying. And at the end of the day, body/mind/spirit stuff aside, I just feel great after a Pilates practice.
Hopefully you have someone as skilled as Maya in your Pilates-sphere. Consider changing up your yoga practice and adding in a little bit of Pilates as a perfect complement.
Scott Moore is a senior teacher of yoga and mindfulness in New York City and when he’s not teaching or conducting retreats, he writes for Conscious Life News, Elephant Journal, Mantra Magazine, and his own blog at scottmooreyoga.com. Scott also loves to trail run, play the saxophone, and travel with his wife and son.