There is often a debate between doing yoga or pilates as a mode for exercise. As a Physio who is focused on movement restoration and getting you back to activities you enjoy I often get asked which one is better. I won’t go into aspects of each of the systems outside how they affect movement but there is no hard and firm answer because it depends on the person.

When we seek out one of these popular methodologies as a mode of exercise it’s often because we are looking for something to help us move better and untangle restrictions within the body. Commonly if we think, feel or have been told something is tight we automatically think it needs stretching. It would make sense if the only thing that could cause tightness was shortened muscles.

The hamstrings are a classic example. If you can’t touch your toes and feel  tight sensation behind your leg the hamstrings are often blamed and you do months and months of hamstring stretches and they don’t get better. You still can’t touch your toes. Sometimes they do. In these cases it was likely true hamstring shortness that caused the restriction or maybe you sacrificed stability in one area to get further. Often the toe touch or straight leg raise is caused by a Joint mobility dysfunction in the hip or stability/motor control dysfunction at the core. Sounds like a whole lot of jargon but put simply the apparent “hamstring tightness” can be due to a stiff hip joint that doesn’t move or not enough stability in the core (this is harder to simplify but basically your brain turns on your hamstrings to try and help stabilise your back/pelvis because your core isn’t doing it well enough – in doing so hamstrings contract while you are trying to lengthen them, preventing them from going into to full relaxed end of range – i.e. your hitting the gas but the hand brake is on). I have personally found these scenarios to be far more common than true hamstring shortness. Stretching this in extreme positions as often prescribed will not get you anywhere. It often just makes you sore and the problems worse.

This is one very common example but  can be applied to every other joint in the body. The moral of the story is that you want to know what is causing the restriction. Doing yoga with a joint restriction is worse than trying to beat a nail into a wall with the back of your screw driver because you haven’t got a hammer. It doesn’t work – it emphasises the problem. We are often drawn to playing our strengths. Very flexible people will ‘do well’ at yoga and continue to express their flexibility, whereas those who are stiffer and ‘more stable’ will find it easier to express strength and are drawn to weight training and more resistance type activities. If we worked on our weaknesses we’d move much better and be more robust.

The great thing is that joint restrictions and core dysfunctions can often be addressed quite quickly and once you’ve got it we stabilise the control of the new range with appropriate exercises. Once your stable you can get a true stretch without having the brakes on.

So back to the question  Yoga or Pilates? Like I said, it depends on the cause of your restrictions.Why not do both so you hit all bases? Compliment your Yoga practice with strength (core stability) from pilates. Having core stability from Pilates will allow you to go into a deeper stretch during yoga (hand brakes are off). The breathing and stretch from yoga will allow you to stabilise in greater range of motion during pilates which will feed into allowing you to go into a deeper stretch during yoga and so on. It’s not one or the other or us vs them. Do both. Better yet, see a Physio that can diagnose the cause of your restrictions and give you a boost so you reap even more benefit from both systems 🙂

Come and try our Pilates Reformer Classes at Focus Physio & Pilates – Charlestown. There are two types of classes. Burn & Flow. Burn is designed for strength while flow focuses on length. They were each designed with the other in mind to ensure they compliment each other. You’ll get a great workout either way. New comers are welcome to trial a session on us. Call 4947 8838 for more info and book in today.