Yoga and Pilates are two disciplines that are often mentioned together. What makes that so interesting is that they have as much different about them as they have in common. The Eastern symbol of yin and yang is an appropriate comparison to draw on some levels. Yoga is a Buddhist practice, and it dates back centuries, much like meditation. Both meditation and yoga were originally practiced on small mats that could be rolled up and carried with the practitioner. Today we see a continuation in that tradition in modern yoga mats.
The original yoga mats were made of woven reeds or bamboo, both types of fibrous plant that were indigenous to the Indian peninsula in Asia. Yoga was originally practiced as a way to free the mind of materialistic constraints and encourage limberness, both in body and in thought. It was a religious practice for most of its history, and only more recently have commercial aspects, such as yoga accessories, begun to find their way into the field. This coincides with the Westernization of yoga, which started in California and spread from there.
As the West adopted Eastern practices, the practices were stripped of religious significance, or had that significance downplayed. This was initially done for a variety of reasons, from the overwhelming Christianity of the United States to an attempt to make a foreign practice seem less alien. It is much easier to swallow a new workout routine than it is to adapt to a different life philosophy, and in their efforts to bring practices like yoga, karate, surfing, and even meditation West, the first ambassadors of these practices adapted to this challenge by leaving the worldview portion out. Now that these practices have found widespread secular use in the West, some practitioners have used them as a gateway into the Eastern philosophical take on life, embracing Buddhism after becoming acquainted with it through one of these disciplines.
Unlike yoga, Pilates is a very Western practice. It was founded by Joseph Pilates, a German gymnast. Joseph thought that the key to proper exercise was good core control and proper breathing. He built an exercise routine around breathing and core stability that he expected to change the way gymnasts warmed up. It was actually among the ballet crowd in New York City that the Pilates routine first gained traction, and for several decades, Pilates were seen as a way for ballet dancers to improve their form and conditioning.
As other exercise gurus picked up the torch that Joseph had carried through his life, new innovations were made. Pilates equipment, such as the reformer, the Wunda Chair, and other innovative machines have expanded the repertoire of exercised considerably. One of the biggest advantages Pilates equipment offers over unassisted exercise is variable resistance. Variable resistance is not a concept unique to Pilates, it has an extensive background in weight training. The simplest way to demonstrate variable resistance is with pushups.
If you do a pushup, the resistance your arms work against is your body weight. No matter how many pushups you do, you are lifting your body weight with each one. Now if you put a 50 pound weight on your back, your pushups are lifting your body weight + 50 lbs. That has changed the resistance of the exercise. Pilates equipment operates on a similar idea. Instead of doing the balance work with no resistance, the equipment has a spring system that allows the user to set a resistance level that challenges their balance and improves their core strength. The reformer is little more than a sliding foot rest attached to springs, and its purpose is to make the existing exercises more effective. Other Pilates accessories, such as mats, trapeze tables, and even wrist/ankle weights have been incorporated into different branch offs of the basic routine. Many of the exercises have changed little from the originals created by Joseph; but each new invention has also added specific moves designed to take advantage of the mechanical disadvantage the machine can create for its users. If you are interested in more information on specific Pilates or yoga accessories, techniques, or equipment, please visit our learning center.